The Coalition and Labor answer our exclusive pre-election policy questions
As has become traditional in the lead-up to a federal election, the Australia/Israel Review posed a series of questions to Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd focusing on international security, the Middle East, and domestic polices of special interest to the Australian Jewish community.
Question 1: What is the importance to Australia of its relationship with Israel? What should Australia’s role be in the quest for peace between Israel and her Arab neighbours?
HOWARD: Australia was one of the first countries to recognise Israel in 1949. Australia and Israel have a warm and close relationship based on many shared values and attributes including vibrant civil societies, market economies, the rule of law and democracy. Australia’s Jewish community is an immensely important part of our history and a dynamic element of our society.
In order to find a just, lasting and comprehensive solution to the Middle East conflict, there must be a peaceful, negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Coalition Government has consistently supported a two-state solution which recognises the right of Israel to live in peace and meets the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Australia welcomed the appointment of Mr Blair as the Quartet’s representative and is considering how it might provide practical support to Quartet and other efforts to advance the peace process and contribute to Palestinian capacity building.
RUDD: Australia and Israel are intrinsically linked as countries that value human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Australia’s involvement began even before Israel gained independence, with former Labor leader Doc Evatt playing a critical and supportive role as President of the UN General Assembly and as Chair of the Palestine Commission. Since then, Australia has been one of Israel’s most consistent friends through the many difficult times as well as the good.
Our relationship with Israel is not only built on shared values, but on the many cultural links through our own Australian Jewish community and an increasing number of economic links in such areas as agriculture, information technology and defence. These links will continue to grow over time to the benefit of both Israel and Australia.
Australia enjoys very good diplomatic and economic relationships with many Middle Eastern countries. Australia has the potential to play a more constructive and positive diplomatic role to help provide momentum for peace negotiations. We could encourage both sides to make the necessary concessions for a lasting peace and work for a wider acceptance of the peace process throughout the region.
Question 2: Do you support the two dominant elements of current international efforts to encourage Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation: 1. Isolation of the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip until they accept the three conditions set out by the Quartet (recognition of Israel, renunciation of terrorism, and agreement to be bound by past Israeli-Palestinian agreements); 2. International efforts to reform and strengthen the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank? If so, what policies should Australia implement to help support these two processes? If not, what alternative would you propose?
HOWARD: As one of Israel’s longest standing and truest friends, the Coalition Government remains steadfast in its commitment to a safe and secure Israel. Australia strongly supports ongoing efforts by the international community, including the Quartet, the Arab League and regional countries, to re-energise the peace process and promote dialogue.
Australia has consistently called on Hamas to accept the three conditions set out by the Middle East Quartet. Australia calls on any Palestinian government to accept its international responsibilities and renounce violence, recognise Israel, and accept agreements made by previous Palestinian representatives. Australia welcomed the appointment by President Abbas of the Palestinian emergency government led by Prime Minister Fayyad. The appointment of the Fayyad government provides a significant window of opportunity to move the peace process forward.
In June 2007 Australia announced it would provide a further $7 million in assistance for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanese refugee camps. $4 million will be provided through the World Bank’s managed component of the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) and a further $2 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). $1 million will also be provided to Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps. In 2006-2007, Australia’s assistance to the Palestinian Territories was $16.2 million.
RUDD: The Hamas military coup and takeover of Gaza in June and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ subsequent issuance of a “Presidential decree” dissolving the Hamas-led unity government and declaring a state of emergency in the Palestinian territories edged the Palestinians to the brink of civil war and has resulted in two isolated Palestinian territories. These events have been a terrible set back to efforts by the international community to progress the peace process.
The argument that the Hamas takeover of Gaza was a result of the international community failing to ‘bring Hamas into the tent’ is flawed. Hamas has consistently refused to accept the three conditions as set out by the Quartet. The international community has a right to determine its engagement with organisations such as Hamas based on the platform they put forward and Australia and much of the international community reject the Hamas platform.
For as long as Hamas chooses to espouse policies which include the refusal to recognise Israel and continues to actively engage in and support terrorism, countries such as Australia are perfectly within their rights in choosing to disassociate with such an organisation. As long as Hamas exercises its choice to continue down the current path, Australia should exercise its choice to refrain from contact and join the international community in isolating Hamas.
It is imperative that countries such as Australia join with the international community to help strengthen the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by President Abbas. It is also important that the PA becomes a viable government and that the Palestinian economy is kick-started. This will increase the trust Palestinians have in their leaders to make compromises and also give them an incentive to prevent violence in order to protect their new economic interests.
Australia must also put political and diplomatic pressure on Syria and Iran to stop their training and funnelling of arms to their favoured factions in the territories, which ultimately undermines the (PA). Political efforts must also aim to establish a legitimate and unified PA security service, which is not beholden to one faction or another. This however requires a long-term process involving both diplomacy and technical support.
Question 3: It is now six years since the September 11 attacks and five years since the first Bali bombings – what have we learned in that time about the best way to protect Australia from terrorist attacks? What would a government led by you do in the coming term, both internationally and in terms of domestic legal and other policy measures, to minimise the chance of further terror attacks on Australia or Australians?
HOWARD: Australia experienced the immediacy of the terrorism threat in Bali when 92 Australians were killed in the attacks of 2002 and 2005. The Australian Embassy in Jakarta was also attacked in 2004. Terrorism remains a threat to Australia, to Australian interests, and to our allies both globally and in our region and requires a committed, long-term response.
Since 11 September 2001, the Coalition Government has committed approximately $9 billion in additional funding to ensure our agencies have the resources to meet the threat of terrorism. We have developed new national counter-terrorism coordination and response arrangements, which are effective and well rehearsed. We strengthened our terrorism laws so our legal system can adequately address acts in preparation for a terrorist incident, yet still ensure the right balance between protecting Australians from terrorists and protecting the rights and freedoms all Australians believe in.
Australia will continue to combat terrorism abroad as well as at home. The Coalition Government remains committed to building stability, supporting democracy and resisting the establishment of terrorist havens in Afghanistan and Iraq. We will continue to work closely with international partners, particularly in South East Asia, to build the capacity of our neighbours to combat terrorist groups.
RUDD: The absolute and fundamental responsibility of any Australian government is to provide for the security and safety of the Australian people, the defence of our continent and the protection of our national interests, wherever these may be.
As a country with world-class but relatively small security and economic resources, Australia has to make hard-headed decisions about where it can contribute most effectively to the international fight against terrorism. Australia has a range of capabilities at its disposal to fight international terrorism and the ideology of hate that drives it. Military deployments, law enforcement, intelligence, development initiatives and diplomacy are all required in concert in the fight against international terrorism and to protect Australia and Australians from attack.
One of the chief locations for terrorist training, funding and support is still to be found in Afghanistan, particularly on the border regions with Pakistan where al-Qaeda has regrouped and continues to pose a threat. It is vital that a strong Afghan Government is built with the ability to rein in the drug trade that is financing terror whilst destroying the al-Qaeda terrorist infrastructure which presents such a threat to the world and particularly the Asia-Pacific region. Labor has already committed to sending a team of around 12 Australian Federal police to assist and train their Afghan colleagues in counter-narcotics operations. Labor is also committed to continuing our ADF contribution to Oruzgan province with the Reconstruction Taskforce and has been critical of the Government’s withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan in 2002 before the job was done. Labor’s commitment to Afghanistan is clear cut – a military defeat of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
It is also important that we assist in stabilising states in our region, with terrorist networks such as JI in Indonesia and the Philippine insurgent groups remaining operational. This will require a sustained policing and military response in cooperation with our neighbours.
The other important part of the equation that must work in conjunction with military and policing deployments is development policies within our region. There are many failing states that are prone to break downs in law and order. Addressing the long term and underlying problems of economic underdevelopment will lead to less people being susceptible to the message of terrorist recruiters. On this front, Labor has announced the Pacific Partnership for Development and Security to deal with the most pressing economic, governance and social problems in consultation with our Pacific neighbours. We have also announced an Asia-Pacific Centre for Civil-Military Cooperation, which would develop a holistic approach to conflict prevention, peace building and nation building between government departments, NGOs and public sector employees from the countries in question.
Australia would also take the lead in developing an international legal framework for the prosecution and extradition of terrorists. We would do this through assisting in the drafting and promotion of a Convention on Suicide Terrorism which would criminalise incitement and support for it, forcing countries to properly prosecute or extradite offenders. It would also provide impetus to achieve a breakthrough on negotiations at the UN for a comprehensive Convention on Terrorism, by assisting in the definition of the crime. Inexplicably, the Government opposed this initiative. We would also make more use of bodies such as the International Criminal Court to prosecute terrorists where appropriate and bolster international law enforcement cooperation in order to locate and arrest terror suspects.
To better coordinate our national security efforts Labor’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will encompass the key responsibilities of responding to terrorism, intelligence gathering, border security, a national coastguard, transport security, federal policing, critical infrastructure protection, incident response and recovery capability.
Within the first year of a Rudd Labor Government, the Minister for Homeland Security will prepare a long overdue assessment of the terrorist environment we confront. This white paper will form the basis of future strategic planning and will be a vital guide for agencies involved in this important area of security. A public version of that white paper will also be released. A Rudd Labor Government recognises the need for urgent upgrades in mass urban transport security and critical infrastructure protection given the significant dangers posed to those sectors around the world and in Australia.
|Point of contention: The furure of the 520 Australian soldiers deployed in Iraq’s south|
Question 4: How does the ongoing war in Iraq affect the ongoing international threat of terrorism? Should Australia continue contributing to US-led efforts to stabilise the situation in Iraq, and if so, in what ways and under what conditions?
HOWARD: The Iraq conflict is a key front of the global war on terrorism. Al-Qaeda and other extremist organisations have publicly stated that their attacks against Coalition forces and the Iraqi people will help promote jihad in all corners of the globe and promote the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. The Coalition Government sees continued international support for Iraq’s stabilisation as vital to defeating those who wish to turn Iraq into a haven from which groups could export terror to other parts of the world. A premature withdrawal from Iraq would weaken the global leadership provided by the United States, our most important ally, and embolden terrorists throughout the world, including in our own region.
A stable and democratic Iraq is strongly in Australia’s national interest. Australia’s strategy in Iraq, and that of the broader Coalition, continues to evolve to meet the changing needs on the ground. A premature withdrawal from Iraq would have disastrous humanitarian consequences in Iraq, the Middle East and beyond. Australia’s continued deployment in Iraq is at the request of the Iraq Government, and its conclusion will be dependent upon conditions on the ground, not on arbitrary timetables.
RUDD: Labor recognises that progress in Iraq ultimately requires a political and economic solution, not just a military solution and this must be reached by the different ethnic and sectarian factions in Iraq to end the civil war. Ending the sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Iraqis through political reconciliation and bringing Sunni Iraqis into a pluralistic Iraqi government is necessary to isolate and cut off the passive support for the foreign fighters of al-Qaeda in the Sunni triangle.
Labor’s position on the war in Iraq is also clear cut – a staged withdrawal of our 520 combat troops from southern Iraq – based in the Dhi Qar and Al Muthanna provinces – in consultation with our allies and the Iraqi government. This would be done as part of a broader diplomatic effort to encourage Iraqis to meet clear benchmarks on political reconciliation and greater progress on constitutional and power sharing issues.
Our troops have as always performed with bravery and distinction, but the contingent in southern Iraq (in predominantly Shia provinces) is not directly engaged in the fight against al-Qaeda. Labor believes that the path outlined in the bi-partisan Baker-Hamilton report to the United States government should be followed. Labor’s plan for a phased withdrawal of our combat forces over time and diplomatic efforts by the international community to promote political reconciliation and encourage the Sunni and the Shia to resolve their political differences is the only way forward. In addition this must be buttressed by economic assistance. Labor has consistently called for increasing humanitarian and economic assistance to the Iraqi people. Until an Iraq policy is implemented which understands that security, economic and political strategies must work hand in hand, only instability and more violence will continue in Iraq and the broader region.
The solution in Iraq is now a political one, requiring compromise of Iraq’s political factions in order to avert a complete humanitarian disaster through sustained civil war. There is already evidence that Iraqis themselves have grown tired of the terrorist threat and are seeking to cut off communal support by themselves.
Australia does have a responsibility to continue assisting Iraqis in the rebuilding of their country, and as such we will continue to provide our naval presence in the Gulf to avert oil smuggling, our Orion overflights to provide vital intelligence to Iraqi and Coalition authorities, and our Security Detachment in Baghdad to protect our diplomats who should be integral to the diplomatic and political efforts.
Question 5: Are you concerned at attempts by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons in violation of binding UN Security Council resolutions, Iranian threats to Israel and other neighbours, and support for terrorist organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah? If so, what economic, diplomatic or other measures would you implement to help halt Iran’s illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons and discourage Iran’s other undesirable activities? Would you prevent Australian companies from investing in Iran’s energy sector?
HOWARD: The Coalition Government is deeply concerned about the threat to global security posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the need for effective international cooperation to minimise that threat.
The Government remains seriously concerned at support from within Iran for insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are similarly concerned that Iran is still not providing full cooperation and transparency to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and remains in breach of three UN Security Council Resolutions. The international community has sent an unambiguous message to Iran that it must fulfil its international obligations. Australia has called on Iran to comply with its UN and obligations, to reinstate a full and verifiable suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities, and to cooperate fully with the IAEA to restore international confidence in its nuclear program.
The Coalition Government is fully committed to continuing diplomatic efforts to resolve issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program. Australia is imposing sanctions against Iran in relation to its nuclear and missile proliferation-sensitive activities as required by UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747 adopted unanimously in December 2006 and March 2007 respectively. These sanctions oblige all states to prevent Iran gaining access to goods and services that would contribute to Iran’s enrichment related, reprocessing or heavy-water related activities, or to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems. They also impose financial sanctions against individuals and entities involved in nuclear and missile proliferation-sensitive activities and impose an embargo on the transfer of arms from Iran, as well as limits on arms transfers to Iran. Australia will implement any further sanctions which may be imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council.
RUDD: Iran’s repeated violations of international law and monitoring requirements for its nuclear program are intensely concerning. They present not only an existential threat towards Israel, but also the broader Middle East, Europe and the world. Iran also bears a large part of the blame for the continuing failure of the Middle East peace process through its sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah, which it uses as proxies to increase violence and provocation whenever the environment is most conducive to negotiation.
Firstly, we would like to initiate legal proceedings against President Ahmadinejad on a charge of incitement to genocide. This could occur through the International Court of Justice on reference by the UN Security Council. This option has a growing body of supporters, including former Canadian Attorney-General Irwin Cotler, former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.
They refer to Ahmadinejad’s statements about wiping Israel off the map, questioning whether Zionists are human beings and the recent abhorrent conference that he convened on the veracity of the Holocaust. It is strongly arguable that this conduct amounts to incitement to genocide – criminalised under the 1948 genocide convention.
Adopting this approach would serve two purposes. Firstly, as the former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold mentioned, it will move the international legal system from punishing genocide post-facto to preventing it before it occurs. Secondly, it would seriously undermine Ahmadinejad’s international legitimacy and his standing at home. The preparation of formal changes and the process of hearing would require Ahmadinejad to justify his inflammatory and destabilizing posturing and rhetoric.
Labor strongly supports UN efforts to resolve the crisis. This means standing behind Resolution 1747, which reaffirms that Iran must take the steps required by the IAEA to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities; and ratify and implement the NPT Additional Protocol. We should reaffirm our support for the full range of sanctions which are currently in place, and for any future measures which may result from further Iranian non-compliance.
Labor will be monitoring Australia’s implementation closely and supporting the current drafting of new sanctions at the Security Council. Labor will be calling for these to be implemented if there is no improvement. In addition, we will also be encouraging the Government to follow the US lead by threatening the local interests of corporations and financial institutions which are linked to Iran’s support for terrorism and its nuclear program.
Bringing the full force of the international system down upon Iran will legitimise the international pressure while encouraging the process of internal change. It must be prosecuted with every available diplomatic resource at the earliest opportunity, to achieve the best outcome for Iran, the Middle East and the broader community of nations.
Question 6: There is considerable concern internationally and in Australia about the situation in Lebanon, with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement threatening to overthrow the elected government led by Fouad Siniora, Syria accused of ongoing interference in Lebanon, and the UN force, UNIFIL, by its own admission, unable to enforce the ban under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 on arms smuggling across the Syrian border, principally to Hezbollah. What, in your view, can Australia do to help resolve these ongoing problems?
HOWARD: Australia strongly supports Lebanon’s democratically elected government led by Prime Minister Siniora. We urge all parties to work to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and integrity, particularly in the sensitive period in the lead-up to Presidential elections in Lebanon. We strongly deplore the reported political assassination on 19 September of another member of the Siniora government, Antoine Ghanem.
Australia has allocated $24 million for recovery and reconstruction activities in Lebanon and continues to provide assistance to Lebanon for its reconstruction and humanitarian needs and through the UN Mine Action Service for the removal of unexploded ordnance.
RUDD: Hezbollah is now making a power play for domination of the whole of Lebanon. The only possible result of this is a re-run of the crippling civil war of the 1970s and 1980s. The only way to avoid this is for UNIFIL to step up to the mark and disarm Hezbollah to create a monopoly of force in Lebanon with the Lebanese Army and allow the transformation of Hezbollah into a purely political entity.
Sheikh Nasrallah publicly boasts about the large-scale rearmament of Hezbollah for the next fight with Israel. Unfortunately at this stage it appears to be the weaker and worse-equipped Lebanese Army making the only attempts to disarm Hezbollah, however sporadic these attempts may be. UNIFIL needs to make sure its rules of engagement are unambiguous and then rigorously support the Lebanese Army in its disarmament program if Lebanon is to be prevented from disintegrating internally, and a future war with Israel is to be averted. Australia should lobby at the UN and amongst the participant countries in UNIFIL to effectively address these priorities. Australia and the international community must also exert diplomatic and political pressure on Syria to shut down its assistance to Hezbollah and to halt Syrian interference in the internal politics of Lebanon.
Question 7: Both the current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and his predecessor Kofi Annan have criticised examples of discriminatory and unfair treatment of Israel at the world body. Meanwhile the UN has selected Libya to head a committee, on which Iran will also be a member, to plan a successor to the 2001 Durban anti-racism conference, which became dominated by anti-Israel activism and featured openly antisemitic material. Should Australia be helping to end discriminatory treatment against Israel at the UN and if so, how? What principles would a government led by you apply to Australian voting in the UN General Assembly on resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
HOWARD: The Coalition Government opposes resolutions in the United Nations (and other multilateral fora) on Middle East issues that are unbalanced, include harsh anti-Israeli language or unduly divert United Nations resources into unproductive activity. The singling out of one side only for blame in a complex situation is unhelpful and will do nothing to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. Australia will continue to work towards ensuring Israel’s security by looking to support her interests in international fora.
RUDD: Australia should be doing everything in its power to make the UN system accountable and relevant, otherwise it risks being sidelined. Part of this will be to combat the politicisation and manipulation of UN bodies by unrepresentative and ill-intentioned dictatorships. These problems are largely responsible for the disproportionate amount of time that is spent levelling unfair criticism at Israel.
Apart from supporting the UN reform process that is currently underway, Australia can also play a practical diplomatic role by supporting the new initiative of the UN Democracy Caucus. The caucus was developed in June 2000 where over 100 governments gathered at the first Community of Democracies meeting in Warsaw. The attending countries pledged to form caucuses at international and regional institutions to support resolutions and other international activities aimed at the promotion of democratic governance.
Unlike membership of the United Nations itself, membership of the democracy caucus is only open to countries that are invited to be participants. The criteria requires: “states which are elected on the basis of competency of multi-party democracy elections and respectful of fundamental human rights.”
The Community of Democracies presents a real opportunity for democracies to develop “a complementary or catalytic caucus within the United Nations”. That influence will only occur however through hard work, communication and a belief that outcomes achieved through the United Nations are worth fighting for.
Democracies have already had success ensuring that Belarus was not chosen in the most recent round of Human Rights Council elections and this trend must be continued more broadly across the organisation.
Question 8: What policies will you implement to attempt to harmoniously manage the ethnic diversity of Australia, while preserving the core values needed for an integrated, tolerant and smoothly functioning democracy? Do you call these policies ones promoting “Australia multiculturalism”, and if so, what do you mean by this? If not, how would you describe your policy goals?
HOWARD: The Coalition Government is committed to ensuring that its policies continue to enrich Australia through the well-managed entry and settlement of people. The Coalition supports, and will continue to support, a number of well-funded programs that recognise the contributions of our culturally diverse society. The Coalition Government also promotes the integration of migrants into the broader Australian community, including through the Settlement Grants Program, the Living in Harmony Program, the National Action Plan, the Adult Migrant English Program and the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy, and through Complex Case Management Support.
RUDD: Australia is and always will be a society of people from a rich variety of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds. Australia is and will remain a multicultural society. Multiculturalism has always been and will continue to be a part of Labor’s vision for a vibrant and cohesive Australia.
The principal policy challenge currently facing Australian governments is to better manage integration programs to ensure that our multicultural society remains cohesive. Labor wants to build a seamless pathway from the airport to the workplace. Labor would provide improved English language training and assistance for people attaining their first job.
Question 9: Many Australian Jews are concerned that their parents, who have become valued participants in Australian life, would not have been granted citizenship if the recently changed citizenship laws, involving tests for English language skills and Australian values, had been applied to them. Since both major parties supported these changes, can you explain why the changes were necessary, and in what way, if any, these concerns are ill-founded?
HOWARD: The Coalition Government believes that citizenship is the ultimate outcome of migration. It also believes that prospective citizens should have an understanding of what it means to become an Australian. The Citizenship Test will ensure residents who want to become citizens gain an understanding of Australia’s values and traditions. It will also ensure potential citizens have some knowledge of Australia’s history and our national symbols. The Citizenship Test is an important part of ensuring that migrants have the capacity to fully participate in the Australian community as citizens. It will promote social cohesion and successful integration into the community.
The Citizenship Test is not an English Test; nor is the fact that an understanding of English be a pre-requisite to citizenship a new requirement. The Citizenship Act has included since 1949 a clause requiring that applicants for Australian citizenship demonstrate a knowledge of English. The ability to speak English is essential if people are to fully participate in community life and make the most of the opportunities Australia has to offer. It is important to note that people over the age of 60 will not have to sit the Citizenship Test. There are also mechanisms that will allow the Citizenship Test to be undertaken with some assistance for people who need help such as those who are illiterate. The resource booklet on which the Test will be based is being translated into 29 languages to help all people gain an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of Australian citizenship.
The values listed in the Resource Booklet, Becoming an Australian Citizen, are central to Australia remaining a stable, prosperous and peaceful community. These values are not unique to Australia – many countries would count freedom of speech; equality under the law; equality of men and women; and support for parliamentary democracy as values. The Citizenship Test should not be viewed as precluding some migrants from becoming citizens.
RUDD: Australia has always had a citizenship test. The critical issue is whether or not the new formalised test is reasonable. Legislation before the federal parliament simply dealt with whether or not, as a matter of principle, there would be a test. This is not controversial and was supported by both sides of politics.
The critical issue is whether or not the new test is reasonable. If the Government were to introduce a test that was unreasonable, a Labor government would make the test reasonable. Given the Government has decided to keep the test secret, it is impossible to form a conclusive view whether the current test is in fact reasonable. Labor wants to ensure that the test does not set people up to fail. For this reason, Labor will commit $49.2 million to improve the Adult Migrant English Program to assist migrants achieve functional English and go on to pass the citizenship test.
Question 10: Both major parties have made significant policy announcements in recent weeks which will help ameliorate wide-spread Jewish concerns in two important and linked policy areas – remedying the anomalous funding situation of certain Jewish community schools, and addressing the costs of security for community schools and other community institutions. Could you explain your policy proposals in these areas, and their advantages?
HOWARD: After extensive consultation, and in recognition of previous concerns raised by the Jewish community about the impact of special characteristics such as family size on a non-government school’s SES score which determines the amount of funding received, the Coalition Government developed an appeals process during 2005 and 2006. The appeals process specifically takes into account differences in circumstances such as family size and income and recognises the special circumstances of some Jewish day schools in respect of SES funding arrangements.
More recently we’ve taken into account additional concerns raised by Jewish day schools that the larger than average family size of their school communities disadvantages them in the calculation of Commonwealth Government school funding. An alternative approach to calculating funding, which specifically takes into account family size and the impact on family income, has now been implemented.
Further, in recognition of the unique security challenges facing the Jewish community, the Coalition Government has announced that gifts of $2 or more donated to the Council for Jewish Community Security will be tax deductible. This will provide significant assistance to the Jewish community by providing this help with the costs of security for both community schools and, most importantly, a range of other community institutions. Legislation to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to give effect to this announcement has been introduced into the Parliament. This measure builds on a range of initiatives taken by the Coalition Government to ensure that the Jewish community is safe.
RUDD: A number of Jewish day schools have been seriously disadvantaged under the Liberal government’s socio-economic status (SES) funding system, which has the effect of treating these schools as being much wealthier than they in fact are. Successive Liberal education ministers have promised to fix this situation but have failed to do so. In August Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith announced a commitment of $16 million over four years to remedy the disadvantage these schools suffer. The Liberals have responded by saying these schools can appeal against their SES rating. Against this nebulous “promise”, the latest in a long line of useless Liberal promises, Labor has offered a firm cash commitment to bring equity in funding to all Jewish schools.
Labor has also acted to ease the increasing burden of security-related costs which are faced by Jewish schools. Kevin Rudd has announced a commitment of $20 million for security related costs. Peter Costello has refused to match this commitment, instead offering tax deductibility for donations to the Council for Jewish Community Security. While Labor will support this measure, we argue that the burden of security should not be borne by the Jewish community alone. The protection of schools and places of worship should be a matter of community solidarity and support by the Australian government, not left to individual donors.
Question 11: Widespread concern has been expressed regarding the level of accountability of our taxpayer-funded public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS. What moves would your government make to ensure that more equitable complaints procedures and rigorous codes of practice, together with other processes for accountability, are in place and adhered to in these institutions?
HOWARD: It is critical that Australia’s national television broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, are held accountable for their programming decisions and more broadly, the quality of broadcasting options which they offer to the Australian public. The Coalition Government considers that the national broadcasters have a responsibility to ensure that programming meets audience expectations and community standards. This expectation is reflected in the Codes of Practice which both national broadcasters must lodge with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
In the Government’s view, it is a fundamental obligation of the ABC and SBS to ensure that each of their Codes is properly enforced. As a result of concern about the Code’s failure to address matters relating to bias, accuracy and unfair treatment, at the last election the Coalition undertook to work with the ABC and SBS to ensure those gaps could be addressed. The Coalition Government has since required the ABC and SBS to include clauses in their Codes which protect against bias, accuracy and unfair treatment. These amendments have also given the regulator, ACMA, the power to consider complaints alleging serious and specific cases of bias, lack of balance, inaccuracy or unfair treatment.
Since 2004, the Coalition Government has ensured that the ABC has:
· Substantially revised its Editorial Policies to emphasise the need for impartiality in the ABC’s coverage of contentious matters. The ABC has also appointed a Director of Editorial Policies to oversee impartial and objective news, current affairs and opinion reporting;
· Developed a new Code of Practice, effective from 1 March 2007, to ensure that it covers complaints of inaccuracy and bias; and
· Implemented significant reform of the ABC’s Independent Complaints Review Panel. Those reforms ensure that the ABC Board’s appointments to the panel occur in a transparent fashion, the Panel’s powers have been extended to consider a wider range of complaints and a 60-day turnaround period for complaint investigations has been implemented.
Since 2004 the Coalition Government has ensured that the SBS has:
· Created an independent Complaints Handling Unit to handle all formal complaints which relate to SBS’ Code of Practice; and
· Completed an 18 month Review of its Code of Practice which now includes provisions requiring accuracy, impartiality and balance in news and current affairs programming and a 60 day turnaround period for complaints handling.
The Coalition Government will continue to work with the ABC and SBS to ensure that they are accountable to the Australian public and that rigorous, best practice complaints handling procedures are in place and adhered to.
RUDD: Labor considers the ABC and the SBS to be two of Australia’s most important cultural institutions. The ABC reports on all facets of Australian culture and is integral to the development of Australian culture and identity. The SBS provides both multicultural and multilingual broadcasts that aim to educate and entertain Australians of all backgrounds and plays an important social and cultural role in Australia.
Labor considers that the ABC has a rigorous reporting process under the ABC Act. For a copy of all ABC annual reports see http://www.abc.net.au/corp/annual_reports/arindex.htm and for a copy of all other ABC reports and publications see: http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/reportsindex.htm.
In relation to complaints to the ABC, the complaints handling process is listed on the ABC’s website. Unlike many corporations, the ABC reports publicly on all complaints made to it every three months. These reports can also be viewed at http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/reportsindex.htm. If a complainant is not satisfied with ABC’s response, they may seek a review of the ABC’s decision or refer the matter to ACMA.
Labor’s ABC Board Policy will also ensure ABC boardroom accountability. Under Labor’s ABC Board Policy:
· vacancies should be advertised;
· an independent selection panel to undertake a proper shortlist selection process;
· there should be clear merit based selection criteria;
· If the Minister does not appoint a short-listed candidate he or she will have to provide reasons for departing from the shortlist to Parliament; and
· the ABC Chairman is to be nominated by the Prime Minister and endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition.
To ensure the independence of the ABC Board a Rudd Labor government will prohibit the appointment of any former politician or senior political staffer to the ABC Board.
Further a Rudd Labor Government will restore the appointment of a staff-elected Director, so that there is a person on the Board with the expertise to question the advice coming from the ABC’s executive.
Labor considers it crucial to return the ABC to its former state of independence, so as to enhance democracy by screening unbiased coverage of news and current affairs.
Labor also considers that the SBS has stringent accountability requirements under the SBS Act.
The SBS has developed a code of practice in accordance of the Act, which is reviewed regularly and lodged with ACMA.
The SBS Codes of Practice and Editorial Guidelines contain the policies and principles which guide programming on SBS services. They were both reviewed during 2005 and 2006. The review of the SBS Codes of Practice was open to public consultation. SBS received over 300 submissions from the public. The revised Codes were introduced in August 2006 and are now available on the SBS website.
The SBS has an Independent Audience Affairs Manger who handles formal complaints about such issues as breaches of the SBS Code of Practice. The complaints handling process is listed on SBS’s website and a summary of complaints is listed in SBS’s annual report. If complainants are not satisfied with SBS’s response, they can complain to ACMA.
SBS has also established a “comments” section on its website so that the public can provide comments and feedback to SBS.
Labor considers the accountability of the ABC and the SBS to be important and, to this end, makes use of the Senate Estimates process to ask questions of both the ABC and the SBS about internal processes and decision-making.
Labor will work with both the SBS and the ABC in order that they may continue to meet their accountability requirements.
Question 12: As briefly as possible, why should Australian Jews vote for your party to lead this country over the next three years?
HOWARD: The Coalition has been and will continue to be a strong supporter of the State of Israel and of Jewish people in Australia. That strong support will continue should the Government be re-elected.
The Coalition has introduced a number of measures that have provided specific assistance to Jewish people in Australia, including in this term adjusting the funding formula for schools in recognition of the unique situation facing Jewish schools, and allowing tax deductions for donations to the Council for Jewish Security.
The Coalition’s greatest asset is the strength of its team led by Peter Costello and myself. Our partnership has delivered some of the best economic conditions our country has experienced in more than 30 years. Unemployment is at a 33-year low, strikes are at their lowest point since 1913 and the budget is in strong surplus. This has not occurred by remote control. Dealing with international economic instability and the looming economic storm clouds demands experience and well credentialed economic management skills. Only the Coalition has the capability to effectively manage the economy and deliver conditions that will allow Australian families to continue to benefit from a strong Australian economy. Above all else, though, the Coalition Government has brought lasting benefits for all Australians and has a real plan for Australia’s future.
RUDD: The Australian Jewish community and the Labor Party have enjoyed a long and close relationship since the Party’s creation. Jewish members have been instrumental in shaping the Party and ensuring its success. The Jewish concept of ‘tikkun olam’ or healing the world is reflected in the Labor Party’s concern for social justice and the rights of weaker members of society – these concerns are a central issue in the upcoming election.
The Howard Government’s extreme industrial relations laws threaten to deprive the most vulnerable Australians of basic rights when they are not in a position to bargain effectively in a zealously deregulated environment. This will have a flow-on impact on family and community life, two things which are also very important to the Jewish community.
The Jewish community has always set an example – no matter how successful its members become, they never abrogate their responsibility to look after those least able to care for themselves. Labor wants to ensure that the Australian Government takes a similar approach.
The Labor Party will place a much greater emphasis on counter-terrorism and security in the Asia-Pacific region. The Jewish community knows only too well that it has been targeted by many regional terror organisations, requiring communal volunteer groups to cater for its security. A concerted effort is required to keep Australians safe from the threats that these groups pose.
The Jewish community has demonstrated what great heights Australians can climb to when given an opportunity, providing some of Australia’s most famous artists, sportspeople, politicians, soldiers, academics and other contributors to public life. The Labor Party seeks to give a fresh generation of Australians that opportunity, with an internationally competitive education system that will allow Australians to reach their full potential at the high end of the economy, rather than competing in a race to the bottom for wages and conditions.