Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at The Sydney Institute in Sydney, Saturday, December 15, 2018. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Address to the Sydney Institute

15 Dec 2018
Sydney, NSW
Prime Minister

Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Gerard, and particularly to my ministerial colleague Senator Payne, it’s great to have her back straight off the plane from Myanmar where she’s been over the weekend, to Nick Greiner who’s here as well, I see an old Treasury secretary over there John Fraser, good to see you Frase. Thank you all for coming together on a Saturday and I want to particularly thank Gerard and Anne for bringing the members of the Sydney Institute here together on a Saturday, and so I thank you for your attendance.

What is most important to me as Prime Minister is that I seek to humbly do everyday things that make Australia even stronger than we are today, both now and in the future.

To protect what we already have as Australians, and to do everything we can to ensure that we are stronger so Australians can realise their opportunities for the future.

Keeping our economy strong through lower taxes, supporting small and medium sized family businesses, supporting infrastructure in our cities and our regions and all across our vast country, so I can guarantee the essential services Australians rely on. That’s what the stronger economy’s for. Medicare, hospitals, schools, affordable medicines, aged care, support for our veterans. That’s why I am so focussed on achieving a stronger economy because that’s what realises those services.

Keeping Australians safe, whether it’s protecting our kids on-line from cyber bullying, keeping families safe from domestic violence, protecting Australians from the threat of terrorism, keeping our borders strong, and the institutions and frameworks that keep our borders strong, or defending our values and our freedoms at home and around the world through our Australian Defence Force.

And keeping Australians together, by ensuring we show respect for each other, for older Australians in residential aged care, removing needless- and preventing needless conflict and provocation in our workplaces – so employees and employers can work together for the good of themselves and their enterprise. Listening to young Australians, in particular, who want to ensure our environment is protected for the future – and that we address climate change. And respecting migrants who came to Australia, whether recently or many generations ago, because we are a successful multicultural society and because they believe we would respect religious freedoms.

Even stronger, that’s what I want Australia to be.

And to protect Australia from the things that would make us weaker - a weaker economy, weaker borders, weaker protections for our national security, weaker respect for the freedoms and the values that have made Australia the great country we are today.

A stronger Australia will always stand up for what we believe in. And that’s why I have come here to address you today.

In my first major foreign policy speech in Australia as Prime Minister, I said that our foreign policy “defines what we believe about the world and our place in it”. Foreign policy must speak of our character and our values.  What we stand for.  What we believe in and, if need be, what we’ll defend. And I made this point: Those who see foreign relations through a narrow, transactional lens sell Australia short.

Australian is more than the sum of our deals. We’re much bigger than that. We are a principled and pragmatic people. Clear about our beliefs yet realistic about the world that is around us. We pursue an ambitious agenda in the Indo-Pacific, we are a regional power with global interests. We have a responsibility to contribute to debates that shape our world, and the world does listen. And to do so in a constructive and innovative fashion. Always seeking to focus on the problem we are trying to solve.

So much of our prosperity and security is dependent on the world beyond our borders, we’ve always been an outward looking country. Almost 40 years ago, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, in the context of debates over the Middle East, the Cold War and Apartheid, explained why Australia should always participate in global debates.                                                                                                          

He gave three reasons.                                                                                                                     

First, “Too many Australians have died in places remote from their home – in Europe, in the Middle East, in South-East Asia – for us to be unconcerned about the preservation of world peace. Their sacrifice not only confers a right but imposes a duty on Australia to speak on these issues”. Second, “the middle-ranking countries of the world should recognise they have a role to play. It would not only be foolish,” he said, “but a political and moral failing to assume that nations such as Australia should be seen and not heard on the great issues” as he described them. And third, “in a Western world characterised by a great deal of self-doubt and division, and by a degree of disillusionment which has not yet been wholly overcome, every contribution to clarifying issues and strengthening resolve is valuable”. I agree. In an age of renewed global uncertainty, Australia should seek to clarify issues and strengthen resolve based on the principles and the beliefs we hold dear.

To that end, today I want to update you on steps our Government is taking, as Liberals and Nationals, to add clarity to our voice on important issues, consistent with our values and our national interests.

The first issue I want to address is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA as it is known – otherwise known as the ‘Iran nuclear deal’. Struck in 2015, the JCPOA resulted from a decade of negotiation. It included the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, the EU and the UK, as well as Iran as its signatories. As we know, the United States withdrew from the agreement in May of this year.                                                                                     

Criticisms were made of the agreement including inadequate inspection and verification mechanisms and its narrow scope. In response to this, on the 16th of October I announced a without prejudice review of the JCPOA. We should take a look, we should assess these suggestions in light of concerns raised with me about its effectiveness including concerns raised here at home. I asked my department to lead a team of experts drawn from across government to examine these and other criticisms and potential weaknesses. The Review team consulted widely with Australia’s international partners in the US, Europe, Middle East and Asia and with the International Atomic Energy Agency. I sought views from experts outside government, I also discussed the matter with a number of foreign leaders during the recent summit season.

The review team examined if the JCPOA is delivering what is intended. The conclusion from the Review team is that, on balance, it is, and that’s welcome news.

Substantial restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity remain in place. The International Atomic Energy Agency has verified on 13 occasions that Iran’s actions remain in keeping with the deal’s limits. The deal took Iran from the brink of having enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon to a place where the international community has daily oversight of its nuclear activities.

These are worthy achievements.

 Iran is well-placed to expand its enrichment capacity rapidly if the deal were to break down. So maintaining support for the JCPOA serves our interests in nuclear non-proliferation and in reinforcing the rules-based international system. It is consistent with Australia’s position on other non-proliferation issues, for example, support for a negotiated deal on verifiable de-nuclearisation on the Korean peninsula. And it serves our interest in encouraging rules-based approaches to resolving other issues of international concern, including the South China Sea.                                                                                                                                                

But as the deal was only ever designed to cover nuclear issues, it’s not the full story and that’s where most of the frustration I think has been.

Our concerns about Iran relate not to what is in the agreement, but what’s not in the agreement. The agreement does not address Iran’s destabilising activities in the Middle East and beyond. It does not address Iran’s proliferation of ballistic missiles and technology, and activities undermining Israel’s security, and support for terrorist groups. These activities are ones the global community must act on.         

So today I am announcing that Australia will add to our already substantial support for international efforts, particularly in relation to Iran’s ballistic missile proliferation and Iran’s support for destabilising activity.  

Australia continues to apply sanctions required under UNSC Resolution 2231 on nuclear and ballistic-missile related materials. We will also continue to apply autonomous sanctions on the export of arms and related materials. Working with our partners, and consistent with our obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, Australia will work to tighten the net on Iran’s missile proliferation networks and support for activities that are destabilising the region. We will keep the option of additional autonomous sanctions under active review.                                                                                                        

In the Financial Action Task Force – an international body tasked with combating counter-terrorism financing – we will support the imposition of countermeasures if Iran does not meet its commitments to address its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing deficiencies.                                

Now turning to broader Middle East issues, I have also been concerned for some time about the ratcheting up of rhetoric and action aimed at isolating Israel.

We regard the biased and unfair targeting of Israel in the UN General Assembly in particular as deeply unhelpful to efforts to build peace and stability. The UN General Assembly is now the place where Israel is bullied and where anti-Semitism is cloaked in language about human rights. It is where Israel is regularly accused of what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called the “five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide.”

Think about it: a nation of immigrants; with a free press; parliamentary democracy; financially prosperous; the source of tremendous innovation in the world; and a refuge from persecution and genocide, is somehow the centre of cruelty in the world.                                                            

It's ridiculous. It is intellectual fraud.                                                         

To the point where we seem to be heading closer, now, to the dispiriting decade of the 1970s when it comes to ritualistic denunciations of Israel, compromised and hypocritical global processes, a capacity to look the other way when it comes to terrorist organisations, and widespread fatigue in Western societies about the lack of progress.  

Last year, there were 17 UN General Assembly resolutions critical of Israel. This compared with a total of five for all other countries: Myanmar, the Syrian Arab Republic, Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine; Iran and North Korea. But 17 in relation to Israel.

This year, the UN Human Rights Council passed six motions condemning Israel, compared to a total of 14 across the rest of the world. And last month, at my direction, Australia opposed six resolutions that attacked Israel in the UN General Assembly. These included the ‘Jerusalem’ resolution, which contains biased and one-sided language attacking Israel and denies its historical connection to the city, and the ‘Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine’ resolution, which confers on the Palestinian Authority a status it does not have. In the past, we had abstained on these resolutions. Not anymore and not on my watch.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. We all know that principle.                                                                           

We won’t turn a blind eye to an anti-Semitic agenda masquerading as defence of human rights as a nation like Australia.                      

Last week, Australia supported a UN General Assembly resolution to condemn the egregious and ongoing violent acts of the terrorist organisation Hamas. Hamas are violent extremists. Terrorists who use the Israel-Palestinian conflict as an excuse to inflict terror. They should have no friends at the UN. The failure of the resolution to pass with the requisite majority was appalling.

Australia condemns Hamas’ activities in the strongest possible terms. Why others failed to do so is evidence of the stalemate that has been reached where sticking with your side is blind to denouncing terrorism. That’s how bad it’s got.

Now that is not to say that we are not ever critical of Israel. Indeed, we will, if need be, openly rebuke a sincere friend, because friends should speak freely. The Australian Government has expressed our strong concern over Israel’s land appropriations, demolitions and settlement activity. I indeed have done that directly, Prime Minister to Prime Minister. The settlements undermine peace – and contribute to the stalemate we now see.

But we make the point, the international community must move beyond ritual denunciations of Israel, to urge a return to negotiations towards a two-state solution.

If anything, the ritual denunciations are getting in the way of that progress. Australia’s national interests are well served by our productive and increasingly diverse relationship with Israel. Australia has always been one of Israel’s greatest friends and I intend for that to remain the case. This is underpinned by our nation’s shared values, including our commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

Australia also benefits from a vigorous, creative Jewish community here in Australia who most recently welcomed not that long ago, along with all Australians, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Australia in February 2017, the first by a serving Israeli Prime Minister. Modern Israel is a vibrant multicultural democracy with a strong economy and world-leading industrial, science and research capabilities.

Despite having the most powerful military in the region, Israelis live each day under existential threat. Since 1948 Israel has fought numerous wars with their neighbours  and thousands of skirmishes which are a constant reminder of the daily threats they face. My own visit to Israel many years ago and my interactions since have confirmed to me the future is not something Israelis take for granted. It’s not something they can take for granted. We should also not allow ourselves the indulgence of thinking otherwise for our great friend. We should understand what they live with everyday.

Over the past two years alone, Australia and Israel have expanded cooperation in defence industry and aviation security. It remains in our national interests to see Israel succeed as a liberal participatory democracy in the Middle East, and we regard it as imperative that Australia continues to strongly support its right to exist within secure and internationally recognised borders.

So this brings me to the Middle East peace process itself, including the status of Jerusalem.

Australia has a deep interest in seeing the emergence of a successful two-state solution. Not just as a country seeking to strengthen resolve and clarify issues, but because of our history as well. Last year, Australia commemorated the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba – a battle that is a proud part of Australia’s history. We proudly recall that it was Australia that chaired the Committee that recommended to the UN General Assembly the creation of the state of Israel and then voted in favour of the partition of Mandate Palestine. We are also proud to have been the first nation-state to vote to do so – and we did so because after the horrors of World War II, we wanted a refuge from man’s inhumanity to man.

We have turned up; we have played our part; we have done our share and we have paid the price through great sacrifice. That’s what gives us a microphone on this topic.                                             

As a practical demonstration of our ongoing commitment to peace in the Middle East, Australia has had military observers with the UN’s Truce Supervision Organisation since 1956. Our contribution to UNTSO forms the fifth largest contingent of the entire operation and represents Australia’s longest commitment to any operation. We continue to make substantial contributions to security and stability in the Middle East because it is in our interests to do so. Around 1,200 ADF personnel in the Middle East are promoting regional security including as part of the Global anti-Daesh Coalition and, at the request of the Iraqi Government, training Iraqi security forces. An Australian frigate patrols in the Gulf and Bab al Mandab Straits in support of regional security and freedom of navigation as part of a multinational naval force. An Australian commands the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai overseeing the Camp David Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel. We have made a difference to thousands of refugees in the region through our humanitarian contribution of over $600 million to Syrian and Iraqi refugees since 2011. And we continue donations to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East of $41 million in 2017-19.

In short, our credentials as a force for security and stability in the Middle East are beyond question.

Our commitment to supporting peace in the Middle East and for Israel to peacefully exist within secure and internationally recognised borders has always been accompanied by our commitment to the two state solution.

The UN Security Council has consistently endorsed a two-state solution, negotiated directly between Israel and the Palestinians, as the way in which ‘final status’ issues are to be resolved. These ‘final status’ issues include the status of Jerusalem, the right of return of refugees, the status of Israeli settlements, and the provision of security and the future borders of a Palestinian state.

Successive UN Security Council resolutions have laid down expectations of UN member states on a range of related issues. Since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, public support for a two-state solution has now diminished inside both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Today, neither Israel nor the Palestinians view the other side really as a genuine partner for peace. Though a two state solution remains the only viable way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the obstacles, we must admit, to achieving such a solution are becoming insurmountable. We hope not.

The lapse of time and the failure to progress the negotiations I believe has changed the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

A rancid stalemate has emerged. Slavish adherence to the conventional wisdom over decades appears only to be further entrenching this stalemate, providing a leave pass for continued inaction. For everyone to just keeping doing what they’re doing, and looking the other way. Don’t raise the issue, just keep doing what you’re doing.

Pious assertions about a commitment to a two-state solution strain credibility if we’re not prepared to question the conventional wisdom about how we believe this goal can be achieved. Expecting a different outcome while continuing to do the same old thing is not the way, as particularly my Cabinet colleagues know, is not the way I deal with problems.

So, Australia acknowledges that Jerusalem’s ultimate status, including its borders and boundaries, is a final status issue to be resolved between the parties. That’s uncontested.

We also know that as those issues are debated they are hotly contested in terms of their detail, and there are a range of strong views on these issues around the world. We acknowledge there are other views, and remain committed to engaging positively with all of our partners and neighbours who have different views on this topic. That’s OK. And we are confident that others will respect the views we ourselves form when we do so in a respectful and honest way.

Fundamentally, it is the right of every country to determine its national capital.

That is why the Government I lead asked the question about the position we have long adopted in relation to Jerusalem, with respect to achieving a two state solution. This very act of daring to ask that question drew the usual criticism. We hadn’t made a decision, we said we want to take a look at this, there are some rather persuasive arguments out there. As a country we should stop and look at this. And our very decision to do that was decried, it was mocked even, including from our political opponents. Now they either wittingly or otherwise wish to remain wedded to a status quo that is failing. They’re in the ‘leave it well alone category’. They can’t even tell us today whether they think we should ask the question, or even the answer we propose they can’t even agree with. Well people will know where we stand.               

So on the 16th of October in asking this question I announced a review of Australia’s policy on the status of Jerusalem.

I asked the departmental secretaries from Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence and Home Affairs to conduct the review. They met with a broad range of Australian community representatives, including some eminent Australian policymakers: former heads of various agencies and departments whether in Defence, Foreign Affairs or Prime Minister and Cabinet; they consulted Australia’s partners and allies overseas, including those most closely involved in the Middle East peace process. I did similarly as I went through a range of bilaterals over the last month or so.                                                        

The starting point for their deliberation was Australia’s absolute commitment to a two-state solution, these are the guard rails, with a secure Israel and future Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security within internationally recognised borders. I also required that their deliberations respect Australia’s obligations under international law and UN Security Council resolutions – two things that are fundamental, I think, to Australia’s interests in a rules-based order. You can’t look at these things in isolation. Our foreign policy is guided by our fundamental interest in ensuring that internationally agreed rules continue to safeguard our security and prosperity. We don’t get to pick and choose.

In the United Nations and G20 we have promoted the benefits of a rules based order and in holding states to account. We have imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its violation of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. We have called on states to comply with Security Council Resolutions on a range of matters, including the downing of MH17, North Korea’s weapons programme and the Syrian conflict. Accordingly, respect for UN Security Council resolutions is a relevant factor for Australia that we can’t put to one side as we consider our position on these issues.

     Now, Australia is subject to UN Security Council resolutions that apply to the Jerusalem issue, including Resolutions 478 and 2334.

The review team made recommendations after they’d completed their considerations to the National Security Committee earlier this week, with the resolution of the NSC then confirmed by Cabinet the following day. Since then the Government has engaged in briefings with our neighbours and allies to outline Australia’s new position.

The Government has resolved that Australia’s position is now as follows: Australia now recognises West Jerusalem, being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel. West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. And we look forward to moving our Embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after final status determination.          We have decided to start the work though now to identify a suitable site for an Australian embassy in West Jerusalem.

Out of respect for the clearly communicated preference of the Israeli Government for countries to not establish consulates or honorary consular offices in West Jerusalem, the Australian Government will establish a Trade and Defence Office in West Jerusalem. With deepening defence industry ties and Australia-Israel trade now running at over $1.3 billion per year, this will help continue to build our strong bilateral relationship.            

Furthermore, recognising our commitment to a two state solution, the Australian Government has also resolved to acknowledge the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem.                                                                              

Australia believes this position respects both our commitment to a two-state solution and longstanding respect for relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It’s a balanced view, it’s a measured view, it’s a well considered view. It reinforces our clear view that the status of Jerusalem can only be resolved through direct negotiations between the parties consistent with relevant Security Council resolutions.

All of our actions, from our efforts in the Pacific to our peacekeeping forces and our presence in the Middle East, are reflections of our commitment to an international order that encourages freedom, peace and prosperity.    

So in conclusion, I’m about hope for better. I’m optimistic by nature and by spirit. All of our actions, from our efforts in the Pacific – and I particularly want to commend Marise Payne and Christopher Pyne for the work that is being done on our ‘step up’ initiative in the Pacific – it has had an extraordinary response. From the Southwest Pacific nations themselves who we just see as family and who just see us as family. But to the broader world of France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Germany, all very keen to work with Australia and New Zealand in terms of our leadership of that initiative in the Pacific. To our peacekeeping forces and our presence in the Middle East. These are reflections of our commitment to an international order that encourages freedom, peace and prosperity.

Jerusalem - the home of the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Wailing Wall and the Via Dolorosa - deserves better than the rancid stalemate and better than the polarisation that marks its peoples.

When Anwar Sadat courageously addressed the Knesset just over 40 years ago, he said “there is no happiness to the detriment of others”. Those words are still true.

The Israeli and Palestinian people deserve a peace as worthy as the promise of their lands – and they deserve a lasting happiness that can only spring from a shared peace.

Australians have earned the right to call for such a peace and to make our contributions on how that peace can be realised, consistent with who we are and what we believe in.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you believe in.