Sky News Interview: Israel and Jerusalem, Asylum Seekers




SUBJECTS: Israel/Jerusalem, Asylum Seekers

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Well, with me now for more on this, is Labor MP and former international policy expert, Peter Khalil. I suppose you still are an international policy expert. We can bestow that on you. Let’s get to the idea itself. Should Australia shift its embassy to Jerusalem?

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL LABOR MEMBER FOR WILLS: No. There has been a longstanding bipartisan policy in this country, that the final status of Jerusalem is bound to the negotiations on a two state solution. And we have heard all today, about the fact that the Prime Minister has had this foreign policy thought bubble. You kind of said with a straight face, that he claimed it had nothing to do with Wentworth, but it smacks of desperation, it smacks of panic. Trying to grab some votes before Saturday. And as a matter of principle, David, good Prime Ministers, I mean this demonstrates his immaturity, good Prime Ministers and good governments do not make foreign policy based on sectional interests or, for winning a couple of votes in a confined time period.

SPEERS: But his argument has been, and others have made this argument, that the peace process clearly isn’t working. Something needs to change. That’s Donald Trump’s argument as well. The global super power, the US, has shifted its embassy. It hasn’t derailed the situation.

KHALIL: It hasn’t improved it either. One has to really look at the substance of these issues and rather than the shallow kind of announcement that we’ve seen from the Prime Minister, where’s the substance? Where’s Australia playing a role? Working with other countries like Canada and the UK, the Scandinavian countries to go into the detail around why there’s a stalemate between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Working through those processes. We’re not stepping up to the plate on that. This is a policy announcement that’s been done on the run, that’s been done to win a couple of votes and I’m very, very concerned because Australian foreign policy should not be made based on winning votes. It should be made for the national interest, and also, frankly, for the strategic interests and the security of that region itself.

SPEERS: What about our region? Indonesia’s Trade Minister says this isn’t going to upset the trade deal. Yet Indonesia’s Foreign Minister has certainly raised some objection to this. Should that be a consideration for Australia as well? Should we make foreign policy decisions based on not upsetting Indonesia?

KHALIL: We make our foreign policy decisions based on our national interests primarily and also what we consider to be the security and stability of our region, and global security and stability. But the fact is, other countries are looking at what we do and when they are seeing us making the decisions like this on the hop, on the run, in a panic…

SPEERS: But it’s not on the hop. He’s saying we’ll consider it. He hasn’t made a decision.

KHALIL: Well, then he’s obviously giving himself some wriggle room to get out of it, isn’t he? I mean again, when you’re going through some serious foreign policy issues and a serious issue like this, it needs to be considered. We’ve seen Frances Adamson, the head of DFAT, say we shouldn’t be doing this, we’ve seen the previous Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, we’ve seen Scott Morrison himself when he was Treasurer, say no, no, no, that is not our position and nor will we be going there. It smacks of desperation and an attempt really to win a handful of votes at the Wentworth by-election.

SPEERS: At the end of the day, those who advocate this move say the Knesset is there in Jerusalem, the Supreme Court is there in Jerusalem. It is for all intents and purposes the capital of Israel, isn’t it?

KHALIL: West Jerusalem is Israeli sovereign territory. East Jerusalem, if you’ve been there you’ll see it’s largely a Palestinian population in East Jerusalem. These are issues that need to be addressed as part of a negotiation on the final status of Jerusalem with respect to a two-state solution. Now, we know it’s been in stalemate for a long time. I mean my view on this, is I think that Australia should be playing a more substantive role.

SPEERS: How so?

KHALIL: Well, we are the 12th largest economy in the world. We’re a middle power David and middle powers in this era, if you like, where we have major powers that are diminishing the rules-based order, whether it be on international norms around security or trade, means that middle powers have to step up to the plate. I’ve talked about this publicly, the need for us to form a fulcrum of middle powers where we work together to protect the rules-based order, to work under international norms and take responsibility for some of the stability and security in the region. Australia has a proud history of doing that, frankly, on both sides of politics. We were there when we established the United Nations, we were there with respect to APEC being established, we were there, with a lot of the multilateral fora that we see…

SPEERS: So what would a more substantive role on this mean for Australia?

KHALIL: Well we have a lot of good people in our diplomatic corps that understand the middle east. We can play a role there. Water rights, is a big issue with respect to the Palestinian/Israeli negotiations. Agriculture. These are areas of our expertise. Security. We can play a role there. But I think the political will needs to be there and on that point, Australia, France, Canada, the UK, these are countries that have to step up now and work with the Israelis and Palestinians to move them. There is a bit of… it’s not just a stalemate. There’s a calcification almost with respect some of the leadership and their willingness to move beyond the status quo.

SPEERS: Let me turn to Nauru and the refugees there. If it meant seeing the refugees taken off Nauru and put in New Zealand, or at least 150 of them, would Labor be willing to back this legislation to shut the back door, as it is called, to Australia.

KHALIL: Well Labor has announced today, and I’m pleased about this announcement, a private members bill, proposed legislation that would assist in addressing the chaotic, incoherent medical transfer system that’s been under this Government. We now propose legislation; we’re talking about medical transfer of children from Nauru with their families, under the advice of professional medical advice in a timely manner, within 24 hours, with the Minister retaining responsibility over the bureaucracy. It’s a good policy; it’s a good bit of proposed legislation.

SPEERS: Okay, and fair enough.

KHALIL: Now, on the point you raised where, again, Scott Morrison is playing politics. We had this whole discussion of the needs of the children on Nauru. We came up with this private members bill. We actually talked about taking the politics out of this. Now, he’s conflating a number of issues and he is talking about the life time ban on Manus and Nauru. A complete overreach of an announcement.

SPEERS: I take your point that the lifetime ban, some may see as overreach but if it means getting refugees off Nauru, surely it’s a better situation for them to be in New Zealand.

KHALIL: He can do that now. He can pick up the phone to Jacinda Ardern. It’s not linked to the lifetime ban. This is a bit of a switch and bait, by Scott Morrison because frankly, the US deal has already progressed; there are already people, refugees, from Manus and Nauru who’ve been moved to the US. So you can’t say that it’s dependent on support for his overreaching lifetime ban.

SPEERS: It’s a lot easier, I’m sure you’d agree coming to Australia from New Zealand than it may be, from the United States. So, if this ban meant that they could come from New Zealand…

KHALIL: Let me ask you this, David. If you were a refugee on Nauru and you went to New Zealand and after 10 years you became a world-leading surgeon, and were asked to come back and save the lives of some conjoined twins in Sydney for surgery, but you were blocked because of this life time ban. It’s absolutely ludicrous. And I said this when Dutton announced it the first time.

SPEERS: But surely that world rather leading refugee surgeon would much rather be in New Zealand in the first place.

KHALIL: Yeah, sure, but they are not connected. And Scott Morrison can pick up the phone to Jacinda Ardern…

SPEERS: They are, because this is the saying legislation the Government is to saying needs to pass for them to come to New Zealand. It does not want to restart the boats.

KHALIL: That’s simply not the case, mate. He can and pick up the phone to Jacinda Ardern and find places for people and accept the offer that’s been made by New Zealand. We have told him time and time again he should accept that offer. They went and proceeded on the US deal and that’s gone ahead without the lifetime ban.

SPEERS: To be clear on this, Labor is not willing means to support this legislation even if taken means it could see these refugees taken off Nauru.

KHALIL: We have just heard this announcement today, so the leadership group are sitting and meeting. We will talk in the Caucus about this and look at some of the detail. But at first blush, as Penny said, it is kind of ludicrous that someone from New Zealand would be banned from coming back to Australia in 10 or 15 or 20 years’ time under this proposal by Morrison. It was overreach when they first proposed it. It’s overreach now. It is not linked to their ability to accept the offer from New Zealand. They should proceed…

SPEERS: The bottom line, surely life is better for them in New Zealand.

KHALIL: Surely it should be the fact that the Prime Minister doesn’t play politics with children and with refugees and he is doing it again. And again, it’s kind of a pattern, isn’t it? That desperation, that panic about Wentworth, the panic more generally…

SPEERS: Also concern about not restarting boat arrivals.

KHALIL: Sure, and we have said very clearly that we have a strong border protection policy. We don’t want to see that occur and that’s why our policy is that strong.

SPEERS: But wouldn’t letting them come to Australia do that?

KHALIL: With respect to children or with respect to…

SPEERS: With, no… adult refugees. If they’re allowed to come to Australia? Wouldn’t that re-start the… Kevin Rudd, when you worked for him, Kevin Rudd used to say [inaudible]

KHALIL: So let me ask you this, since the refugees have been moved to the US, has that been a…

SPEERS: Have they come to Australia [inaudible]

KHALIL: There’s a serious question about the connectivity that Morisson’s…

SPEERS: New Zealand may well be a very different scenario to the US. You’re so much closer, there’s an entitlement of New Zealand permanent residents to be able to come to Australia freely. It’s different.

KHALIL: Well, if you’ve got a US citizenship, you can come to Australia pretty freely as well.

SPEERS: But they don’t have [inaudible]

KHALIL: [inaudible] those two countries are western countries. I think it’s a pretty flimsy argument that’s being made by Morrison to hide a fig leaf for the politics he’s playing with this and the desperation that he’s employing. I really want the politics taken out of this. On the children issue, getting the kids off Nauru for medical transfer, they should be agreeing to this, we should be moving forward on this. He should be calling Jacinda Ardern and accepting the offer. They’ve moved slightly. He’s got pressure obviously from his back bench. We’ve been calling for this for a number of years now.

SPEERS: Labor is considering the position?

KHALIL: Well, we have just heard the heard announcement, so I’d like to hear whatever other detail he’s coming up with, which is not much by the way.

SPEERS: Okay, Peter Khalil, Labor MP, thank you very much for joining us.

KHALIL: Thanks David. Thanks for having me. Cheers.