As hostilities continue to rage in Israel and the occupied territories, it has been revealed this week how a number of Australian politicians have changed their position on the decades-old conflict since coming to parliament.
News Corp rags scoured the archives to dig up a grainy piece of footage showing Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressing a pro-Palestinian protest as a “Federal Labor MP” and condemning the Israeli military many years ago when the PM had thick brown hair.
Now, as Prime Minister, Albanese posts messages on social media, ‘Australia stands with our friend Israel’ and appears to walk in lock-step with U.S. allies by positioning Australia firmly on the Israeli side of the conflict.
Notably, over the past weeks, Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley has also been making media statements condemning the Albanese Government for being too slow to act on the Israel conflict and calling the Government’s call for “restraint” as “disgraceful”.
In 2003, then a Liberal backbencher, Ley became Chair of the Federal Parliamentary Friends of Palestine group. Ley said at the time she had “a great and abiding attachment to the land and the Arab people. It’s something I gained as a child in the region where I grew up”.
Speaking in the House of Representatives in 2008, Ley advocated for a Middle East peace process similar to the Northern Ireland peace process “which showed how a liberal democratic government entered into peace negotiations with a terrorist group”. Yet these long-held convictions seem to no longer hold true for Ley.
Similarly, Andrew Leigh MP, in 2019 was photographed at an event to support Palestinian people and attended by members of the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine. In 2021, Leigh gave a speech to the House of Representatives condemning Hamas and “Israeli attacks on Palestinian homes”. In that speech, Leigh reminded the House, “As Nicholas Kristof reminds us, ‘If you oppose war crimes only by your enemies, it’s not clear that you actually oppose war crimes‘”.
Leigh’s lengthy, articulate statement on the recent attacks ends with:
‘In closing, I stand with the Israeli people at this time of horrific attacks upon their territory.’
This is a subtle shift from his previously held position on the matter.
Recent mainstream media featuring these politicians have not examined the history of their positions on the issue nor why their positions have shifted from their earlier days in parliament.
Obviously, over time, complex situations like the Middle East conflict change and evolve and new developments bring new understandings, so it’s quite reasonable for anyone’s position on the matter to similarly evolve. What these politicians have failed to explain is why their opinions have shifted.
What information or other factors caused these politicians to shift their opinions over time? Do their personal opinions differ from their official statements?
The reasons for the shift in their position are important. Is it because of developments unknown to the general public or is it a sycophantic move to curry favour with those nations who are supporting Israel? And if so, what’s the quid pro quo? Because there’s always a quid pro quo.
It goes without saying that Israel had the entire world’s support for the heinous surprise attacks by Hamas that escalated the current situation. However, it is these same politicians who have been slow to condemn the equally heinous retaliatory strikes by Israel on civilians that have drawn criticism.
Chief Nationals Whip, Mark Coulton MP, has long been a supporter of Palestine and a member of the Federal Parliamentary Friends of Palestine and he continues to support the Palestinian people during the current troubles. One of the few politicians standing firm in his convictions despite a natural predisposition as Whip to toe the party and Coalition line of standing with Israel.
Federal frontbenchers Ed Husic and Anne Aly departed from the Government’s pro-Israel position when they spoke out in support of the Palestinian people saying ‘Palestinians are being “collectively punished” for Hamas barbarism’.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong has remained steadfast in her diplomatic prose, asking for ‘humanitarian pauses’ to hostilities yet remaining firmly aligned with Israel. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles was recently asked on radio about Israeli blockades of essential supplies, Marles seemed to contradict Wong’s call for ‘humanitarian pauses’ when ‘he could not bring himself even to utter a simple “yes”’. Wong, in Estimates this week, stopped short of ‘describing Israel’s Gaza siege as collective punishment’.
As a general rule, Australian parliaments have historically been on the same page and have received bipartisanship on sensitive issues such as this.
Officially, Australia’s position has been to advocate for a two-state solution and enduring peace in the region. But scratch the surface a little and we’ll find politicians, just like many Australians, have complex, considered opinions drawn from their lived experience of this long debate. As our multicultural nation grows, so do the local diasporas of Australians with real and long-lasting connections to conflict zones, and these sensitivities are as diverse as our Parliament. This is particularly evident today with the diversity and evolving political opinions on this issue.
If the Albanese Government is choosing to take a stand, then Albanese must rally the troops to be on the same page, because they seem all over the place right now. Given the diversity of opinion the wisest course of action would be to remain neutral, call for an immediate ceasefire and increase humanitarian aid and immigration places, but those words have not been spoken by Albanese. Yet. Remains to be seen if they ever will be.
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