MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
WE NEED A PRIME MINISTER WHO UNITES, NOT INVENT DIVISIONS
It is deeply regrettable the Prime Minister used his interview with Australian Jewish News to again seek to divide Australians by inventing divisions where none exists.
At a time when we need a leader who can bring Australians together, Mr Morrison seems determined to promote division and disunity if he sees partisan political advantage in doing so, whether it be on China - or in his interview with AJN – Israel and protecting people of faith from discrimination.
Contrary to his claims last week in AJN, the only person responsible for Mr Morrison’s failure to deliver on his election commitment to enact a Religious Discrimination Act is Mr Morrison.
For over three years Labor repeatedly offered to work with the Prime Minister and his Government to get the legislation right. For over three years those offers were ignored.
Despite this, Labor demonstrated its commitment to ending vilification and discrimination on the grounds of religious belief by voting for the Government’s legislation after moving a small number of important amendments.
Labor’s amendments would have ensured the Morrison Government’s legislation would extend important protections to people of faith without diminishing or overriding existing laws that protect Australians from discrimination and vilification on other grounds – such age, disability, race, sex, gender identity, sex characteristics and sexual orientation.
One of Labor's amendments, for example, would have ensured that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act could not be overridden at the whim of an Attorney-General. Mr Morrison voted this down amendment, as he did every one of Labor’s amendments.
Mr Morrison also voted against an amendment to prohibit discrimination against school children on the grounds of their sexuality or gender identity – breaking a commitment he first made over three years ago and had repeated in writing as late as last December.
After Labor, the crossbench and five members of Mr Morrison’s own party voted for that amendment, Mr Morrison abandoned his own legislation, not even allowing it to be debated in the Senate.
So much for consultation and co-operation.
Mr Morrison’s damaging, divisive and politically motivated rewriting of history extends to other areas too. On China the Prime Minister’s recent attempts to “create the perception of a difference [between the Liberal and Labor parties] when none in practice exists”, as the former Head of ASIO Dennis Richardson put it, is deeply concerning and has been rightly denounced by current and former leaders in the defence and intelligence establishments.
The same can be said of Mr Morrison’s attempt to distort Australia’s longstanding bipartisan position on Israel.
Australia has for generations spoken with one voice in support of Israel. Labor’s own history of steadfast support for Israel extends back to well before the founding of the modern state in 1948.
By suggesting that Australia’s support for Israel is somehow conditional on which of the two major parties form government, as he did in his interview with AJN, Mr Morrison is undermining Israel’s – and Australia’s – long-term interests for what he hopes is his own short-term partisan advantage.
The truth is that you do not have to look far to see the reality, and value, of bipartisanship when it comes to Israel.
In 2017, I travelled to Israel with the former Leader of the Australian Labor Party and former Prime Minister Turnbull to celebrate the centenary of the Charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba. It was a pleasure to celebrate that important anniversary with Israeli leaders, with full bipartisan support on display from the representatives of the two Australian parties of government.
On the matter of the belated listing of the entirety of Hamas as a terrorist organisation, for which Mr Morrison sought to take sole credit in his interview with AJN, the truth is that much of the credit for that decision belongs to the bipartisan Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
The Morrison Government’s policy until recently was not to prescribe the entirety of Hamas as a terrorist organisation. The Intelligence and Security Committee, made up of Liberal backbenchers and Labor MPs (including me), unanimously rejected that position and instead recommended that the entirety of Hamas be prescribed.
I welcome the fact that Mr Morrison accepted that he got it wrong the first time, but it is disappointing he refuses to acknowledge the bipartisan work that prompted him to change his position.
Of course, there are many important matters on which the Australian Labor Party strongly disagrees with the Morrison Government. For example, Labor is committed to establishing a powerful and effective National Anti-Corruption Commission and to take bold and responsible action on climate change. But when it comes to matters on which the Labor and Liberal parties agree – whether in relation to national security, supporting Israel or protecting people of faith from discrimination – our Parliament is at its best when we work together to achieve those shared objectives.
With so many areas of division within our parliament and our nation, matters of common purpose should be embraced as an opportunity to unite the nation, not divide it.
This opinion piece was first published in The Australian Jewish News on Friday, 4 March 2022.