Topics: Vigil for Israel-Hamas conflict; School protests; Labor’s mixed messaging; David Cameron; Migration; 

07:48AM AEDT
Tuesday, 14 November 2023

Pete Stefanovic: You’re watching First Edition on this Tuesday morning, folks. I’m going to send it over to Canberra now where a protest is taking place. The Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham, is obviously right there for us. Simon, good to see you. Thanks for your time. Just realistically, what can this protest achieve this morning so far away from Israel and Gaza?


Simon Birmingham: G’day, Pete. Well, the vigil happening behind me is a very important statement. It’s highlighting the fact that there are still 239 individuals who have been held hostage by Hamas for 38 days now. Babies, children, women. Families, the elderly. You have a range of individuals whose circumstances are just so traumatic. It is hard for many of us to contemplate. And this vigil is bringing home the horror and the reality of those hostages being held, a reminder of the brutality that Hamas undertook, and of the need to ensure that terrorist organisation is brought to account and disabled in terms of its future capabilities to undertake such acts.


Pete Stefanovic: Well, a reminder that this is how this new conflict started.


Simon Birmingham: It is a very vivid reminder of the events of October 7th, 38 days ago. The fact that you had women and babies and children murdered, tortured, raped, slaughtered. It is just horrific to think about what occurred on that day. And remembering this was the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians by Hamas, a terrorist organisation at a scale that saw the biggest loss of Jewish lives on a single day since the Holocaust. And whilst, of course, the continued loss of innocent lives of Palestinian lives is equally a tragedy. We have to remember those lives are being lost because Hamas has put them on the line. Hamas has created this conflict and this war, and it uses innocent Palestinians as a shield, including civilian infrastructure like hospitals.


Pete Stefanovic: There are rival protests taking place as well at the moment, including one next week that’s going to ask or is asking school students to leave school and go and rally for the Palestinian cause, should that go ahead, Simon?


Simon Birmingham: But I’m deeply troubled by this sort of idea. Of course, it’s a free country and everybody in Australia is free to peacefully protest. But I would urge everyone to do it in ways that are respectful, which we haven’t seen lately. The protests that have clearly been designed to intimidate Australia’s Jewish communities are shameful. They need to be condemned at the highest levels of our country, and they should never have been allowed to occur in those locations in the first place.

But schoolchildren really shouldn’t be dragged into sensitive activities and areas of, I think, great complexity in terms of how this conflict, its history, its origins, and ultimately, of course, the fact that some will seek to use them as voices. We’ve seen that at the worst of all levels in terms of the way Hamas uses children, sometimes as voices. It just is something that should not be occurring. There should really be great caution in an Australian context about trying to mobilise children in this sort of way.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay, just looking at some of the comments that have come from the Labor government over the past couple of days now, when it comes to Israel and Gaza, through speeches, through interviews, etcetera. Bill Shorten on the program a short time ago says the Labor Party is in fact united on its messaging over Israel. Is he right?


Simon Birmingham: No, he’s not right. There have been a multitude of different messages from different Labor ministers. And if they just stuck to the parliamentary resolution that enjoyed bipartisan support, that was very clear in terms of Israel’s inherent right to self-defence, in terms of the need and recognition for action against Hamas and to remove that threat from Israel for the future, then they would be on strong ground, but instead the types of language that goes to issues such as ceasefire, when the only ceasefire that can really work is a ceasefire where innocent hostages are released and Hamas unconditionally surrenders its terrorists, its arms, its ability to wage this type of horror on innocent people into the future.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay, entirely unrelated Simon, but David Cameron is back on the scene. He’s the new foreign secretary out of the UK. Have you got a view on that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, welcome back to David Cameron. I’m sure that all look forward to engaging with the former prime minister and now Foreign Secretary in the UK. He led the Conservative Party in Britain to two successful election victories. He’s obviously got a lot in a world of- he has a world of international experience, and I’m sure he will put that to good use as Britain’s foreign secretary at a time where, having experienced capable hands step forward to fill critical roles in a troubled world has to be welcomed.


Pete Stefanovic: And just to follow on because I’ve got another 30 seconds here. Simon, I just want to get a quick comment on these claims by Peter Costello this morning, who put the blame of housing affordability squarely on migration that it’s too high at the moment. Matt Canavan suggested that migration needs to be cut in half at the moment. Is that something that you would agree with?


Simon Birmingham: I’m not going to put an arbitrary number on it, but we’ve clearly seen the biggest wave in terms of arrivals that Australia has felt ever. That’s putting real pressure on infrastructure, on housing and a range of different sectors. And the Government doesn’t seem to have any clear plan as to how it’s going to deal with it. And that is what needs to be married together. If you’re going to have migration, it’s got to match with infrastructure, with housing, with the things that are necessary to sustain it without creating pressures on every other Australian who’s here.


Pete Stefanovic: All right. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.