Jillian Segal: Welcome to this absolutely special opportunity to hear from Anthony Albanese who is with us today on the screen. Anthony we are absolutely delighted that you have accepted the ECAJ invitation to meet with community leaders around the country. And although Peter and I actually met with you a couple of weeks ago, as we have met with some other members of your Shadow Cabinet including your Shadow Foreign Minister, we all agreed that as the community’s representative organisation it would be beneficial for community leaders from around the country to be able to meet with you. And can I just thank you again in advance for agreeing to this. COVID lockdowns really don’t have many positive aspects to them, but national Zoom gatherings are perhaps one of them, where we can have many people meet with you, see you, talk to you and indeed use very efficiently the time.
So, we have invited as ECAJ guests’ leaders of our constituent organisations from around the nation and we have on Zoom with us today representatives from all our smaller state constituents. So, from around the country, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and ACT and presidents and vice presidents of our two larger states New South Wales and Victoria. We also have representatives of our friends and donors, colleagues at other Jewish community organisations, the ZFA, AIJAC, JNF, JCA, UIA as well as representatives of The Australian Jewish News and J-Wire. I obviously cannot mention everyone, but can I just acknowledge that we will also have present the Israeli Deputy Ambassador Ron Gerstenfeld. So, whilst you need very little introduction can I just note that Anthony has represented the inner west of Sydney as the Federal Member for Grayndler since 1996 and he has been Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Opposition Leader since May 2019. And in the period between 1996 and 2019, he has held many Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles that I’m not going to list.
The format of this evening is that Anthony will make some opening remarks, and then Peter Wertheim our co-CEO will ask Anthony questions dealing with a range of issues that the community is concerned about. Then after that, there will be the opportunity for all of you to ask questions. And given the numbers present, all questions should be texted to Peter Wertheim rather than using the Q & A function or the chat function. Peter’s mobile will appear on the screen, but for those of you who don’t know it, it’s [number supplied]. And Peter will try and bunch the questions together by theme and ask them in an efficient fashion so we can try and get through as many as possible. So just a reminder, this event is being recorded and out of courtesy please note everyone has been muted except the speaker, but it would be great if you could turn on your cameras at some stage so everyone can see everyone else. And at the conclusion of Q&A one of our dear friends Bruce Solomon will give the vote of thanks. So let me now hand over to you Anthony. Anthony Albanese: Well, thank you very much Jillian. I thank everyone for joining us on what is an important event and an opportunity to engage with the Jewish community in Australia and your leadership. Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners to the land on which you all are respectively and pay my respects to the elder’s past, present and emerging.
I am indeed very proud to lead the Australian Labor Party. It wasn’t what I expected after the last election, but I’m hoping to lead Labor into government sometime in the next twelve months. And I see myself very much as someone who will have a responsibility to represent the whole community, across people of different faiths, people of no faith, men, women, people in all of our diversity. And I see that Australia’s diversity is indeed our great strength, and it is the capacity of our people that I think is our greatest asset.
And indeed, that the Jewish community of course have a proud history with the Australian Labor Party going back a long period of time. Doc Evatt indeed played a critical role in the lead-up to the creation of Israel and ever since then the links between Labor and the Jewish community have been very strong indeed. Labor has provided more members from the Jewish community as parliamentarians than any other political movement in Australia. And that is not surprising, given the synergy that is there about social justice, about compassion, about looking after your fellow citizens.
Indeed, I think historically if you look at the response that we’ve had, the Whitlam Government passed the Racial Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination in law on the basis of race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin. It was the Keating Government that added Section 18C to that Act which made it unlawful to engage in racist acts in particular racist hate speech. And of course, 18D provides some protection there in terms of as well freedom of expression, and it should be read together. When the current government on two separate occasions has attempted to remove or change Section 18C, we worked very closely as a Party with the Jewish community. I pay tribute to Peter of course who played a leading role in defeating that move. I am deeply concerned about the re-emergence of antisemitism in a stronger way in recent times. That parallels with a rise in right wing extremism and Labor has focused through Kristina Keneally in particular has focused in the Joint Parliamentary National Security Committee about making sure that there’s a focus on right wing extremism. And I know that we are joined in this call by Josh Burns and Deb O’Neill, my parliamentary colleagues. There may well be other colleagues on the call as well and I do want to acknowledge their presence and their work with the community. We also I think can claim some responsibility for the recent decision to list the Sonnenkrieg Division under our anti-terrorism laws. I also think we are joined by Dr Mike Freelander as well as part of this call.
I think our proud history includes the fact that Prime Minister Julia Gillard was the first Australian politician to sign the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism, and our historic support reaffirmed by myself as leader to support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism which of course is critical. It underscores the importance of respectful debate but ensuring that we don’t descend into any form of hate speech. Regarding Labor’s attitude towards Israel, I’ve moved on no less than two separate occasions, the Middle East policy adopted by the Labor Party going back from the conferences under the Rudd Government on both of those occasions and I think they were regarded as very balanced resolutions. The Labor Party remains and will always be under my leadership a steadfast supporter of Israel and a supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s something that I’ve consistently held for a long period of time now and we continue to support Israel as a democracy in an area of the world where democracy is not the norm. We have also supported a normalisation of relations that we have seen occur with the UAE, with Bahrain and Israel. The two-state solution needs to recognise the rights of both Israeli and Palestinian people to live in security and to live in peace, and to be in circumstances whereby there is security with each other as well as from each other in terms of the way that would function. I have condemned violence, whether it be by the Israeli side or the Palestinian side in a way in which we need to make sure that given the nature of the conflict in the Middle East that there be a balanced approach and that we call for restraint and we call for peaceful negotiations as a way forward.
I think in terms of our attitude toward these issues it’s consistent with my broader philosophy that I have. I often speak about Australia’s potential role that we play as a microcosm for my vision for the world whereby here in Australia, by and large Australian’s live side by side. Jewish and Muslim next to each other. People from Cypriot background be they Turkish or Greek. People of different backgrounds in harmony. And when you go into a local primary school in any of our electorates around Australia it certainly gives me incredible hope and a great sense of optimism that the Australian journey of multiculturalism can be important for us but also an important sign to the world that we are all enriched by having respect for each other’s culture, and indeed learning from each other’s culture. I live in Marrickville in Sydney and certainly my life and the life of my son has been greatly enriched by that access and learning from different cultures from all around the world, including different religions.
I have been an unequivocal and firm supporter of multiculturalism and I’ve also been just as firm and consistent in my opposition to racism in any form whatsoever. I regard the BDS campaign as one that is based upon a racial targeting of a group, in this case Israel. And it’s something that I’ve not supported and have indeed led the campaign to make sure when Marrickville Council, my local council adopted support for the BDS that it was overturned. And I worked very closely with people like Peter and Bruce Solomon and others on that campaign very publicly. Seems to me that the more contact that people have with each other the better. Not less contact, we need more contact. And the idea as well that at the time, when that was a very hot campaign, the campaign against Leonard Cohen and against people in terms of performing in Israel was I think incredibly counterproductive. And I pledge to you the ongoing opposition to BDS and to as well recognise the with the rise of antisemitism and racism in some quarters, be they the rise of extreme right but also some on the extreme left as well, that there’s a need to provide increased support for the community including schools and places of worship need to be protected and supported.
So could I very much thank people for joining in this conversation. I look forward to the conversation. The community links between the Jewish community and Labor are long established. My personal links are long established as well. And I pay tribute to the community leaders who play such an important role. Most of you are of course volunteers in your own time to advance not just your community but by advancing your community advance the nation of Australia as well of which you have been such an important part. Since those of us are all migrants of descendants except for First Nation’s people of course, so I might leave it there very much Jillian but look forward to the discussion.
Jillian Segal: Thank you so much, I’m going to had you over to Peter.
Peter Wertheim: Thank you so much for that Anthony for that introduction, you have certainly touched on all the key issues that have been foremost in our minds for the last year at least and going back even further. What I thought I might do is drill down into some of the issues you have headlined and maybe discuss them in a bit more depth.
I might start actually with what you had to say about antisemitism. In particular you acknowledged that it’s not just right-wing extremism, it’s coming from a variety of different sources these days. It can come from the left; it can come from religious sources. So let me begin this question with just an observation that the armed hostilities between Israel and Hamas which occurred in May saw a worldwide upsurge in physical and other threats and attacks against Jews and Jewish community institutions. Some of those responsible for the attacks and many of their supporters deny that the attacks in any way constitute antisemitism. They say it’s merely legitimate protest or political criticism or anti-Zionism which they say does not amount to antisemitism. I’d like to ask you for your view firstly. And, as a follow up, have these attacks had an impact on your recent commitment that a future ALP government will endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism so that it can be used as a guide for civil society including academia, the workplace and so on.
Anthony Albanese: Thanks Peter
Peter Wertheim: I’ll just open it up on that basis.
Anthony Albanese: Look I think that the definition of antisemitism is one that we have reaffirmed. I have had that view; we have stated it in 2019; I think prior to that 2016. And of course, I have, before the recent upsurge in conflict in Gaza and in Israel in terms of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. And the rise that we saw in antisemitism that was very much conveyed to me by community leaders and one that you could see too in terms of some of the tone of the debate.
We should be…No nation state including Israel is above criticism. And from time to time, I’ll be critical of the actions of Israel and from time to time I will be critical of the actions of the Palestinian leadership as well. Where it goes into, I think with antisemitism, I do think that some of this is a matter of having a debate, a broad debate and people having contact with the experience that people have. The attacks on students, the attacks on people who people can identify as being Jewish on public transport. The targeting of Jewish schools and of synagogues is something that we have seen for, well, for a long period of time. But of course, in recent times we have seen the upsurge. And I do think part of the responsibility of political leaders who aren’t members of the Jewish community is to educate ourselves to be aware of it and to speak about as well. To speak about it so that it’s identified in some ways. You will hear from some people will say that things oh well that’s not racist because they haven’t, it can be ignorance but sometimes it’s a deep-seated racism and prejudice which is there. Sometimes it is a matter of education and I know that groups like AUJS for example I speak with every time they are here in Parliament House, and I have done so for a long period of time. They play an important role in education.
But I think that non-Jewish groups have an important role to play as well, and indeed a responsibility to engage. I will always… I know that Steve Rothman, who is probably part of this call, and others who have been involved in the education community in particular have raised this with me for a considerable period of time and I’m very conscious of it. I’m conscious of the fact that Labor when we were last in government provided for example additional security measures for Jewish schools and that was something that I was very supportive of. At other times, support for increased security at some of the Islamic schools as well and that’s appropriate as well.
Peter Wertheim: Just in terms of the definition, I mean, as you pointed out a moment ago, it’s not always evident to people who don’t belong to a targeted group that what they’re saying is racist. And at other times it’s disingenuous; they’re perfectly well aware of it, but try to define it out of existence.
Anthony Albanese: Yes.
Peter Wertheim: It makes it all the more important, then, to lead from the top as it were. And that is why I framed the question as, whether a future Labor Government would follow the UK and other countries in endorsing the IHRA definition at least as a standard setting exercise.
Anthony Albanese: Yes, is the very clear answer.
Peter Wertheim: Well that’s great.
Anthony Albanese: The Labor party has done that and that is our view. I think that it is critical that there be leadership on those issues. Leadership against any form of racism. Australia of course doesn’t always have a proud history, including against First Nations people. One of the things we have got better at in recent times is acknowledging that. The proudest moment I’ve had in the Federal Parliament is the apology to the stolen generations on the first day on which we came into government. And I think in general we just need to be, we need to be always vigilant. I don’t need to tell this group that if we’re not vigilant, if racism isn’t called out, if we’re not prepared to stand up, then it thrives. Silence doesn’t work when it comes to the spread of racism. History shows us that that’s the case, and we need to learn from that history.
Peter Wertheim: From the tenor of the texts I’m getting, you are getting a lot of thumbs up from that last answer, so thank you for that. I’ll move on now to Israel; you’ve mentioned that as well. We did recently see a peaceful transition of power to a new government in Israel, as you noted in your opening remarks.
Following democratic elections in which all citizens who wished to stand for office – not just the handpicked few – were able to do so regardless of their background. And as you’ve also noted, that doesn’t happen in lots of countries, and certainly nowhere else in the Middle East. The new Israeli government includes an independent Arab Israeli party as an official member of the broad-based governing coalition of eight parties which cover the whole political spectrum right to left. It’s the most diverse government in Israel’s history, not only politically and ideologically, but also in gender, multi-ethnic terms and so on. An unprecedented nine of Israel’s twenty-seven cabinet ministers are women, including one from the Ethiopian Jewish community. There are Muslim, Arab and Druze Ministers, an observant orthodox Jewish Minister, an openly gay Minister, and a wheelchair bound minister. Also, notably the election recorded the largest Arab Israeli vote ever.
So with that rather lengthy preamble, another two part question if I may. What is your response to those who wish to demonise and isolate Israel and label it as an “Apartheid State”? And what sort of relationship do you anticipate a future Labor Government would have with the new Israeli government, and what role do you see for Australia in working with the new Israeli government to assist in negotiating peace?
Anthony Albanese: I think that the use of terms like apartheid, not only is not appropriate for describing the Israeli political system and structure. It also I think cheapens to be frank the struggle against apartheid that occurred in South Africa led by Mandela and others. And I think that it’s a dangerous thing where people look for simplistic terms that are ahistorical, because they are not only offensive to the people, the structures to which they are directed, they are offensive to where the terms originated as well. That’s I think entirely inappropriate.
Look, I think that there is…I think that the change of government in Israel…Of course I have to be careful about having views about democratic processes in other countries. So, I’ll be somewhat cautious here. I’ve been less cautious in recent times about former President Trump.
In terms of some of the change that it represents as well, I hope what it does is make the prospect that annexation of areas of the West Bank that had been flagged at various times, it makes that, I think, retreat further, which is a good thing. If we’re going to have a two state solution, then one of the states has to be the state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, and to annex part of that would have seen that disappear. I’ve always been very concerned as well about those who argue, some on the left as well, who argue that we can have a one state solution and, you know, that will be democratic. A single secular democratic state is in my view a recipe for just ongoing conflict as well. You know it has to be recognised why the Jewish State of Israel of course arose due to the history that was there. To pretend that that wasn’t the case is ahistorical.
I think that it’s going to be, Israeli politics has always been very interesting. I’ve met Israeli leaders, both in Israel but on many more occasions here in Australia of course, including some great leaders like Shimon Peres who I admired very greatly and who of course went very close to really achieving an outcome there and it’s a great tragedy that that wasn’t realised, that vision. I look forward to engaging. One of the things I intended to do was to visit the Middle East of course was on my agenda as a leader. And of course, that hasn’t been possible, it’s barely possible, I can’t visit my home in Sydney, let alone anywhere else; I haven’t been home for a month. That is what it is.
I must say that Israel is doing much better than Australia at various things, including its vaccination program is a great example. One of the things I’ve spoken about is cooperation, where Australia and Israel in terms of there’s so much we can learn as well. There are some issues that we have in common, scarcity of water, use of new technology. One of the things you will…I think there may well people be on the phone, on this Zoom, who were at a meeting years ago where the BDS side…I was being attacked at a Grayndler forum by the Greens over my position on BDS. And I got out my mobile phone and I asked everyone to put their mobile phone up in the air and I said “Righto and we are going to go round and someone will get”, I got one of my team to say “OK can you pick up the bin” and I said to them “You can now all put your phones in the bin, because if you support the BDS then you can’t have any, any mobile phone in the world has technology that was produced in Israel, so if you’re against it, it goes.”
Peter Wertheim: A very timely reminder also of the Marrickville council affair which you alluded to in your opening. This year actually marks the tenth anniversary of the NSW State election where the Jewish community rallied to oppose the Greens’ pro-BDS candidate in the seat of Marrickville. I think we played some part in assisting the ALP in retaining that seat.
Anthony Albanese: Absolutely.
Peter Wertheim: And at that time, you were very prominent in your opposition to BDS. You described boycotting Israel as “beyond the pale” and took the Greens to task for being engaging in “counterproductive self-indulgence”. I think those were your words. Now a number of Arab states have in recent times set aside their historic opposition to Israel by normalising relations, and you alluded to that as well in your opening. And of course, as part of that they have abandoned their previous boycotts against Israel.
Anthony Albanese: And a good thing.
Peter Wertheim: Yes, and yet despite this we see former Foreign Minister Bob Carr has circulated a motion to the ALP branches calling on them to support a boycott of Israel and Israeli products. So, I think you have already made it very clear that you are opposed to BDS but let me ask you, why does Bob Carr keep popping up and coming up with these resolutions, and is there anything that can be done to put this issue to bed?
Anthony Albanese: Yeah, well I assure you that there is no prospect of any…of the NSW conference carrying any resolution like that. And there’s no support for it from any significant figures who hold current positions in the Labor Party. I haven’t seen the resolution; it is clear that there may be a few people here and there who do support Bob Carr of course is in the right. There may be a few people in the left who support that, but they would be a very very very small minority. I can’t see any prospect in which it got to the floor of a conference, and it would be totally counterproductive. I certainly have made my views very clear on that over a long, long period of time.
And at the time, you recall Peter, I’ve got to say when Marrickville Council – and this is a concession here – when Marrickville Council adopted BDS I had never heard of it. So, I did my own research as I think you know, and did a piece, wrote a piece in The Australian and engaged in that debate in the community, and we won the debate in the community. The Greens candidate looked like an absolute fool frankly during that campaign.
Technology research is so important. So I’m for more interaction, not less, including, between people within the Middle East but also Australians with people in Gaza and West Bank and Australians with people in Israel. The more the better is my view.
Peter Wertheim: There are a whole range of peace building projects. One of them is Project Rozana run by Ron Finkel of Hadassah Hospital.
Anthony Albanese: Yes
Peter Wertheim: I mean there are lots of others involving the environment and so on, far more constructive than BDS and demonisation and so on, and much more likely to be productive towards a two-state outcome.
Anthony Albanese: Absolutely.
Peter Wertheim: Thank you for your statement that there’s no prospect of the Carr motion coming on the floor. I see that Chris Minns also, your NSW counterpart, made a similar statement in the New South Wales Parliament and that’s very welcome. Can I move then to another state if I may and that’s Queensland?
Anthony Albanese: Can I say this as well, Peter, just to be clear. There isn’t a single member of the caucus, of my caucus, that supports that position, not one.
Peter Wertheim: Thank you, I mean that’s the impression we have had in private meetings with them too, but you know, to come out to say it on the record is very welcome.
Anthony Albanese: Now the recording is even going too.
Peter Wertheim: Yeah, I’m sure we managed to capture it somehow. Thank you for that. I’d like to just to move now to another state and that’s the, the recent Queensland state ALP conference in June. And, again, we had a resolution that was passed. It was not a BDS resolution, but it accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and there were speakers supporting the motion who described Israel as an apartheid state. You have dealt with that. One speaker said it was understandable that Hamas had launched over 4,000 rockets indiscriminately into Israel. Your colleague, Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong, rightly in our view condemned those outrageous and extreme statements saying that they would do nothing to advance the cause of peace. Can I just give you the opportunity to state your view of the Queensland resolution. And do you agree that describing Israel as an apartheid state, and engaging in ethnic cleansing, and making supportive statements about Hamas, does nothing to further the cause of peace between Israel on the Palestinians?
Anthony Albanese: Yeah, well I certainly agree with Penny Wong’s statements that she made at the time. There’s no justification. There’s a need for in my view to oppose – for people who support peace in political structures here to oppose – aggression and moves to undermine peace no matter who they’re from. Now, the firing of rockets into Israel indiscriminately undermines peace. It doesn’t and endangers lives and indeed is counterproductive as well because it causes fear which makes it more difficult to advance dialogue.
As does some of the actions of Israel as well in responding aggressively to that. They feed off each other. And what we need is less of it from both sides. We need to recognise, I have been critical of settlements, I have been critical of some of the actions in East Jerusalem that have occurred as well. And we need to recognise though that if you have a circumstance whereby, as that resolution did, that if you see aggression responding with aggression, responding with more aggression and more aggression, then what you get is an escalation of conflict. And if you come out in support of one side rather than what we did while that conflict was occurring
We also put out statements from Federal Labor calling for a de-escalation, calling for both sides to refrain from action that was taking place. And I think that’s an appropriate response for Australia. Our response was the same as the current government basically. I think [they] put out a similar statement, the Foreign Minister at the time and there basically was the same position between the Foreign Minister and the Shadow Foreign Minister, and that’s appropriate.
Peter Wertheim: Thank you, it’s good to get bipartisanship on these critical questions. I will now move on. I think you have already dealt with the NSW issue. I mean just for the record Bob Carr actually welcomed the Queensland resolution and then I guess was inspired by that to start circulating that pro-BDS motion for NSW. He was doing it by email and on mobile phone. But anyway look, you dealt with that, and I thank you for it.
We will move on now to just one other point and that was, the recent ALP National Platform conference in March. There was a statement from a resolution that had been passed at the 2018 National Conference that was added to the platform calling on the next Labor government to recognise Palestine as a state, and expecting that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government. Does this mean that the next ALP government will automatically recognise a state of Palestine? And if so, which entity would be recognised? Would it be the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas regime in Gaza or some other entity? And what process would a future ALP government go through before making a decision about recognition?
Anthony Albanese: Can I say this about because there’s been some misreporting frankly of what occurred at our National Conference. That’s about, not the Middle East, that’s about internal dynamics in the Labor Party to be frank. The resolution that was adopted and there’s no difference in the ALP rules to be clear, resolution, platform and we had a separate statement area because what we did was, I tried to broaden down, shorten basically, the ALP platform from 350 pages down to 100. Richard Marles was in charge of that process because over a period of time, this happens every twenty years or so, it grows every three years. People add things on and on and it never gets…it’s a bit like our policy platform at the last election. It just grew and grew and grew until no one knew that we lost track of how many policies we had frankly, and then we lost control of some of the narrative. So we shortened it down, but one area we didn’t shorten was the Middle East policy that was word for word exactly the same as that which was adopted unanimously at the previous conference. Not a comma was changed, no grammatical [change], no anything because I did not want a considerable debate frankly. Our priority was not to have a conference that was shortened because we had to do it by Zoom of course. And we had determined that issue, it was determined unanimously at the previous conference, and we settled it then and it stayed the same.
What we would do in government is give consideration to, to the international circumstances, we’d proceed carefully. The key motivation would be an advancement of the cause of peace. Of course, I don’t believe it’s a radical position to say that if you support a two-state solution and one of them is Israel, then what’s the other one? Well it’s Palestine. I don’t see that as a radical position, but I do see that you would have to look at what was happening with like-minded countries and Penny Wong spoke about this.
We didn’t have a debate deliberately at this conference because we weren’t changing a word. At the previous conference Penny Wong gave a substantial speech about looking at what like-minded countries were doing at the time, understanding the political situation on the ground at the time as well, and how Australia giving any recognition to a state would advance the cause of peace.
And we’d give consideration, that’s the context in which it would be considered by a Labor government. Considered carefully, not as just a gesture, but whether it would advance the cause based upon what the circumstances were at the time. Now, I hope to be in a position of leading a Labor government at some stage in the next twelve months and at that time, at some stage during that period we would give consideration of those issues. But there’d be obviously a debate, we wouldn’t do it, do any action without consulting relevant organisations and nations across the board frankly. Including the Jewish community, including Israel, including the Palestinian community.
We would give consideration to all of that. I don’t see it as a major issue at the next election. I think what, as I go around the country, I’ve got to say, the issues that people want us to prioritise is their jobs, getting through COVID, getting the economy going again and our recovery and I’ve made it clear our priorities there.
Peter Wertheim: Ok, before I let you off the hook on that one, I just want to focus on one part of that last question, and that is if you do recognise the state of Palestine. Let’s just say you go through all the processes you’ve described. You’ve come to the conclusion that that’s the thing to do. Which entity would you recognise?
Anthony Albanese: I’m not going to get, I’m not going to pre-empt a debate of a future government that may have those deliberations, Peter. You know what I hope is that at all times, at all times anything we do will be based around the principle of a peaceful two state solution. And that’s the context in which we would consider it. But you know, what I hope is that the new government in Israel sees some progress as well, frankly. One of the things, it’s a bit like I’ve been asked many, many times prior to the US election about our 2030 climate target. And I say well, one of the things about time is that as time goes on circumstances change and you’ve got to deal with issues at the time. And certainly, there’s been a substantial change in Israel, but there hasn’t been enough change certainly in terms of Palestine. That’s very clear. I mean it’s a long time since there has been an election in the territories, in Gaza and West Bank and that is a source of considerable regret.
Peter Wertheim: And you did mention earlier that there will be times you will be critical of the Palestinians as well as the Israelis.
Anthony Albanese: Absolutely.
Peter Wertheim: Particularly their leadership.
Anthony Albanese: And if they ever have, if they ever have an election, and those issues…
Peter Wertheim: Well can I just add, it’s not just the failure to have elections, as serious as that is. It’s also their failure to grasp the opportunity of at least three public peace offers by Israel that we know of, which would have resulted in a two-state resolution. Including one in 2001 where the actual Palestinian and Israeli negotiators at the end of it issued a joint statement saying that they’d never been closer to reaching an agreement and that with a bit more time and support from their governments they could actually, they were confident they could actually do the deal. And there are many Palestinians privately who say that that was a missed opportunity, and they should have accepted what was offered then which was essentially the Clinton Bridging Proposals. And which were repeated by Prime Minister Olmert in 2008.
Anthony Albanese: Indeed.
Peter Wertheim: So, the Palestinian leadership seldom gets taken to task for those missed opportunities which have cost their people so dear.
Anthony Albanese: Absolutely, no I don’t disagree with any of that.
Peter Wertheim: It doesn’t get stated publicly very often.
Anthony Albanese: Last year in a different context here in Australia with political negotiations we had over Covid and the response, I consistently said “We’re not going to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good”. And it is a tragedy that those opportunities have been lost.
Peter Wertheim: Can I take it that from that answer and also the answer you gave before about your opposition to the wording of the Queensland resolution and the sentiments behind it, that if anything new along those lines were to be introduced at the NSW or a future federal Labor conference, you’d be opposed to it?
Anthony Albanese: Sorry, something like the Queensland resolution?
Peter Wertheim: Yes.
Anthony Albanese: Yeah absolutely.
Peter Wertheim: Ok, thank you, I just wanted to get some clarity.
Anthony Albanese: No, absolutely.
Peter Wertheim: There are a number of texts from people who weren’t quite sure.
Anthony Albanese: No absolutely.
Peter Wertheim: Thank you. Can I now proceed with, I know we’re getting very close to time, but there are a couple.
Jillian Segal: Peter we can go a little bit over if everybody wants to stay because there is no limit on the Zoom.
Peter Wertheim: If Anthony is willing to give us an extra ten minutes or so.
Anthony Albanese: Yeah sure, I have ten, I have another meeting at seven, that I’m due at out of the building so, you can travel around in Canberra.
Peter Wertheim: No, we are getting very close to the end of it, thanks but there were a couple of domestic policy issues that I wanted to ask you about. One relates to the issue of education. You alluded to that also in your opening. Our community has been distressed by a state of antisemitic bullying incidents at both public and private schools, directed at Jewish children as young as five. Now you are probably aware that the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of the Australian curriculum, and is conducting a consultation with the broader community. And the review affords an opportunity to include education against prejudice in different parts of the curriculum from the very beginning Foundation to year ten.
And the Executive Council of Australian Jewry in consultation with educators has put forward a comprehensive submission to ACARA in response to the public consultation seeking to do precisely that. And we are hopeful also getting support from other vulnerable communities because they’ve had issues as well with their kids being bullied. Can I ask you, what do you think of the idea of aligning specific elements of the Australian curriculum with broader government policies to combat specific forms or racism and other specific forms of prejudice, in order to promote social cohesion?
Anthony Albanese: Look, I’m very, very supportive, and I think as well when you say specific, I assume what you are saying as well is that we should speak specifically about antisemitism, we should speak specifically about the targeting of people on the basis of their colour, and we should speak about specific racism in terms of First Nations people. I think absolutely. One of the things that, one of the reasons why I can be on the broad left of the political spectrum is that I have faith in humanity. I don’t think that that racism is an inherent thing. It’s taught, it’s a learned behaviour. In part sometimes it’s ignorance, sometimes it’s prejudice; sometimes it’s promoted by people who say your lot in life is bad because of those people who aren’t like you. I think I spoke before about primary students; you know, it just gives you incredible hope when you go into, you see a celebration of moon festival or something with kids from different backgrounds.
My son learnt Chinese at Darley Public School when he was a little kid. It didn’t last too long, but you know it’s just a fantastic thing when you see that. And where we know that antisemitism is something that is very real and very specific it should be talked about and should be taught why it’s wrong. Kids will teach each other. Teachers by and large play an amazing role in education. But it’s got to be throughout every form of society. If you get people at that level, while they’re very young as well, these are values that they’ll hold their whole life. It’s values I was raised with.
I went to a local Catholic school; it’s a very diverse school. St Mary’s Cathedral was a very diverse school. It had people from…we had Jewish students and Islamic students and people in the inner city basically. It was a very broad school. People from orthodox backgrounds as well. And you know I came out of that process, and everyone came out of that process educated by their experience in terms of racism. So that when it appeared, it was addressed. We had a large number of Christian Lebanese kids who came after the civil war in the seventies and there was prejudice against them substantially. Many of them spoke with French Lebanese background and English certainly wasn’t their first language. That was addressed, I remember it being addressed, but it had to be addressed directly. So, including it in the curriculum would be a very good thing and I’d be very supportive of that.
Peter Wertheim: Thank you, I might send a copy of our submission to your staff.
Anthony Albanese: Yes, please do so.
Peter Wertheim: You also mentioned security funding which is a huge issue for us because of the expense involved. I’ll just give you a bit of background. The upsurge in antisemitism has resulted in the Australian Jewish community, and other vulnerable communities as you quite rightly pointed out, receiving significant government grants to help pay for the capital costs of upgraded physical security of their places of worship, schools, museums, and other community institutions. However, with the exception of schools, none of these other institutions is eligible for funding to assist with the crippling operational costs of maintaining physical security, such as the cost of armed guards and community security groups. So would a future Labor government consider extending the eligibility for the funding of the operational security costs from schools alone to those other types of institutions, places of worship and museums and community buildings and so on?
Anthony Albanese: Well, I haven’t got my Expenditure Review Committee with me so I’m not in a position to give a commitment.
Peter Wertheim: I’m only asking you to consider it.
Anthony Albanese: Yeah, certainly in terms of consideration. There’s not much point of having security cameras and things if they are not able to be monitored and if there’s not having, you know gates and a secure system that relies upon labour as well if you haven’t, unable to do something in that area as well. So, look we’d certainly, you know of course, consider any submissions that were made. One of the things as you know Peter, we have had many discussions over the years. One of the things that I hope characterises my time in public life, is that when I leave people say well what you see if what you get and he never told us, gave us a commitment that he didn’t fulfil. So, I’ll always be straight with people. So, I’m not in a position to give a commitment, but I certainly would think that it is worthy of consideration.
Peter Wertheim: Ok, we’ve got a question from The Australian Jewish News. And it’s, in the wake of the recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas we are aware that dozens of complaints were made to the ABC by members of the Jewish community and Jewish organisations about inaccuracy and bias in its news and current affairs coverage and the exclusion of a representative Jewish community voice on an episode of Q+A which was dominated by extreme anti-Israel rhetoric. The complaints were simply brushed off. Many feel that it is no longer good enough for a publicly funded body like the ABC to investigate itself in-house. Would a future ALP government consider establishing an independent external complaints mechanism for the ABC comparable to the external complaints processes used by other publicly funded bodies including SBS, the Australian Tax Office and so on?
Anthony Albanese: Look, we, I’d give; this is the first time it’s been raised with me. So, I’m not going to give a sort of off the cuff thing. Whilst I didn’t see the Q+A episode. I said to Tony Jones once, much to his chagrin, that I only watch it when I’m on it. I think the idea of spending a Thursday night watching Q+A is something that has never really appealed to me I’ve got to say. And from time to time, I think that, so I’m not aware of who was even on the program, but sometimes I think it does go off on tangents. Even when I’ve been on it they have, I certainly made submissions about sometimes when they have international people, particularly Americans who have no idea about the context in Australia and it can go off on all sorts of tangents. So I’m not aware of the specific episode. I just didn’t see it.
Of course, the ABC should always try to be balanced. I’m not going to join the pile on the ABC because there is a bit of that, as well occurs more broadly, including from this government. I think that the ABC is underfunded; I think it plays an important role but it should always seek to be balanced. And it should, the whole idea of Q+A is that you have views you know across the spectrum. I used to think though in government that you would have when I’d do it, you’d be attacked by the Liberal party and attacked by the Greens as if the Greens were one third of the political system in Australia which of course they’re not. I always found that difficult. I think there are a range of mechanisms in which the ABC is accountable already. I don’t know that I’d want funding diverted into more bureaucracy. I want to see more Australian drama; I want to see more Australian quality journalism out of the ABC. But my view is that the ABC should always be balanced. And it is open to people to complain to the Australian Communications and Media Authority ACMA. So, there is a vehicle there. I’m a former Communications Minister of course, but that was a brief but glorious period in which I had the reigns there. So, if the ABC hasn’t dealt with a complaint appropriately, there is a body that you can appeal to. Certainly of course as well the ABC Board is a body that can consider these measures as well.
Peter Wertheim: I’ll just finish with an observation on that.
Anthony Albanese: Sure.
Peter Wertheim: ACMA is not a specialist body in terms of enforcing the ABC code, those sorts of things. Their specialty lies elsewhere. You know appealing to them is, we found, of limited utility and the ABC board ditto I’m afraid to say. Nobody’s really, this isn’t really an attack on the ABC as an institution, or about cutting its funding.
Anthony Albanese: I’m not suggesting it is, I’m just saying the context though.
Peter Wertheim: I agree, there is always a political context, I accept that. But it’s the principle of having an independent external complaint mechanism as they do in Canada, as they do in many other countries, South Africa, you know, the UK. It’s not a revolutionary concept.
Anthony Albanese: Sure.
Peter Wertheim: It’s not aimed at undermining the political independence of the ABC. Nobody is suggesting that. In fact, it’s trying to take it out of being hostage to a particular culture which is what happens when you have an in-house complaints mechanism. I’ll just leave it at that.
Anthony Albanese: I’ll certainly take on board the comments Peter.
Peter Wertheim: Ok, thank you for that.
Anthony Albanese: I’m going to…yeah. Peter Wertheim: I was going to finish up there, if that’s ok and invite Bruce Solomon our good friend and Chairman and sole member of the Point Piper Branch of the Labor Party to give the vote of thanks. Over to you Bruce. Anthony Albanese: Thanks, Bruce.
Bruce Solomon: Thanks Peter. Hi Anthony. Look today is a good news day. It’s good news for you Anthony, with the latest polling. And its good news for everyone listening here today knowing that you are a loyal friend of ours. You are amongst friends here. We share the same values; our community believes in helping those who need it and that government has a positive role in making society fairer in creating opportunities for all. And these are the values that both you and we have it. It’s tikkun olam, making the world a better place. And there is a history between the Labor Party and the Jewish people and the Jewish community. You’ve had terrific role models over the years, Tom Uren, and John Faulkner in the Party. And the NSW right faction machine certainly has taught you resilience and character building.
Anthony Albanese: Well trained.
Bruce Solomon: Over time you have never strayed from your loyalty, and I really am happy to call you a mate. And many years ago, I called you in a favour from a mate, as you do in the Labor Party. And you arranged a meeting for me and the Sydney Jewish Museum with the NSW Minister of Education. I gave you a heads up about it. And at that meeting the minister called in the top bureaucrat and said the Holocaust should be part of the curriculum in all NSW schools and that teachers should take their students to the Jewish Museum to see what’s happened when racism goes out of control, and it should be part of their education. And I think the number of student visitations went up tenfold after I received that favour from a mate.
Your leadership has been there for us. Fifteen years ago, the Labor Party you, conference, you joined with Michael Danby, and you put up a cross factional mainstream foreign policy, opposing BDS and explicitly referencing that Israel has a right to secure and defensible boarders. I think about also the time you hosted the now leader of the Israeli Labor party, Merav Michaeli, and at the parliamentary friends of Israel dinner, when you gave the thank you speech. And you enthused over her values; you enthused over her policies, and you were very complimentary about the Jewish community’s values and the contribution the community has made to the country.
So Anthony, you are a leader in the true Labor tradition. You’ve kept your integrity; your values and you are respected for your directness. You are straight with people, and your straightness and directness and honesty has come through tonight. From what you’ve said in the past and today, I think we in the community can be assured that you will not lead the Labor Party down the madness path of Corbyn. Look these are worrying times for us in the Jewish communities and its worrying times for everyone in the Jewish communities around the world with the rise of antisemitism. And antisemitism is the canary in the mine when something is wrong in society. And in Australia it is very important that we realise this because it is not the sort of society we want for all Australians.
Your friendship is what we need today. We are grateful for that support and for your consistent loyalty. So, thank you for your time Albo today. It’s just a pity we cannot finish this together with a drink as we usually do, so I’d just like to say cheers mate.
Anthony Albanese: Thank you very much Bruce, very generous.
Peter Wertheim: Thank you Bruce and thank you Albo, that’s fantastic.
Jillian Segal: Thank you, thank you to everyone, thank you Peter for being an excellent interviewer and thank you so much for your participation.
Anthony Albanese: He’s harder than Leigh Sales.
Jillian Segal: I think he needs another profession right; I think he’s pretty good, he would do pretty well. Even on the ABC, right?
Anthony Albanese: Indeed.
Jillian Segal: Thank you everyone for joining us, we hope to have further ones of these in due course. And everyone have a good evening and I hope you, sorry we are a bit late, but you can make your seven o’clock appointments.
Anthony Albanese: Thank you.