We will continue to engage with members of the Israeli government as is appropriate and necessary, and we intend to judge the government on the policies it pursues and to make our views known when we need to. Australia has been and is a friend of Israel, and that means we can also indicate our view on matters on which we disagree.
Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (14:20): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. Israel’s government is the most far right and extremist in the nation’s—
Honourable senators interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Wong, on a point of order.
Senator Wong: I wonder if we could start again. There seemed to be a lot of noise. I’m very interested in the question, obviously, so I can respond to it.
The PRESIDENT: I remind senators that, once again, the interjections across the chamber were disorderly and did not give Senator Steele-John an opportunity to ask his question, nor the senator to whom it was directed the chance to hear it. I’m asking for silence. Senator Steele-John, if you wouldn’t mind starting again.
Senator STEELE-JOHN: Thank you. Israel’s government is the most far right and extremist in the nation’s history. Two of its most senior ministers, Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, are proud and open racists and bigots. Finance Minister Smotrich has said:
There is no such thing as Palestinians because there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.
He has called for a Palestinian town to be wiped out. He is also a proud, open homophobe. National Security Minister Ben-Gvir has attended so-called ‘beast parades’ against gay pride, at which individual religious activists lead goats and donkeys through the streets and hoist banners calling queer people ‘impure’. He has also pledged to crush Palestinians ‘one by one’. When will the foreign minister issue a boycott of any Australian government representative meeting with these two individuals?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:22): The first point I would make, if I may, given the question goes to Israel, is to express that we are obviously deeply saddened by the murder of four Israeli citizens in a terror attack overnight. We condemn this act and make the point that terrorism and violence against civilians can never be justified, and we urgently call upon all parties to exercise restraint. I would again say what I’ve said many times, which is the reminder for leaders to work together to foster the conditions necessary for tolerance and peace.
I don’t propose to respond to all of the propositions you put to me. The fact that we engage with a country does not mean we agree with every statement made by an officeholder of a country. You’ve heard me say, for example, in relation to China, that we will cooperate where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest. We have a view as a government that engagement matters. We will continue to engage with members of the Israeli government as is appropriate and necessary, and we intend to judge the government on the policies it pursues and to make our views known when we need to. Australia has been and is a friend of Israel, and that means we can also indicate our view on matters on which we disagree.
I hope you wouldn’t need me to respond to some of the propositions you have made with an indication that, obviously, I and the members of the government do not agree with some of the views in relation to LGBTQI people that you have articulated or reported. But that is a different issue. (Time expired)
The PRESIDENT: Senator Steele-John, a first supplementary?
Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (14:24): Speaking of the policies pursued by the state of Israel—these individuals are members of a government which is enacting a system of race based oppression and domination towards Palestinians. There is a name for such a system, Minister: apartheid. Human Rights Watch recognise it, Amnesty International recognises it, Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups recognise it and the Greens recognise it. When will the Australian government recognise the reality of Israel’s system of apartheid? (Time expired)
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:24): I will make a number of points. The first is that we, as a responsible international actor, will continue to encourage all parties to engage in negotiations for a just and enduring two-state solution. The Australian government is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders.
I would make this point also: I understand that there are many people living in this country who feel deeply about these issues, on both sides of the debate. Just as I was critical of Mr Morrison’s move during the Wentworth by-election, I would also urge all parties now not to use sensitive issues to play domestic political games. This is a very difficult issue; this is— (Time expired)
The PRESIDENT: Senator Steele-John, a second supplementary question.
Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (14:25): Minister, you won’t recognise the reality of apartheid and you won’t boycott meetings with these particular individuals. Will you at least recognise the state of the Palestinians, joining with 138 countries that have done so—and in line with the motion passed by your very own Victorian Labor Party state conference?
Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:26): I think the question itself made clear your agenda on this. As always, as it is so often, it’s about the Labor Party—
Senator Steele-John: Yes—
Senator WONG: Well, thank you—I’ll take that interjection. He said yes. It’s not about the Palestinian people, it’s not about the Israeli people and it’s not about peace. It’s not about progress towards the two-state solution, it’s about running a political campaign against the Labor Party. So thank you for acknowledging that, Senator Steele-John. This is a difficult issue, which is in many ways quite tragic for those of us who have looked, watched and hoped for peace in the Middle East and a peaceful conclusion to the two-state solution. It is tragic, but it is really clear that there are those in this debate who want to try and find a way through; they want to try and do what is the principled thing for Australia and the position we should articulate on a range of issues that you have articulated, and those— (Time expired)