Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Editorial: Australia's Next Three Years

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Australia's Next Three Years

This month’s issue of the Australia/Israel Review goes to press as Australians head to the polls. Whichever party has won government, John Howard’s and Kevin Rudd’s answers to the AIR’s policy questionnaire in the October issue allow us to say with confidence that Australia will be in good hands on the key issues important to the Australian Jewish community.

Domestically, our economy has been strong for several years and the new government will have to maintain this strength while also trying to keep a lid on inflation and improve core social services. The new government must also deal with fresh challenges to Australia’s unique and highly successful model of multiculturalism. Extremist threats are coming to the fore. If employed robustly and judiciously, Australian multiculturalism, with its foundation on Australia’s core values as a liberal, pluralistic democracy with the freedom to practice religious and cultural beliefs provided they do not conflict with these core values, should be one of our major weapons in blunting radical and violent ideologies.

Both parties have recognised the need to assiduously monitor and actively counter the threat of terrorism, domestically and internationally. For both threats, it will be important that neither “soft power” approaches - such as community policing models - nor “hard power” policies, including effective counter-terrorism laws and our commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, predominate to the exclusion of the other.

Another important issue that will need vigilance is the troubling statistics revealing an upsurge in verbal and physical attacks on Jews. It is never acceptable to regard as “just one of those things” that there are threats to the welfare of ordinary citizens who, through no fault of their own, are targets for hate. The pledges of both major parties on security for school and community bodies show there is recognition of the need for creative policies in this area.

Internationally, whoever was elected will have to see to it that Australia continues to do its part to stabilise Iraq. The implementation of the US-led “surge” has resulted in promising news: terrorism and murder are down, business is up and Iraqis’ faith in the ability of their government to provide basic services is increasing. This slow but real progress comprehensively disproves the facile assumption of many that nothing further can be achieved in Iraq. Despite the ALP commitment to withdraw combat troops, we are confident that, on balance, both parties understand the importance of stabilising Iraq and will seek to find ways to contribute to the current positive momentum.

Even bigger problems are brewing in neighbouring Iran. Although the major parties have minor disagreements over tactics, they both concur that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an unacceptable threat to the international community, and that the window of opportunity to stop Iran is closing fast. We welcome the suggestion by Kevin Rudd that Australia should play a leading role in international efforts to indict Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide. Pursuing such legal avenues is an important additional tool to increase pressure on the Iranian regime when combined with other diplomatic measures, including especially increased economic sanctions.

UN reform also remains a priority, in which Australia has a significant role to play. The UN has the potential to be very important in dealing with many urgent international challenges, including terrorism, climate change, narcotics, people smuggling and humanitarian crises, but its current corruption, inefficiency and institutionalised biases sharply reduce its effectiveness. It is hoped that the next Australian government will bear in mind that various United Nations resolutions and committees are often dominated by undemocratic member states with deplorable human rights records. Australia’s Nov. 16 vote, in a minority of seven, against new and unhelpful working rules for the Human Rights Council, which has focused almost exclusively on Israel at the expense of all other human rights issues, represents the sort of stance that needs to be continued and built upon.

Finally, both parties promised to continue Australia’s strong relationship with Israel and also strongly support international efforts to bring about a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the Annapolis talks on Nov. 27.

Australia can have only a relatively small role in such efforts, but we do have influence in our region. We should use this to encourage moderate Muslim-majority states to play a constructive role in the peace process. I recently returned from a trip to Indonesia, where I was invited to speak on Israeli-Palestinian issues at a major conference, and had the added opportunity to talk with leading journalists and politicians. It is clear Indonesia both wants to help and can help with peacemaking, and it is encouraging that it was invited to play a role at Annapolis.

Indonesia’s experience over the last decade in establishing a robust democracy while strengthening its civil and judicial institutions can show the way and help provide concrete assistance for Palestinian institution-building and reform. Without this, Abbas will be unable to deliver peace, no matter what agreements are signed.

Moreover, as the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia is well placed to provide political support for the Palestinians to make the concessions necessary for a true and lasting peace, at a time when a radical Islamic axis, from Iran to Hamas, is doing everything possible to scuttle any peace prospects.

It is to be hoped that as part of Australia’s commitment to assisting with Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, the new government will continue to work with Indonesia and build on its example to encourage other moderate Muslim countries, to play a more positive role in supporting peace.

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