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Australia's reputation among Pacific neighbours weakening

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Prime Minister Albanese speaking at Melbourne's ASEAN Conference (Screenshot via YouTube)

From carrying the Coalition's AUKUS pact to supporting Israel's self-defence initiative, Labor's reputation is souring among voters. Bilal Cleland reports.

ASIA IS SENSITIVE to memories of the White Australia policy, the first legislation of the Federation and a policy that was not killed until the 1972 Whitlam Labor Government.

Australian conservatives have a poor reputation with non-British inhabitants of the world. Asia has memories of Menzies' 1938 support for Hitler, his appalling attempt to intervene on the side of the British at the time of the Suez Crisis and the hostile attitude of the Liberals to Indonesia’s fight for independence.

Menzies supplied arms to rightist military rebels who were fighting against the Indonesian Government.

Labor has had a decent record

Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs from 1941 to 1949, Dr H V Evatt, helped establish the United Nations, where we advocated for a greater role for smaller nations.

We participated in the first UN meeting in 1941 with representatives from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the exiled governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia and France.

Unlike the international agreements that followed World War I – which led to the rise of Nazi Germany and militarist Japan – this time, the emphasis, partly due to the efforts of Dr Evatt, was on expanding the role of the UN General Assembly so that it had powers close to that of the Security Council, giving smaller nations influence.

He also secured greater recognition of social and economic roles for the new organisation, including respect for freedom, human rights, full employment and improved living standards.

Evatt later served as the President of the UN General Assembly from 1948 to 1949, playing a crucial role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Labor and the union movement strongly supported Indonesian independence from the Dutch.

Labor took us out of the American War in Vietnam in 1972 and established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China after more than two decades of conservative refusal. 

Former Liberal Party PM John Howard’s over-enthusiastic support for the invasion of Iraq, without a vote in parliament, similar to Menzies begging the U.S. to let us send troops to Vietnam, was also noted. Labor opposed the war.

Labor reputation trashed

The first major trashing of the positive reputation of Australian Labor was the uncritical acceptance of multi-ministry Scott Morrison’s AUKUS selling of Australian sovereignty for some future possible nuclear submarines, earning the hatred of France.

 Thus, the double trashing of our opposition to nuclear power, plus the alliance with the old imperial powers, the U.S. and UK.

Asia does not have happy memories of UK colonisation, while many nations since Vietnam have developed a suspicion of American motives in the South.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese intensified the decline in respect by supporting the Israeli assault on Gaza in the guise of self-defence against terrorism. While he did mention the need for restraint, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, the heir of Menzies, dismissed such lily-livered doubts.

According to a report in The New Arab:

‘On 28 October, when Gaza’s death toll had reached at least 7,760, Australia’s Labor Government... abstained in a UN General Assembly vote calling for an immediate humanitarian truce.’

This got worse when Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong suspended contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on unsubstantiated claims from Israel that some of its employees were associated with Hamas.

In retaliation for this trashing of our national reputation, a team of Australian lawyers led by Sheryn Omeri KC reportedly spent months documenting what they believe could be alleged complicity in the mass killings of Palestinians.

They maintain that Albanese provided Israel with “rhetorical support in their public statements, their press conferences, their speeches” as well as material assistance.

He is charged under the individual criminal responsibility section under Article 15 of the Rome Statute, which Australia has signed.

Some of our elected representatives contributed to a saving of our reputation, as outlined in National Indigenous Times:

‘A number of Indigenous parliamentarians have joined more than 50 elected representatives issuing a joint statement calling on the Australian Government to: push for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all hostages; recognise Palestine as a state entitled to be free of occupation, and “examine” its relationship with the State of Israel.’

ASEAN Nations and Palestine at Melbourne Conference

Southeast Asia, with its large Muslim population and its many nations, which have experienced European colonialism and the full brunt of assault from imperial masters, understands full well the nature of Israeli colonialism and the massacre of the occupied people of Gaza.

Malaysia, which has donated millions to Palestine, has banned Israeli ships from its ports because Israel’s actions “ignore basic humanitarian principles and violate international law through the ongoing massacre and brutality against Palestinians”.

Australia seems to be backing down from its total obedience to the Israeli lobby.

The Joint Statement for the Second Australia-Malaysia Annual Leaders’ Meeting:

... reiterated their shared concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza following the 7 October attacks. They called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. All parties must respect civilian lives and international humanitarian law. They repeated calls for safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access in Gaza, safe passage for civilians, and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.

Indonesian support for Palestine is unswerving.

Its 1945 Constitution states that ‘all colonialism must be abolished in this world’ — often quoted in support of Palestine.

Palestinian leaders were among the most prompt to show support for Indonesia in its struggle for independence from the Dutch.

Israel has shown clear enmity with its attempt to prevent Indonesia from joining the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Singapore welcomed the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors in Gaza:

‘Singapore will continue to work closely with our humanitarian partners to offer additional assistance and support to the Palestinian people.’

Vietnam has long supported Palestine:

‘We have a duty to speak up for Palestine, because their struggle is our struggle. We remember our own history and the legacy of war in the Vietnamese people's collective memory. Israel’s genocidal violence towards the Palestinian people is no different than what the United States did to Vietnam and its neighbours.’

Commentators have compared the Hamas attack and the subsequent massacre in Gaza to the Tet Offensive, which signalled the disastrous beginning of the end of the American war in Vietnam.

David W Lesch writes in Manara Magazine:

‘In that sense, Hamas’ mission was accomplished. And as the Tet Offensive caused a paradigmatic shift in the U.S., both politically and culturally, it is likely the Hamas invasion will do the same in Israel.’

Thailand is divided. Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin tweeted almost immediately after the initial attack:

The Thai Govt and I extend my deepest condolences to the Government and the people of the State of Israel.


We strongly condemn this attack, which has tragically resulted in loss of innocent lives and injury to civilians.

As expected, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs rushed to correct the error, insisting that Thailand is a neutral nation that supports peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine.

The Thai Government voted in favour of an immediate humanitarian ceasefire at the United Nations General Assembly meeting on 12 December.

The Lao PDR has supported efforts by the Arab Group, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other UN member states to reconvene this Tenth Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly, as per GA Resolution 377 (V) of 1950.

The Philippines abstained from the UN General Assembly vote for an immediate humanitarian truce on 27 October, along with 45 others including Australia.

120 countries supported the resolution.

According to Al Jazeera:

‘The Philippines was not one of those countries... Instead, it acknowledged Israel’s “right to self-defence” while remaining mum on the human rights abuses and war crimes faced by Palestinians in Gaza.’

The Melbourne Declaration — A partnership for the future

The statement at the end of the ASEAN Conference suggests Australia is under regional pressure to maintain our anti-nuclear policy and, apparently, to defend the people of Gaza:

‘We support ASEAN’s efforts to preserve the Southeast Asian region as a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone and free of all other weapons of mass destruction…’

Paragraph 25 included:

We urge for an immediate and durable humanitarian ceasefire. We support the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the execution of its mandate and the UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza to discharge her task effectively and efficiently, and to begin the work on post-conflict reconstruction. We call for rapid, safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all those in need, including through increased capacity at border crossings, including by sea.

The weakness is in the last sentence:

‘We took note, and some of us underlined the importance of the order on provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice on 26 January 2024. In this context, we reaffirm the importance of upholding international law.’

Australia’s attitude to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case stands out.

Need to put Israeli lobby in its place

The lighting up of the Sydney Opera House sails in Israeli colours and doubts expressed about whether demonstrations about genocide were anti-Semitic from Labor politicians have caused many Labor voters to ditch the ALP.

Credibility given to false claims about cries of “gas the Jews” at a Sydney demonstration and false claims that a Melbourne demonstration over the arson at Burgertory was deliberately aimed at synagogues has indicated the divisive intent of the Israeli lobby.

The kerfuffle over the sacking of an Arab journalist by the ABC – governed by an L-NP stacked board – and the exposure of the WhatsApp group behind the campaign to remove her was met by statements from Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus that new laws would be introduced to deal with such exposures.

Years of Muslim vilification and hostile propaganda were met without a murmur from our political leaders.

ASEAN and the Muslim world are aware of what goes on in this country, from failure to Close the Gap to Islamophobic and pro-Zionist political movements.

Even in progressive Victoria, the police task force dealing with Middle Eastern crime was designated the Santiago Taskforce.

The full title is Santiago Matamoros, St James the Moor-slayer.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. You can follow Bilal on Twitter @BilalCleland.

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