Senator Michael Ronaldson – Estimates question about correspondence between Ministers regarding Palestine

photo of Michael Ronaldson
October 20, 2011

Questioned whether the Foreign Minister had corresponded with the Prime Minister about UN votes regarding Palestine.

But there has been considerable media discussion about this matter and an allegation that the foreign minister is taking one view in relation to the upcoming vote and the Prime Minister is taking another view. I would have thought that we were entitled to know what the Australian government’s view is and what correspondence has passed between the foreign minister and the Prime Minister in relation to this matter.

Whole interaction with Mr Dennis Richardson (Secretary, DFAT), Mr David Stuart (First Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia and Middle East Division, DFAT) and Senator Don Farrell (Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).

Senator RONALDSON: Mr Richardson, there have been several articles, including one by Daniel Flitton in the Age and another by Greg Sheridan in the Australian on 6 October, basically about the foreign minister’s comments in relation to Gilo and also—

 

Mr Richardson: Sorry, comments on?

 

Senator RONALDSON: The 1,100 new housing units in East Jerusalem, in Gilo—I think that is the right pronunciation, isn’t it? I hope it is.

 

Mr Stuart: I think so.

 

Senator RONALDSON: Mr Sheridan in his article was very critical of the foreign minister’s intervention. He criticised him for not issuing ‘commensurate demands on the Palestinian Authority’ and asked why he had not made any other comments in relation to the matter. He went on to say that the government is joining ‘the club of like-minded UN types’ on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to win a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Is it correct that the foreign minister wrote to the Prime Minister about this upcoming vote on Palestine?

 

Mr Richardson: We are not commenting on communication between ministers.

 

Senator Kroger interjecting—

 

Senator RONALDSON: I will ask the parliamentary secretary—you are right; thank you, Senator Kroger. Has the foreign minister written to the Prime Minister in relation to this matter?

 

Senator Farrell: I am sorry; I do not know the answer to that question.

 

Senator RONALDSON: But there has been considerable media discussion about this matter and an allegation that the foreign minister is taking one view in relation to the upcoming vote and the Prime Minister is taking another view. I would have thought that we were entitled to know what the Australian government’s view is and what correspondence has passed between the foreign minister and the Prime Minister in relation to this matter.

 

Mr Richardson: To put it in context, there is no resolution currently before the UN General Assembly. A resolution may or may not come before the UN General Assembly. Until such time as we have the wording of a resolution before us, I am not in a position to comment on what position the Australian government may have in respect of any particular resolution.

 

Senator RONALDSON: I am in furious agreement with the first part of your answer; there has not been a resolution. But that is the issue. If the media reports are correct that despite there not having been a resolution and despite the text of any resolution clearly not having been made, on what basis would the foreign minister be writing to the Prime Minister suggesting that we abstain when the government has not even seen the text of any resolution? Hence my question to you to clear this matter up and to clarify whether the foreign minister has written to the Prime Minister and, if so, whether he has suggested to her that we abstain despite our not even having seen the text.

 

Mr Richardson: It would be inappropriate for me to comment on what the foreign minister and Prime Minister might have exchanged in respect of a matter on which the government has yet to make a decision.

 

Senator RONALDSON: Parliamentary Secretary Farrell, given the comments by Mr Sheridan, who believes that the foreign minister’s intervention in the Gilo issue has not done our relationship any good at all, but rather has potentially damaged it, do you think it appropriate that the foreign minister be writing to the Prime Minister regarding what our vote should be before we have even seen the text of any resolution?

 

Senator Farrell: I am unaware of any correspondence between the foreign minister and the Prime Minister.

 

Senator RONALDSON: Will you take that on notice?

 

Senator Farrell: I can take that on notice.

 

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Ronaldson, do you have any other questions for the officers regarding newspaper reports or can we go to a private meeting? I know everything in the papers is true; I understand that.

 

Senator RONALDSON: I am sorry, but I will take issue with that comment.

 

ACTING CHAIR: If you have more questions about newspaper articles, fine.

 

Senator RONALDSON: If you like, I will table, in response to that question, a press release from the foreign minister in relation to the settlement issue. You say I am referring to newspaper reports, but I am actually referring to a press release issued by your foreign minister.

 

ACTING CHAIR: You have two minutes, Senator Ronaldson, and then we will go to a break.

 

Senator RONALDSON: I do not think that was reasonable whack, but I will table the press release from the foreign minister.

Link to full Hansard transcript (Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio (20 October 2011).

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