Remarks to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce

  • Speech, check against delivery

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Wurundjeri people, and pay my respects to Elders, past and present.

And I thank you, Anthony.

I am honoured and humbled by your introduction, as I am by the generous invitation to speak with you today.

I’ve been looking forward to this event – and we’ve been trying to make this happen for some time.

But we all wish we were gathering in different circumstances.

Instead of discussing our international engagement, we meet in sorrow – in the shadow of barbaric attacks on Israel by Hamas.

These attacks are abhorrent. They are the acts of terrorists. They cannot be justified. They must be condemned.

Australia stands against terrorism. We stand in solidarity with Israel.

We unequivocally condemn the attack by Hamas: indiscriminate rocket fire, the targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages.

I reiterate Israel’s right to defend itself.

More Jews were killed on Saturday than on any day since the Holocaust.

For a people who have known the horror of genocide, this fact cuts deep.

Over 1,000 people in Israel have been killed, as many as 150 people taken from Israel and held hostage in Gaza.

I again express my deepest sympathies to those impacted by these heinous acts.

We are shocked. We are horrified.

And we grieve with you.

I extend my sympathy and affirm our solidarity.

We stand with Israel and we always will.

It is cold comfort at such a time of grief to reflect that the story of the Jewish people is a story of extraordinary courage and resilience.

But we should proclaim that resilience and courage in the face of thousands of years of persecution and many of the worst atrocities in human history.

And we must remember that it is that persecution and those atrocities that finally resolved the international community to establish the state of Israel.

In 1947, along with other Jewish Agency representatives including David Ben-Gurion and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, Israel’s first foreign minister and second prime minister, Moshe Sharett, made the case for a Jewish state in the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee.

If you will indulge me, I want to quote at some length from Mr Sharett’s contribution, because it is as timely today as it was then. He told assembled nations:

Three-quarters of [European] Jewry - six million people - are no more.

But let us go back into the past. Jews had lived in Spain for a whole millennium when, in 1492, they were despoiled and expelled, and only those who gave up their Jewish identity and became Christians were allowed to remain.

Jews have lived in Poland since the eleventh or twelfth century, but in the seventeenth they were the victims of ferocious massacres.

Then there were pogroms under the Russian czars in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and in the last war… came the final catastrophe.

Mr Sharett continued:

Nearly all of Polish Jewry - three million men, women and children - was wiped out by the nazis.

In Germany, the beginnings of Jewish settlement are traced back to the fourth century.

But just six centuries ago, most of the Jews in Germany were destroyed in a wave of frenzied persecution which swept Europe.

Then, by the twentieth century, German Jews had reached the pinnacle of emancipation and were largely assimilated.

Yet they were hurled down into the abyss of degradation and death. Even converts to Christianity were not spared.

And Mr Sharett reminded delegates:

It is true that Hitler is gone now, but not anti-Semitism. He was the product, not the source…

Mr Sharett called this the “basic insecurity of Jewish life in the dispersion.”

And Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver concluded his contribution by saying:

The Jewish people belongs in this society of nations. Surely the Jewish people is no less deserving than other peoples whose national freedom and independence have been established…

Given the terrible attack on Israel at the weekend, and some of the things that have been said since then, I wanted to revisit these words today – to return to first principles.

These principles were central for Australia’s most consequential foreign minister, Doc Evatt.

He was a leading architect of the partition plan that laid the foundations for the creation of a new nation state.

Led by Minister Evatt and Prime Minister Chifley, Australia was the first country to cast a vote in favour of the UN Partition Plan.

We remain as steadfast and unwavering as ever in our support for Israel.

And we believe that the just and enduring peace Israelis deserve would only be enhanced by a negotiated two state solution, in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist, in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders.

One of the many tragic consequences of Hamas’s abhorrent attack is that it has pushed that two-state solution further out of reach.

That also makes this is an unconscionable crime perpetrated by Hamas against the Palestinian people.

Just as we stand with Israel we stand with the Australian Jewish community – and we will do everything we need to do to keep the community safe.

People come to Australia because they want to live in a country that is peaceful, tolerant and respectful.

I don’t need to tell you how important it is that we protect that.

There is no place here for antisemitism. There is no place here for hate speech.

The antisemitic slogans in protests these last days have been rightly condemned by the Prime Minister, me and many others.

Those that engage in these acts must understand their hatred rails against the values Australians share, that we together safeguard.

Israel faces a crisis today. But Israel will endure. It must.

So I want to now turn to how we might extend our support and cooperation.

The broader principle, as I explained it in a speech in Washington last year, is that we want to demonstrate to our partners that we want to nurture interests beyond the political or security realms.

To demonstrate to our partners that their interest in stability and economic advancement is an interest we share.

This is why the Albanese Government is so focused on building alignment with our partners through greater economic engagement and integration.

It fosters the assurance that comes with knowing that our success is shared.

Now, there is already a good story to tell.

For example, Israel is the third largest source of foreign company listings on the Australian Stock Exchange.

But there is untapped opportunity. Israel today is a hi-tech, innovation powerhouse.

And the Albanese Government is preparing the Australian economy for the opportunities of today and tomorrow.

Transforming energy on our path to net zero.

Building a bigger and better‑trained workforce.

Broadening and deepening our industrial base.

Leveraging capital and lifting investment.

All areas of reform that offer the potential for deeper economic engagement with Israel.

But just as I am interested in this Chamber’s views on deepening our economic engagement with Israel, I ask you to join our broader efforts to diversify and expand Australia’s trade and investment.

The Prime Minister recently launched Invested: Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040, which was a report by Special Envoy Nicholas Moore.

This report recognises that we live in the most competitive region in the world.

This offers us enormous opportunity – and big exposures if we fail to seize it.

Australian business knows the risk of having too many eggs in one market.

Increasing two-way trade and investment with Southeast Asia is a priority for the Australian Government, and we know the potential is vast.

In 2022, Southeast Asia's combined nominal GDP was around A$5.2 trillion—larger than the economies of the United Kingdom, France or Canada.

And by 2040, Southeast Asia is predicted to be the fourth-largest market after the United States, China and India. Indonesia alone is projected to be the world's fifth-largest economy by 2040.

We know that Southeast Asia needs more investment, goods and services to boost its economic development, support the transition to clean energy, and for the people of the region to reach their full potential.

But the stark reality is that our trade and investment with the region has not kept pace with the growth of Southeast Asian economies.

While Southeast Asia has grown rapidly, the share of Australia's overall trade in the region has flatlined over the past 15 years.

And Australian direct investment in the region is now lower than it was in 2014.

The strategy sets out to turn this around.

It maps out trade and investment opportunities in the region, and recommends ways we can boost our economic engagement by raising awareness, removing blockages, building capacity and deepening investment.

I’m sure Nicholas Moore engaged with some of you in developing the strategy, but the real work starts now.

It comes down to a simple and compelling fact: trading and investing more in our region means more opportunities for Australian businesses to grow, creating more Australian jobs and boosting our economic prosperity.

And this engagement brings strength to our security.

Moreover, growing our economic security in this way is a key element of our statecraft and central to our national interest.

You might have heard me say before that we face the most difficult strategic circumstances in the post war period.

We need to deploy all elements of our national power to advance Australia’s interests.

And Australia’s interests are in a region that is peaceful, prosperous and stable, operating by rules, standards and norms.

Our interests are in a world where countries can exercise their agency and decide their own destinies, free from coercion and interference.

Our interests are in a region and a world where a larger country does not determine the fate of a smaller country; where each country can pursue its own aspirations; where no country dominates, and no country is dominated.

These national interests are also the principles that the world embraced at the end of the last world war – with the determination to never see such a conflict repeated.

Just as at the same time the world voted to establish Israel, in the wake of the Holocaust – with the determination never to see such an atrocity repeated.

But as we have seen, protecting and advancing both of these causes is never complete, and so the Albanese Government commits itself to this ongoing work.

I want to close with some observations about leadership.

In 2018, in the wake of inexcusable remarks from former Senator Fraser Anning, I drafted a motion which stated:

in the face of attacks to sow division, our responses must bring us together, recognising an attack on any religion is an attack on all religions and that we all share a responsibility to unite, condemn and defeat such an attack on our common values and way of life.

It called on all Australians to stand against hate and to publicly, and always, condemn actions and comments designed to incite fear and hatred.

To his credit, Mathias Corman agreed and co-sponsored that motion.

Right, now, we need this character of leadership.

How we deal with these heinous acts is a demonstration of our maturity and our values and cohesion as a nation.

We must work together to reinforce the values that have made Australia the decent and inclusive nation we are.

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