Senator Mathias Cormann – responding to questions by Anne Urquhart on the topic of Australia moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

photo of Senator Mathias Cormann
October 16, 2018

The Australian government remains firmly committed to a two-state solution that allows Israel and a future Palestinian state to exist side by side in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. The government is consistently encouraging both sides to continue a dialogue and negotiations towards a peaceful settlement.

Full speech

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaOpposition Whip in the Senate) (14:10): My question is to the minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. When asked in May whether the government had plans to move Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, former Prime Minister Turnbull said, ‘No.’ When asked why, Mr Turnbull said:

… it’s more conducive to the peace process to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. Obviously, the status of Jerusalem and negotiations relating to Jerusalem are a key part of the peace negotiations …

Was former Prime Minister Turnbull wrong?

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:11): What the Prime Minister did today, together with the foreign minister, was announce a number of important measures to reinforce our commitment to efforts towards resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, further strengthen our valuable relationship with Israel and, indeed, re-examine Australia’s policy in relation to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. These decisions have been taken after careful consideration, are fundamentally in Australia’s national interests and reflect our national values.

The Australian government remains firmly committed to a two-state solution that allows Israel and a future Palestinian state to exist side by side in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. The government is consistently encouraging both sides to continue a dialogue and negotiations towards a peaceful settlement. In supporting a two-state solution, the government will vote no in the upcoming UN General Assembly resolution on the Palestinian Authority chairing the G77; consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without prejudice to its final boundaries, while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state; and look at the merits of moving Australia’s embassy to West Jerusalem. The Prime Minister also indicated that he’s considering a review of Australia’s policy towards the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, on a point of order.

Senator Kim Carr: Mr President, this is a straightforward question of relevance. The minister was asked a direct question in regard to Mr Turnbull’s comments as to why the policy should not be pursued, and he was asked whether or not that policy was right. The minister has come nowhere near answering that direct question. I’d ask you to draw his answer to the question specifically.

The PRESIDENT: You’ve drawn the minister’s attention to the question. I am listening carefully. He has 34 seconds remaining. In my view, the substance of the minister’s answer was addressing the material in the question. I’ll continue to listen, and you’ve drawn the minister’s attention to the question.

Senator CORMANN: As I’ve indicated to the Senate on behalf of the Prime Minister, today we have announced a process to reassess a number of important policy issues. This is government 101: you make judgements about where you are, you make judgements on where you think we should be and you make judgements on the best way forward, and you consider these matters carefully. The Prime Minister, together with the foreign minister, today set out the process that we will follow to make sure that happens.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Urquhart, a supplementary question.

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaOpposition Whip in the Senate) (14:14): In June, when asked whether the government had plans to move Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, then Treasurer Morrison said, ‘No.’ He then said:

… it’s not the Government’s policy. It’s never been under review and we’re not doing it.

Can the minister confirm whether Prime Minister Morrison will say and do anything because he’s so desperate to save the seat of Wentworth this Saturday?

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:14): This is a very serious matter of national interest, and Mr Morrison, as the Prime Minister, has indicated that our government will follow a process to reassess Australia’s approach in relation to these matters. I’m pleased to inform the Senate, again, that what the Australian government has today announced are a number of important measures to reinforce our commitment to efforts towards resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to further strengthen our valuable relationship with Israel and to re-examine Australia’s policy in relation to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. These decisions have been taken after careful consideration, are fundamentally in Australia’s national interest and reflect our national values. This is something that Mr Morrison, as Prime Minister, has put forward on behalf of our government, and— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Urquhart, a final supplementary question.

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaOpposition Whip in the Senate) (14:15): Why is the Prime Minister focused on playing dangerous and deceitful word games with Australian foreign policy instead of reflecting the values of the people of Wentworth by committing to serious action on climate change, legislating to protect teachers and students from discrimination, and standing against racism in all of its forms?

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:16): We do stand against racism in all of its forms, we do support effective action on climate change and I don’t accept the premise of the question in relation to the issue of Israel. This is a very important and serious policy matter in our national interest that we intend to pursue, and the Prime Minister’s statements in that regard are self-explanatory.

The senator mentions the government’s efforts to address legislation which Labor put in place in 2013 when it comes to the discrimination against students in schools, and that is of course something that we have made very clear that we intend to address. I would just refer the senator to statements earlier today by Mr Dreyfus when he was asked about the question of the exemption for staff—teachers and other staff—working in religious schools. He made the point that it is a complex issue. (Time expired)

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