Topics: Israel election; Australia’s security cooperation with Solomon Islands;

09:20AM AEDT
4 November 2022


Kenny Heatly: Welcome back. Benjamin Netanyahu has secured victory in Israel’s fifth national election in four years. Incumbent Prime Minister Yair Lapid contacted Mr. Netanyahu to concede. And joining me live is shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much for your time today. So Benjamin Netanyahu and his right wing allies have won. It’s a clear majority win. In your view, what does this mean for Australia and our Western allies?


Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Kenny. It’s good to be with you. And it certainly is quite a week for political comebacks in that sense, with Lula da Silva winning the Brazilian presidential election and now Benjamin Netanyahu winning, claiming victory in the Israeli elections to return to the prime ministership. This hopefully will end a period of some instability and uncertainty in Israel, which has seen many elections in recent years and provide for stable government, but hopefully one that can also build on what have been some gains, notwithstanding some of that domestic instability in recent years, we’ve seen a normalisation of Israel’s relations with a number of Arab nations and that normalisation and the agreements that have been entered into are very, very welcome. And and what we would hope to see is that building upon that is work and effort towards the type of two-state settlement that all hope to eventually see in relation to Israel and their coexistence with the Palestinian people.


Kenny Heatly: Last month he called on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to call up Israel’s now former prime minister Yair Lapid to apologise after Labor’s decision to reverse your government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Where do we stand now that Netanyahu is back in power?


Simon Birmingham: There’s no doubt that the bungled handling of the decision taken by Anthony Albanese to reverse the recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will have left a bad taste in the mouth of Israeli politics, frankly, across the board. And so work will have to be done to ensure that relations there are as strong as they possibly can be. It was an unnecessary decision the Albanese Government took and it was one that was completely ham-fisted. People should remember it was announced on a Jewish holiday of all days. It was announced in the midst of this Israeli election campaign of all times. It was firstly put on a foreign affairs website, then denied by Penny Wong, then announced by Penny Wong. It really was quite a terrible looking approach for a decision that didn’t need to be made and doesn’t reflect the reality of where the functional capital of the Israeli government is. And yes, Anthony Albanese should have picked the phone up to apologise to then and outgoing Prime Minister Lapid. He hasn’t. I expect there will at some stage be a call and you would hope this to be the case between Prime Minister Albanese and incoming Prime Minister Netanyahu as he retakes that office. And in that call Prime Minister Albanese should explain the decision that he made should apologise for the way in which it was executed and should commit to continue to support Israel and should commit both to Israel and to Australians that there will be no further changes in relation to Australia’s policy towards Israel during the life of this Albanese government. That having gone to the last election, promising the Australian Jewish community and others of interest that there was essentially a unity ticket between the Liberal and National parties and the Labor Party. And now having broken that on a couple of occasions. Mr. Albanese needs to be very clear no further changes, no further dilution in relation to Australia’s position.


Kenny Heatly: Okay. Reports this morning that China has donated two water cannon trucks and a host of vehicles to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. This is after Australia donated dozens of semi-automatic rifles and 13 vehicles to their police force as well. Is Australia now in an arms race with China as to who can arm and support the Solomon Islands security forces the most?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we certainly shouldn’t be. And I trust that’s not the case, that that we are working cooperatively with the Solomon Islands Government and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, as we have done for a long period of time. The Australian governments, particularly if you look from the Howard Government and the RAMSI initiative that was launched then through to recent support have been very active in providing security support for the Solomon Islands. We have lived up to the terms of being the security partner of choice, which the Solomon Islands Government under Prime Minister Sogavare, continues to state that we are. It’s important that we do continue to do that. I trust that the types of assistance that were announced and provided by Australia this week, we’re done with full consultation between the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Foreign Affairs of Trade, and making sure they are part of a holistic program of support for the Solomon Islands that isn’t just about providing weapons, but is also about ensuring the training, the support, the culture, the ethical arrangements. All of those practices need to be in place for providing the best possible functioning police service.


Kenny Heatly: Okay. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time today on AM Agenda. Appreciate it.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks. My pleasure.