Topics:  Labor puts cart before horse and risks rewarding terrorists; U.S. commitment to Pacific;  

10:25AM AEST
12 April 2024



Laura Jayes:  Let’s go live to Adelaide now. The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham joins us. Simon, thanks so much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Morning, LJ.


Laura Jayes: This week has been dominated by talk of Palestinian statehood. That, of course, from Penny Wong’s speech earlier in the week. And now that the dust has settled a little bit, do we think the policy platform has changed at all?


Simon Birmingham: LJ, I think that is perhaps the most significant question that hangs at the end of this week. What the Albanese Government has done this week is create immense confusion about what their stance is when it comes to Israel-Palestine, a two-state solution and the recognition of a Palestinian state. But the real questions for Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese to answer are whether they are proposing to shift Australia’s policy from a negotiated two state solution to a unilateral recognition of a state of Palestine. And if they are doing so, whether that means they would undertake that unilateral recognition ahead of a negotiated settlement on key questions such as the agreed borders between Israel and a future State of Palestine. Key questions around issues of rights to return that hang over negotiations in this area. Key questions around governance and security arrangements. And if they are making such a proposition, then how is it they will assess the types of tests that must absolutely be applied in terms of ensuring no potential role for Hamas and absolute confidence in the security situation, and particularly the demilitarisation and removal of terrorist capabilities from Gaza and from the Palestinian territories to ensure that security situation.


Laura Jayes: Okay, all these things said. I mean, at the same time, we’re having this fevered conversation about the comments of Penny Wong. At the same time, there’s an admission that Australia can do very little from where we are about a solution overseas.


Simon Birmingham: That is true, LJ. We are not a big player in this space, but standing up for our values matters. Being consistent matters. We’ve got a decades long position in Australia of supporting a negotiated two-state solution that is based on our strong recognition that the democratic state of Israel, a friend to Australia, has a right to exist and to exist in security and to exist within defined borders and boundaries that are respected and protected, and that right should be recognised and respected by its neighbours. Now we want to see the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, to have a state within defined borders recognised in some form as well. But that’s got to be achieved in an environment where security exists, and confidence is built that security will be enduring. Clearly, the actions of Hamas on October 7th shattered, shattered, and set back any sense of security or confidence there. and to now be talking, as Penny Wong appears to have been about some fast tracking or potential unilateral recognition of a state of Palestine, potentially risks removing the incentive to negotiate and deal with the key issues of agreed borders, of rights of return questions, of how you demilitarise and ensure security arrangements are put in place. That’s why the Albanese Government needs to clarify if it is or if it isn’t proposing to shift Australia’s position.


Laura Jayes: What is bipartisan is, I think, Australia’s support of Israel eradicating Hamas, I think, and I wonder if you agree with me here. Yes, we can all agree with that. But it would be naive to think that you could wipe out an ideology, wouldn’t it? And you wipe out Hamas and then who takes over? I mean, is the Palestinian Authority still something that is being considered for Gaza?


Simon Birmingham: So, a big question that does hang over this. This tragic conflict and situation is what happens in what many refer to as the day after the day after hostilities in Gaza cease, and now we want to see them cease. And this week there have been peace negotiations happening in Cairo and tragically, terribly. Hamas has been reported to be being uncooperative in those negotiations, unwilling to make firm commitments about the release of hostages that could provide for a ceasefire environment. Maximum pressure should be being applied for Hamas to agree to that release of hostages to enable a cease fire environment to be created. That would be a very, very welcome step. When we look to that type of day after scenario, that really is where then some type of stabilisation needs to be achieved that can enable rebuilding, governance, security, key tests to be met. And those are the tests that will really be looked at as to whether or not negotiations for a long term two-state solution can resume and resume in a meaningful and practical way. That’s where a concerted effort of global partners working with Arab states and Israel to really ensure that security and stabilisation can be achieved is critical. Now, of course, you have malign actors such as Iran who sponsor Hamas, have supported Hezbollah, who have encouraged the Houthi rebels, all of them creating destabilisation in the region, too. But we should take heart from the fact that equally countries like the United Arab Emirates, who have, through the Abraham Accords, normalised their relations with Israel in recent years, have retained that position and hope that they and others can play leading roles in helping to stabilise, which is in their interests, Israel’s interests in everyone’s to get an environment of security where Hamas cannot rebuild and does not have the capacity to re-establish its terrorist infrastructure.


Laura Jayes: Just quickly, if I could get your reaction on this, the US President, Joe Biden, pledged to defend the Philippines from any attack in the South China Sea. What’s the significance of that?


Simon Birmingham: These are strong and decisive comments from President Biden. President Biden’s strong and decisive comments are very welcome. They demonstrate the commitment of the United States to its presence in our region, to its support for allies and partners in our region. And through that support, to creating a strong deterrence framework and through that deterrence, to maintaining peace and stability across the region. So, it’s a real demonstration that the US remains engaged, remains committed, is creating the type of deterrence that hopefully can avoid conflict and create space for diplomacy to do its job.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, always a pleasure. Thanks so much.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.