Editorial: Maintaining Australia’s democratic legacy
May 2, 2022 | Colin Rubenstein
As campaign rhetoric reaches fever pitch ahead of the federal election on May 21, it is easy to forget the simple truth that what unites most Australians is far greater than what divides us.
This is equally true whether looking at the broad national agenda or narrowing the focus down to the issues that matter most to the Australian Jewish community.
As always, the devil is in the details, so we urge readers to closely examine the answers to the 11 policy questions AIJAC submitted to the Coalition and Labor campaigns to better understand the nuances and make the most informed possible choice at the polls.
At the foundations of Australian policy, there are clearly broad areas of consensus where national interests and those more specific to the Jewish community meet.
Regardless of whether the parties of Prime Minister Scott Morrison or Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese come out ahead, a sea change in Australia’s historic, mutually beneficial, close relationship with Israel is not on the ballot.
Both major campaigns stress the “steadfast” nature of Australia’s friendship with Israel, built on shared interests; the need for increased trade; and oppose the destructive anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and its false, inflammatory depictions of Israel as practising “apartheid”.
Both also pledge to continue Australia’s longstanding bipartisan support for a two-state peace framework negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.
There is also a national consensus to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons (though, unfortunately, stubborn support for a return to the flawed and obsolete JCPOA agreement remains a shared, bipartisan blind spot), and against Teheran’s destabilising and aggressive regional behaviours and sponsorship of terrorism.
On the last point, it’s worth pausing to gratefully acknowledge the favourable shift in Canberra that recently took place on this front. When we quizzed the Coalition and Labor on policy issues before the 2019 federal election, neither party endorsed designating the entirety of the Iranian proxy Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Over the course of the last parliament, bipartisan support developed in the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for such a change and the Morrison Government implemented it. Moreover, bipartisan support was also extended to a similar, highly justified ban on all of Hamas.
Both parties also recognise the need to assist the Jewish community to protect itself against security threats and address antisemitism and the hate crimes this enduring and growing prejudice helps fuel.
Bipartisan support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism has been a great achievement in the fight against this scourge. We look forward to Australia’s next government, no matter who leads it, proposing practical ways to apply the definition across government bodies and implement policies to reduce antisemitism throughout Australian society.
Meanwhile, Labor offers strong support for section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, while the Coalition reaffirms it has no plans to change this crucial legislation. Furthermore, both political camps firmly back the policy of multiculturalism that has made Australia stronger, more diverse, and hopefully more harmonious – providing that the responsibilities as well as the rights of citizenship continue to be insisted upon!
Some of the policy responses, however, will raise questions. For example, on the one hand, Labor rightly says that “the only way a two-state solution can be achieved is through a negotiated outcome between [Israel and the Palestinians].” But Labor policy also refuses to rule out pre-empting that negotiated outcome through premature recognition of a Palestinian state (which simply does not currently exist). This contradiction is worrying.
Another difference in the answers Jewish voters may note is the ALP’s focus on right-wing extremism to the possible neglect of extremism and bigotry from left-wing and Islamist sources. The ALP also does not appear to share AIJAC’s belief in the need for greater independent, external oversight of the ABC. In addition, while the Coalition can point to a very solid and principled voting record on Middle Eastern issues at the UN, the ALP’s answers provide little guidance on how their election would influence Australia’s currently strong pro-Israel stance in UN bodies.
Additionally, the two major parties are not the only political players deserving of scrutiny in this election. As Naomi Levin documented in the April AIR edition, the Australian Greens, always dubious on Israel-Palestinian issues, have increasingly edged toward open embrace of BDS, with all the destructive and discriminatory implications that this conveys for Israeli-Palestinian peace hopes and for friends of Israel in Australia. Meanwhile, divisive, extremist rhetoric continues to flow from populist right-wing parties such as One Nation and the United Australia Party.
A potentially unique factor in this election is the substantial number of extremely well-funded “Climate 200” independents being significantly sponsored by multi-millionaire Simon Holmes à Court and his friends. These candidates claim to be chiefly concerned about climate change, women’s rights, and integrity, yet as Jamie Hyams (pp. 18-20) documents in this edition, many of them have problematic baggage in terms of stances on Israel and related issues, inappropriate past speech, and troubling associates. This background deserves careful scrutiny before anyone considers giving these candidates their vote.
Indeed, given the worrying positions and plans of some minor parties and independents, there is good reason to hope that, whoever wins, they will have a workable majority government not dependent on cross-benchers.
Election campaigns can be jarring, emotional and frustrating, but throughout this process, we would do well to attempt to maintain a profound awareness of how privileged we are to inherit the great gift of Australian democracy. With Ukraine being battered by Russia in large part because of Moscow’s hatred and fear of Kyiv’s democracy, and Hong Kong’s democracy having been destroyed by Beijing, all Australians need to remember that democracy is a national legacy that should never be taken for granted. Holding on to that legacy requires us to always actively cherish, nurture and protect the free and open society that we are so fortunate to enjoy.