Topics:  Labor puts cart before horse and risks rewarding terrorists; Julian Assange;  

12:25PM AEST
11 April 2024



Kieran Gilbert:  Let’s go live now to the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. A lot to talk about ahead of the Prime Minister’s speech. He’s going to speak from the Queensland Media Club in a couple of moments. First, though, the Opposition Leader says that the Foreign Minister has damaged Australia’s reputation internationally from her speech this week. Do you agree with that assessment?


Simon Birmingham: Kieran, there’s no doubt that Australia’s relationship with Israel has been damaged through the Foreign Minister’s actions this week and over a number of decisions the Albanese Government has taken. There’s also no doubt that the Foreign Minister’s speech and actions this week were contrary and counter to the very message that, for example, the United States National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was urging the world to deliver in the midst of the ceasefire negotiations in Cairo. That message the US was urging was one of putting pressure on Hamas, who were being uncooperative during the ceasefire negotiations, to release the hostages to make progress so that a ceasefire could be achieved instead of putting pressure on Hamas. Penny Wong was doing the exact opposite.


Kieran Gilbert: But she’s saying that any state and not first of all, the government’s not saying they’re going to recognise the state. Now, this is floating the idea of possibly doing it, but any state would be dependent upon Hamas not being part of the picture. The Prime Minister reiterated that today.


Simon Birmingham: Why make these comments now? Why make them in the middle of ceasefire negotiations? Why is it that the elevation of the prospect of some type of unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state is on the government’s agenda. Rather than the prioritisation of pressure on Hamas for the release of hostages, pressure for the surrender of their terrorist infrastructure, pressure that can be best applied by also maintaining, rather than tearing up the decades long bipartisan consensus in Australia that a two-state solution is best achieved through a negotiated outcome between Israel and representatives of the Palestinian peoples, a negotiated outcome that ensures the security of both agreed borders for both and recognition and respect of each other’s right to exist by all parties.


Kieran Gilbert: The Prime Minister was on the program earlier. I asked him about the comments made by Joe Biden overnight at the white House, where he indicated that he’s considering allowing the dropping of the case against Assange to enable his return home. I asked the Prime minister, do those public comments reflect what’s being said privately? He said in response, he is increasingly optimistic. Do you welcome the fact that this looks like it’s going to come to a resolution sooner rather than later, from what the Prime Minister is indicating today?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this saga has gone on for a very long time. Much of it at Julian Assange’s instigation through the many years he spent in the Ecuadorian embassy and the various legal appeals that he has pursued. I think many would welcome the mere ending of the saga. And, of course, Mr. Assange and his supporters would welcome anything that saw his freedom. We’ve seen the United States in relation to these matters, show compassion under President Obama previously that Chelsea Manning, who received a long sentence, had that commuted to a seven-year term. Now, notably, Chelsea Manning did face justice, was convicted, served a sentence, even if it was commuted into a shorter term. Julian Assange has not done those things, but this has gone on a long time. And ultimately, if the US sees a pathway to resolve it and then that is a matter for the US. But we should clearly respect their processes and their systems.


Kieran Gilbert: Would you welcome that?


Simon Birmingham: The saga coming to an end would be welcome. The US deciding to take action is a matter for the United States, but it’s always good to know that the US listens to Australia. It is a close partnership, and we want to see that type of engagement in all different spheres and that of course, includes in difficult consular matters.


Kieran Gilbert: Now, my colleague Olivia Caisley reported this letter today. It’s from the- it’s basically the refugees, New South Wales, ACT Labor for refugees. And it’s raised serious human rights concerns in a letter to the government about the emergency legislation introduced last sitting week. What do you make of this internal division within the Labor membership? I guess it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, but the fact they’re putting it in writing now is a development.


Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve known for a long time. The Labor Party is all over the place on matters of border protection and when it comes to this legislation, we’ve already seen Labor senators criticise the legislation. Now that’s just been followed up by other parts of the Labor Party deeply critical of this legislation. It feels like the attempt to rush through this legislation was a try on. And since the third big try on from the government, they had brought forward legislation firstly around processes for electronic monitoring of individuals. But then we find that many individuals aren’t actually subject to that electronic monitoring, even though those laws were passed. Secondly, they brought on legislation for there to be a preventative detention orders put in place. But then we find out that no preventative detention orders have been sought. So, it was perfectly sensible of the Senate to say third time round, we want deeper, closer scrutiny of this legislation. That’s what the Senate committee is undertaking, and that Senate committee is clearly flushing out even deeper divisions within Labor when it comes to not only its broad border protection architecture, but even the specifics of this legislation.


Kieran Gilbert: Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Appreciate it. We’ll talk to you soon.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kieran. My pleasure.