In keeping with a long-standing pre-election tradition at the AIR, we sent a series of ten policy questions to the campaigns of both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to help inform our readers as they go to the polls on Sept. 7. The questions – designed to focus on political issues of special concern to the Australian Jewish community – deal with issues including Israel and the peace process, communal education, counter-terrorism and communal security, the Iranian nuclear crisis, multiculturalism, racial hatred laws and the vexed question of asylum seeker policy. The answers from both campaigns are presented here in full, while links to specific questions are below:
2. Australia’s role in Israel’s quest for peace with its neighbours; Voting on Israeli-Palestinian issues at the UN
1. What is the importance to Australia of its relationship with Israel? How can the relationship be strengthened?
ALP: Australia’s friendship with Israel is a strong and enduring partnership. It is a partnership that goes back to the founding of modern Israel, when Labor’s Dr. H.V. Evatt helped introduce [UN] Resolution 181 which facilitated Israel’s statehood. And to when, 65 years ago, Australia was the first country to cast a vote in favour of creating the modern State of Israel.
Today, Australia’s relationship with Israel is built on the same robust foundations that founded our friendship generations ago: shared democratic values and a common commitment to justice and to the rights, liberty and security of our citizens.
As a nation with shared values Israel is a natural ally of Australia. But Israel and Australia also have shared economic interests, with growing cooperation between Australian and Israeli companies, most recently in the exploration of Israel’s off-shore liquid natural gas fields. In science and academia too, links between Israel and Australia are deep and always expanding, for the benefit of both nations.
Australia’s relationship with Israel can be strengthened through a range of measures, in particular through continuing to expand our economic, scientific and academic cooperation.
Coalition: Australia’s relationship with Israel is important. The Coalition’s traditionally strong support for Australia’s Jewish community has been matched by firm commitment to Israel’s security. That reflects our two countries’ shared democratic values and the Coalition’s recognition that Israel is under existential threat in a way that almost no other country in the world is. The Coalition also believes there is scope for closer trade and investment ties with Israel.
It’s disappointing, given the deep affinity between Australia and Israel, that Labor has weakened our long standing bipartisanship on Israel. A Coalition government would never be prepared to compromise our strong support for Israel to gain favour with an anti-Israel majority in the United Nations General Assembly.
Our view is that Australia should have been supported for a term on the United Nations Security Council because of our values and not because we were prepared to compromise them.
The Coalition would not, as has Labor, nominate an anti-Israel campaigner for election to the International Court of Justice. And it would ensure that Australian taxpayers’ money doesn’t find its way to Gaza Strip terrorist organisations, as emerged last year.
It is disappointing that Labor again treated Israel shabbily earlier this year. It decided to add a further 21 countries, including seven in the Middle East, to the list of countries whose citizens can access in many cases virtually instant electronic visas for short-term visits to Australia. But the new list of 64 countries whose citizens now have access to this system continues – for no good reason – to exclude Israel.
To underline its commitment to restoring warm Australian relations with Israel, a Coalition government would correct this strange anomaly.
B’nai B’rith International in 2006 awarded Prime Minister John Howard its Presidential Gold Medal, which honours commitment to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Israel has no stauncher friend than the Liberal-National Coalition and as Greg Sheridan has written, it is “crystal clear” that the Coalition has a deeper level of support for the Israel relationship than Labor (Greg Sheridan, “Badly misjudged action will have a political cost”, The Australian, 25 May 2010).
The Coalition is firmly committed to restoring the Australia-Israel friendship to the strength it enjoyed under the Howard Government.
2. What part should Australia play in the quest for peace between Israel and its neighbours? And what principles should underlie Australia’s decisions with regard to voting on Israeli-Palestinian issues at the United Nations?
ALP: The Federal Labor Government is committed to supporting an enduring and just two-state solution, based on the right of Israel to live in peace within secure borders, internationally recognised and agreed by the parties, and reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to also live within their own independent state.
The Rudd Labor Government welcomes the resumption of negotiations. This has taken courage and leadership from both sides. Federal Labor considers a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to realise a Palestinian state.
Australia supported Israel in its bid for recognition by the community of nations, Australia supported Israel through its many conflicts, and today Australia supports Israel in its efforts to find a just and lasting peace with the Palestinian people.
Coalition: Israel’s long-term security requires efforts to achieve a two-state peace settlement involving accommodation of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and their unconditional and unambiguous acceptance of Israel’s right to exist behind secure borders. A Coalition government would be glad to assist if it could play a useful role in advancing that prospect.
The Coalition believes the Australian Government should have made support of Palestinian observer status at the UN conditional on the Palestinians’ unconditional and unambiguous acceptance of Israel’s right to exist behind secure borders.
In deciding not to support Israel, the United States and Canada at the United Nations over Palestinian observer status, Labor decided that Australia would turn its back on a long-standing friend.
3. How should Australia respond to the problem presented by Iran’s clandestine nuclear program? What options are available if the current sanctions regime does not have a sufficient deterrent effect?
ALP: The Rudd Labor Government has consistently reinforced with Iran Australia’s long-standing opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the need to comply with UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on its nuclear program. Australia fully implements four UNSC resolutions (1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929) imposing sanctions that prohibit a range of activities, including the supply of certain dual use goods and services to Iran, the procurement from Iran of certain military and dual use goods and services, and travel and financial sanctions against designated persons and entities who are engaged in Iran’s proliferation sensitive activities.
Since October 2008, Australia has also maintained additional autonomous sanctions in relation to Iran. These include travel and financial restrictions against individuals and entities not specifically designated by the UNSC, but which contribute to Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear or missile programs or assist Iran violate its obligations under UNSC resolutions.
The Federal Labor Government clearly understands the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to international peace and security, and particularly to Israel’s security. The Australian Government is working closely with the international community to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and is also taking national action, such as the additional autonomous sanctions announced by Federal Labor in January this year.
Coalition: It is vital that Australia contributes to international efforts to put pressure on Iran to abandon its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
The Coalition has been disappointed that Australia under Labor has not done everything it could to contribute to the international pressure on Iran. We should not undermine those efforts as Labor did in 2012 when it sent Special Envoys to Iran to woo votes for its UN Security Council bid at a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. This was just after Iran’s president said publicly on 10 August that Israel’s existence is an ‘insult to all humanity’, an incendiary statement of deep concern to Jews around the world.
4. How should the Australian Government strengthen its counter-terrorism policies? What measures should the Australian Government take to address the impost of security costs for the Jewish community?
ALP: Under Australia’s counter-terrorism framework major terrorist attacks on Australian soil have been disrupted. In light of the recent terror attack in Boston, it is clear that it is as important now as it ever was to maintain strong capabilities in the fight against terrorism. Our counter-terrorism framework has held us in good stead so far, but we must remain vigilant.
The Federal Labor Government created the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor to review Australia’s national security laws and counter-terrorism laws on an ongoing basis, and to determine whether those laws remain necessary, effective, proportionate and consistent with our international human rights obligations.
Federal Labor also established the Counter Terrorism Control Centre. The Centre, hosted by ASIO, with representatives from key security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies will play a lead role in strengthening the coordination of Australia’s counter-terrorism intelligence efforts by setting and managing counter-terrorism priorities, identifying intelligence requirements and ensuring that the process of collecting and distributing intelligence is fully integrated.
When the Rudd Labor Government came to office in 2007 we created the Secure Schools Program, a grants program designed to help meet the security needs of schools at risk of racial, religious or ethnically motivated violence, property crime and harassment. Federal Labor allocated $20 million to the program when it was created and an additional $15 million to extend the program in 2010. Many recipients under the Secure Schools Program have been Jewish schools.
This month the Rudd Labor Government announced that the Secure Schools Program would be extended for a third three-year term, and include a change to the eligibility criteria to enable funding for the provision of security guards for the first time.
Coalition [this is a joint answer to this question, and question 5 below – Ed.]: The Coalition believes there has been too much complacency about extremists in our country who advocate violence including towards the Jewish community.
We are also concerned that international preachers of hate have been repeatedly allowed to visit Australia when federal government ministers have the power to block their travel on character grounds.
A Coalition government would review the extremist organisations which are banned from operating in Australia with a view to deciding whether additional organisations should be banned.
In particular, a Coalition government would seek to ban the extremist Islamist organisation Hizb Ut-Tahrir (HUT) and would seek fresh advice from ASIO on whether there is a case for banning Hamas and Hezbollah in their entirety – not just their external military wings as is currently the case in Australia.
The Coalition would also take steps to fix intelligence and visa-issue failings regarding members of extremist organisations seeking to enter Australia to promote their views. We would ensure that foreign members of HUT – and others who promote or defend violent extremism – do not receive visas to visit Australia.
The Coalition is acutely aware of the particular risks of violence and other criminal acts faced by the Jewish community.
The Coalition is aware of Jewish community requests for further assistance to enhance security at Jewish community schools, synagogues and other facilities. The Coalition has announced a ‘Safer Streets, Safer Suburbs’ plan ($50 million over four years) that could be used to assist the Jewish community in this regard. In addition, the Coalition has committed $18 million over three years to the Secure Schools program which, for the first time, includes a component towards the cost of security guards.
If elected to government the Coalition would seek advice from relevant agencies on the appropriate level of assistance we could offer to the Jewish community from these programs.
5. A man with an Australian passport is wanted for a Hezbollah terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed six people. Currently, Australia bans only Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation under the Criminal Code Act 1995, which it defines as “a discrete branch… responsible for the planning, co-ordination and execution of terrorist attacks against Hezbollah’s enemies outside of Lebanon.” Given that Australia makes it illegal to finance Hezbollah under the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945, should Australia proscribe all of Hezbollah under the Criminal Code Act?
ALP: Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation (ESO) is listed as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code.
It is the Federal Government’s longstanding practice not to comment on the status of any consideration being given to the possible listing of any organisation under the Criminal Code. Which organisations should be proscribed under the Criminal Code remains under active review by the relevant national security agencies.
Hezbollah’s ESO was first listed under the Criminal Code in 2003 and was last re-listed on 10 May 2012. This listing will continue until May 2015.
The re-listing of Hezbollah’s ESO in May 2012 was reviewed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS).
Hezbollah in its entirety is listed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade under the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 in order to meet Australia’s obligation to curb funding for terrorist activities under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373.
Coalition: (see answer to question 4, above).
6. Significant funding reforms likely to affect independent Jewish schools have been announced for Australian schools. Can you explain the implications for independent Jewish schools of the funding reforms your party proposes should you win the election?
ALP: At the heart of the Federal Labor Government’s Better Schools Plan is a new, fairer school funding approach based on the needs of individual students. This new approach is based on the core recommendations of the independent Gonski review, which includes extra money for disadvantaged schools and students through loadings for students with disability, low SES backgrounds, Indigenous students and students with low English language proficiency.
The Better Schools Plan will deliver more than $1 billion additional funding for Australia’s independent schools, including Jewish schools across the country, over the next six years if every state and territory signs up to the plan.
Labor will also continue the capital grants program for non-government schools with around $140 million in 2014 and more than $772 million through to 2019.
Coalition: In relation to Labor’s plans to reform school funding, the Coalition is aware of concerns in the Jewish community about the future viability of private Jewish day schools and with what is going to happen to Government support for them.
The Coalition will guarantee that no Jewish school will be worse off in real terms.
7. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel continues to be active in Australia, where Jewish businesses have been targeted for their claimed support of Israel. How should the Australian Government respond to BDS? Should organisations that engage in BDS receive government funding?
ALP: The Federal Labor Government strongly opposes and publicly condemns the Boycott Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. This position has been placed on the public record on several occasions by senior Federal Labor Ministers.
The Rudd Labor Government opposes boycott movements that seek to ban exchanges with Israel, or policies that impede legitimate trade between states and unfairly target lawful Australian businesses. Such boycotts against Israel only increase the polarisation that underpins the conflict in the Middle East, and are entirely unhelpful to the Middle East peace process.
Federal Labor acknowledges that arguments have been made for the Australian Government to terminate funding to any organisation that engages in the BDS. However, Federal Labor respects the independence of institutions and does not condone the kind of collective sanction on all staff that termination of funding would impose, as that would be akin to the BDS program itself. Rather, the Federal Labor Government expects all institutions in our society to behave in a manner that is ethnical and appropriate, and Labor has made clear that in its view the BDS is neither.
Coalition: The Coalition is deeply concerned by the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions campaign against Israel. This campaign has been backed by the Greens and is designed to destroy any business that has a connection with Israel.
It was disappointing that Labor joined with the Greens in not supporting Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos’s September 2012 Senate motion condemning the BDS campaign.
The Coalition will institute a policy across Government that ensures no grants of taxpayers’ funds are provided to individuals or organisations which actively support the BDS campaign.
8. Given that antisemitism and other forms of racism can intimidate and incite violence, there are laws that give recourse to victims of racial hatred. Should the Australia Government continue to have laws against racial hatred, in particular section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975? If so, does that provision need review or revision?
ALP: For almost twenty years, since the Racial Discrimination Act was enacted by the Keating Government in 1994, section 18C has embodied our nation’s condemnation of racial vilification, and protected Australians from hate speech. The Rudd Labor Government strongly believes in the continued need for anti-discrimination laws, including laws that prohibit racial hatred in Australia.
Shadow Attorney-General Senator George Brandis and Tony Abbott have indicated on several occasions their intent to repeal section 18C, which makes it illegal to vilify people because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin. The Coalition claims that the prohibitions in section 18C are a threat to ‘intellectual freedom’ and ‘freedom of speech’ in Australia. One can only assume that the Coalition has an extremely poor grasp of the appropriate limits placed on free speech in all western democracies, and of the dangers of giving a green light to hate speech under the preposterous claim that racially vilifying people in public is necessary for people to enjoy intellectual freedom in our nation.
For example, section 18C has been used to prevent the publication of false statements by infamous Holocaust denier Frederick Toben, who wrote that:
• There is serious doubt that the Holocaust occurred.
• It is unlikely that there were homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz.
• Jewish people who are offended by and challenge Holocaust denial are of limited intelligence.
• Some Jewish people, for improper purposes, including financial gain, have exaggerated the number of Jews killed during World War II and the circumstances in which they were killed.
Using section 18C, the Federal Court ordered that these deeply offensive public statements be removed from the relevant website. But the Coalition’s policy would allow Mr. Toben to publish material of this kind, and would take away the power of our courts to stop such racist hate speech from being disseminated.
Section 18C includes extensive protections to safeguard free speech and political communications. What the section bans is willful and destructive hate speech.
Section 18C is also entirely consistent with the objectives of the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism that was signed on behalf of our nation by the former Prime Minister in April this year.
In May this year, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus wrote to the Opposition Leader calling on the Coalition to respect the pledges in the London Declaration that Coalition MPs had followed the Prime Minister’s lead in signing, and to reverse the Liberals’ plan to repeal section 18C. The Attorney-General pointed out that section 18C is precisely the kind of legislated protection against anti-Semitism and racial discrimination that the London Declaration calls on its signatories to enact, and that repealing 18C would unequivocally contradict both the spirit and the terms of that important Declaration.
Mr. Abbott refused to back down, reflecting his ignorance of history and the dangers of permitting racial hate speech – dangers that the Jewish community well understands. Mr Abbott’s intent to repeal section 18C also demonstrates his lack of respect for the commitments contained in the London Declaration and for the important role that the long-standing prohibitions on hate speech play in protecting human dignity and the values of our free and open democracy.
Coalition: In relation to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits statements that, “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” another person or a group of people on grounds of race or ethnicity, the Coalition’s view is that this provision is a threat to free speech in Australia.
Offending, insulting, humiliating or intimidating others on any grounds, racial or otherwise, is deplorable. It should be everyone’s goal to elevate the standards of public debate, not lower them, and to demonstrate respect rather than disdain for the various components of our community. Still, a “hurt feelings” test is impossible to comply with while maintaining the fearless pursuit of truth, which should be the hallmark of a society such as ours.
Speech that has to be inoffensive would be unerringly politically correct but it would not be free.
The Coalition is opposed to laws that enable political censorship. Section 18C in its current form allows that. It confuses the concepts of censoring the expression of opinions, which may indeed be offensive or insulting; and the utterance of intimidating words, which is not the expression of opinions, but a threat. While it is no business of government to decree what are acceptable opinions, it is the government’s duty to protect people from fear of harm. Any changes we make to the law would not give license to Holocaust deniers.
9. Do you believe that Australian Multiculturalism – which balances rights with responsibilities to uphold core national values – is the correct policy framework to anchor a harmonious, ethnically diverse democracy? What concrete policy proposals will your party implement on Australian Multiculturalism?
ALP: The Rudd Labor Government is unwavering in our commitment to a successful multicultural nation. We strongly believe in celebrating and valuing the benefits of our cultural diversity, within the broader aims of unity, community harmony and maintenance of our democratic values.
With more than 45 per cent of Australians either born overseas or with one or more parents born overseas, we are unified through the common bond of citizenship. We invest in projects and programs that celebrate our diversity, and support and promote social cohesion in our communities.
That’s why Federal Labor is committed to a strong economy, creating jobs and investing in crucial services such as health and dental care, our Better Schools Plan, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the National Broadband Network, Living Longer, Living Better aged care reforms and Paid Parental Leave to ensure all Australians regardless of their country of birth, language, religion or culture are able to reach their full potential.
These are also the underlying principles of our multicultural policy ‘The People of Australia’. Under this policy, Federal Labor has:
• Established the ten member Australian Multicultural Council (AMC) which includes Mr. Peter Wertheim AM as a member, to act as an independent champion and advisory body for multiculturalism in our community.
• Appointed 57 People of Australia Ambassadors to recognise people in our community who have a strong commitment to inclusion and social cohesion.
• Implemented the Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy through the Australian Human Rights Commission to combat pockets of racism in our community and launched the “Racism. It stops with me” public awareness campaign.
• Appointed the first full time Race Discrimination Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission in over a decade.
• Strengthened our Access and Equity Policy and Framework to ensure all Australians have equitable access to Government services.
• Created the Multicultural Youth Sports Partnerships and Multicultural Arts and Festivals Grants.
That’s also why in the 2013-14 financial year Federal Labor invested an additional $25 million to support and empower our multicultural communities. This funding builds on our continued investment in world class practical settlement services to support refugees and humanitarian entrants make a new life in Australia.
Coalition: There’s no doubt that our country has been among the world’s most successful immigrant societies. This reflects the welcome that the Australian people have extended to newcomers, including those from a wide variety of backgrounds. As well, it reflects the efforts that migrants have made to contribute to their new home.
The policy of multiculturalism expresses our willingness to let migrants assimilate in their own way and at their own pace because of our confidence in the gravitational pull of the Australian way of life. Australians have no expectation that migrants will lose their affection for their culture or country of birth. The different accents and different flavours of contemporary Australia have been a strength, not a weakness.
Newcomers to this country are not expected to surrender their heritage, but they are expected to surrender their hatreds. It is reasonable that Australians expect newcomers and community leaders to respect our laws, our democracy and basic values such as freedom of speech and religion and equality of the sexes. It is also reasonable of Australians to expect that immigrants should make efforts to learn English.
We should never be more proud of our country than when migrants choose Australia. After all, they have chosen Australia in a way that the native born never quite have. They are the ultimate vindication of our country as a land of hope, reward and opportunity.
10. Given the intense recent controversy which has surrounded the subject of immigration in Australia – and especially the arrival of undocumented arrivals and asylum seekers by boat – can you explain how your proposed policy on the subject balances our national interests with our international obligations and our national values such as compassion for those in distress and a “fair go”?
ALP: Federal Labor has a proud record of helping those in need. We have always adopted a generous approach to the assessment of asylum seekers from around the world.
In seeking to ensure that asylum seekers are treated with dignity and respect, the Rudd Labor Government is committed to observing both international and national accountability mechanisms and oversight.
In the last financial year, Federal Labor Government increased Australia’s annual refugee intake from 13,750 places to 20,000. This is a more that 40 per cent increase and the biggest boost to Australia’s refugee intake in 30 years.
At the same time, the Government must respond to the many instances of asylum seekers drowning at sea and the people smugglers that set out to abuse our system and exploit desperate people.
These issues cannot not be addressed by the cheap three word slogans and the unilateral action proposed by Tony Abbott and the Coalition. Regional co-operation is required.
Under new arrangements reached by Prime Minister Rudd with Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru, asylum seekers who now arrive by boat without a visa will have their claims for asylum processed in PNG and Nauru. Under these arrangements, if an asylum seeker is found to be a genuine refugee they will be permanently settled in PNG or Nauru, both countries being signatories to the United Nations Refugees Convention.
This approach provides an orderly and fair migration system, and a durable outcome for genuine refugees where they will be properly settled in PNG and Nauru consistent with Australia’s international obligations. It means that people smugglers can no longer sell asylum seekers the possibility of quick settlement in Australia.
It also enables our humanitarian program to be determined with the UNHCR, not by people smugglers, and provides a pathway to welcome more refugees to Australia over time. Under our new policy, Australia will continue to take genuine refugees from around the world under the normal processes of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
If the new regional resettlement arrangements between Australia, PNG and Nauru and the international forums on the United Nations Refugee Convention that have been flagged lead to a significant change in the number of people arriving in Australia by boat, then Federal Labor stands ready to consider progressively increasing our humanitarian intake towards 27,000. In that scenario, our humanitarian program will be decided by Australia and the United Nations and more people will be helped.
Coalition: The Coalition fully understands why desperate people living in wretched circumstances would regard Australia as a beacon of hope. But we cannot be a lifeboat to the world. And there are millions of people in the world who might come if they think Australia has an open door policy.
For Australians to support immigration they have to be confident of the security of our borders. Perceptions that the government has outsourced even a component of migrant selection to people smugglers risk undermining Australians’ support for immigration.
The only way to gain permanent residency in Australia is to arrive legitimately in accordance with the rules. There can be no alternative if the boats are to stop. Why should the boats stop when the prize for turning up on Christmas Island is a new life in Australia and material comfort scarcely imaginable for average citizens in most of the countries of the world?
The Howard Government understood this and the Coalition would restore its successful policies which stopped the boats.
The Coalition has always supported a generous refugee and humanitarian intake and would continue to do so. In effectively encouraging the people smugglers to resume business, Labor has dramatically reduced Australia’s intake of genuine offshore refugees and women at risk. The Coalition would ensure that Australia’s refugee and humanitarian resettlement program provides places to the most vulnerable and to those who are most in need, including women at risk. A Coalition government would provide a guaranteed minimum of 1,000 places for women at risk and their dependants within the annual humanitarian intake.
We would also introduce a full private sponsorship program for offshore asylum applicants, to enable groups in Australia to sponsor refugees over and above our regular intake on a fully bonded basis; the pilot would be introduced in the first term of Coalition government with a view to establishing a permanent program in a subsequent term. It would be capped at 1,500 over three years.