Sunday 30 March 2014
In 2012 I led a Ministerial delegation to Israel. I was keen to learn how it has made high-tech exports and entrepreneurialism its point of competitive advantage.
I was curious, how can a country with a population of less than 8 million can support a thriving venture capital industry that produces more successful start-ups than much larger economies like Japan and Korea? The answer was simple. Israel embraces science – and isn’t afraid of failure. Israel’s commitment to innovation – and commercialising that innovation – is hard-wired into key institutions.
There is a Chief Scientist in every Government Department, and a defence industry that drives innovation for industrial use. Above all, there is a tolerance for risk and failure, because investors realise that it’s often an entrepreneur’s second or third business that will be their most successful. It’s an inspiring story that shows Israel is determined to let every citizen fulfil their potential. It’s an example that Australia can draw a lot from – and I think there is much more we can do in the way of innovation partnerships with our good friends in Israel.
Today is an important chance for me to lay out the principles that inform Labor’s view of the Middle East. The Labor Party will always be proud of the role it played in the birth of modern Israel. We continue to have mutual security interests in the safety of our people against international terrorism and governments that support them, and I am proud of the elevated levels of defence cooperation that were reached during our Government. This included significant procurement of Israeli equipment in the areas of Battlefield Management Systems, UAVs, helmets, combat bandages, Typhoon weapons stations and other systems on our vessels, and the joint Thales and Plasan Protected Mobility Vehicle project. We also cooperate closely on methods of dealing with those insidious and indiscriminate Improvised Explosive Devices that have maimed and killed so many in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Labor’s belief in the right of the Israeli people to live within secure and recognised state boundaries has never wavered. We also have great hopes for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. The best way to achieve this just peace is a two-state solution. And let me be very clear what I mean by that: One state for the Palestinian people. One state for the Jewish people. Two homelands for two peoples. We believe both sides need to demonstrate a willingness to engage in direct negotiations without pre-conditions and to move as quickly as possible to resolution of final status issues. It is at the negotiating table that these issues should be resolved. This is why I strongly support the efforts underway by Secretary of State John Kerry to reach a framework agreement – and ultimately a comprehensive peace treaty. Both sides face a moment of truth in these negotiations.
I have no doubt in the courage of the people of Israel to make the hard decisions in the interests of a just and lasting peace. And I firmly hope the same pertains to the Palestinian Authority. Labor acknowledges that the settlements and infrastructure Israel has built in the West Bank will need to be considered in drawing a final border. We will support an approach that enables agreed border adjustments, including through the principle of a land swap which has been under discussion between the parties for a long time. We do acknowledge that some settlement activity in the West Bank is illegal under Israeli law and we encourage the Israeli authorities to act effectively with respect to this. But this issue, as difficult and emotive as it is, also has a solution: a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. The issue of Israeli settlements will be definitively concluded when there is a peace treaty, with defined borders – and then everyone knows the territory that Israel has, and that Palestine has. So the real answer to the settlements is to reach a settlement. And the sooner that is done – the better.
I also want to register my profound opposition to those promoting an anti-Israel boycott. I reject it. It has no place in our universities and it has no place in the commercial marketplace. I stand for engagement with Israel at every level.
Let me turn to Iran: On the question of relations with Iran, I am not opposed to the principle of negotiating with Iran regarding the elimination of their nuclear weapons ambitions. I am an optimist – and I believe in the power of negotiation. We need to tread carefully though. We need to have our eyes open – and all options on the table. Regardless of our instincts in favour of consensus and negotiation, there are serious caveats that we should apply when seeking engagement with Iran. We need to consider carefully any undertakings made by a regime of the kind currently in power in Iran. Any progress in talks should be underpinned by the most rigorous of verification regimes. Sanctions have proven highly effective in putting pressure on Iran to begin a serious discussion of preventing Iran’s development of nuclear capability.
Sanctions should not be relaxed in any of the key areas affecting the regime’s nuclear applications. The international community should think carefully before depriving ourselves of negotiating positions by being too quick to unwind sanction measures in other areas. I remain cautious in regard to the Iranian regime. It is a regime that brutalises its own people. It maintains a foreign policy premised on maintaining support to global terrorism. Iran’s foreign policy advocates the destruction of Israel, supporting Hezbollah and Hamas with sophisticated weapons and training, backing the brutal Assad regime and threatening the Straits of Hormuz. None of this is acceptable – and it is easy to see, if you take Iran at its word, why Israel faces an existential threat from an Iran that has nuclear weapons. And it is not only Israel that feels this way. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey – all these Muslim states are deeply troubled and feel threatened by Iran and its posture.
As a proud democracy, as a peace-loving nation, as a country that has always believed in a world that is free and equal and as a great friend of Israel – Australia will not be silent on these matters.
Given the events of the last week, I thought I should also speak to you about another important issue in our political debate.
This is, of course, the Liberal Government’s proposal to repeal Sections 18B, C, D and E of the Racial Discrimination Act. I believe this is a colossal mistake – and a dangerous one. Now, issues like this stir up strong passions – and so they should. I am strongly opposed to the idea of watering-down the hate speech protections in Section 18C. As the representative of an electorate where 51 in every 100 citizens speaks a language other than English at home, I am proud of Australia’s migrant tradition. I think migration has made us the greatest, most multicultural nation on earth. I believe we should treasure and welcome all those who become Australians by choice.
In the last week – hundreds and thousands of Australians have made it clear that they feel the same way. The important thing for all of us who care deeply about this issue is to make sure that our passion for the rightness of this cause does not consume the straightforward, sensible arguments against weakening the protections in 18C.
The case for clear protections against bigotry in the Racial Discrimination Act is strong enough without indulging in inflammatory rhetoric. So let me make this point clear from the outset. In opposing the changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, I am not accusing the Prime Minister, his Attorney General, or the Cabinet of being racists or bigots – or condoning racism or bigotry. Even if Senator Brandis has reached the appalling judgment in his legalistic journey as Attorney-General that it is a core value in our society for people to have the right to be bigots. Our country is far better than that pernicious view. Surely we aspire to something far better for our society. I’m not that interested in whether this change is just a matter of Tony Abbott keeping a promise he made to a think-tank.
Labor’s major concern is not the motivation behind the changes. It’s the effect that the changes will have – it’s the message that the changes send.
I think any move to water-down protections against hate speech is a seriously retrograde step. It sends a dangerous, insidious signal that this issue isn’t as serious as it was before. That somehow, in some way, the need to protect people from prejudice is reduced. This is wrong. There is no place for bigotry, no place for racism, no place for hate speech in the modern Australia. That’s the message we should be sending. It’s the view of more than 150 community leaders who have come forward in the last week to denounce the government’s proposed changes.I don’t propose to list them all – but I do think it is worth noting that the head of the Prime Minister’s own Council on Indigenous Affairs has called this a ‘mad’ decision and one that will let bigots off the chain. And the Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, who showed such courage in standing up against racist abuse last year, has voiced his concerns that the new act will provide a ‘loophole’ for racist abuse.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you know better than me, better than anyone, that the Jewish people have been the target of bigoted abuse – of anti-Semitism – which is an old and wicked problem, and which is still with us today Section 18C empowers minorities with the ability to fight back, with the force of the law and the sanction of our State, in the face of the outrageous and malign, which could otherwise be the first step down a dark and evil path. It sets a moral standard on behalf of the nation that says who we are.
To me, there is no greater example of the value and importance of 18C than the case of Holocaust denier Frederick Toben. This was a man who:
– Said that homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz were unlikely
– Accused Jewish people who are offended by, and who challenge Holocaust denial of limited intelligence
– Argued that Jewish people, for improper purposes, including financial gain, exaggerated the number of Jews killed during World War II and the circumstances in which they were killed.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry used section 18C to have these hateful, bigoted, ignorant statements removed from the internet and their author prosecuted. And last week, the Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said that under the Government’s new version of these laws – this significant case, and all those that the ECAJ has won against this kind of abhorrent anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, would have been extremely unlikely to succeed. To me, this is proof enough that the Government should not be tampering with these protections.
The final point I would make on this issue is that the real measure of the effectiveness is Section 18C is the fact that the overwhelming majority of cases are resolved through conciliation. Most of the time, the trained conciliator, the offender and the victim engage in a respectful dialogue, the offence is explained and an apology is given. Evidence shows that both parties perceive this as a fair process, and a mutually satisfactory one. We’ve got six weeks to change the government’s mind on this issue. I say ‘we’, because the government expect the Labor party not to agree with them. They will listen much more closely to your voice, the voice of the people, than they will to those of us who sit on the other side of the Parliament. So if you feel strongly about this – make it known.
Send a message.
Engage in the political debate and help keep Australia a tolerant, multicultural and peaceful nation.”