Bishop v Smith: Question Time tackles Australia’s participation in Durban II

March 12, 2009 by J-Wire
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Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop asked Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in parliament today why the Australian government had not withdrawn from Durban II…and questions why Australia voted against Israel in the UN.

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith

In answering, Smith conceded it was as important issue. He told Parliament that Australia had been represented at Durban 1 by the former Minister for Health and Ageing, Kay Patterson and at the end of the conference his predecessor, Alexander Downer, issued a statement saying that the Australian government was concerned about the anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish sentiment expressed at that conference.

Stephen Smith told the House: “As a consequence of that, until the middle of February, no Australian official took part actively in the preparation of Durban II.”

On February 16, Australian officials joined their counterparts from other nations, including the United States and member countries of the European Union to  see if the text for the anti-racism conference could be improved. Minister Smith continued: “That did not prove to be the case. As a consequence of that, we saw the United States indicate that unless improvements could be made to the text, it would not take part in the conference.” He told members gathered for question Time that Canada and Israel had withdrawn and that the U.S. and  Italy had indicated they will not attend unless “qualitative improvements are made to the text.”

He then added: Unless we see qualitative improvements made to the text, Australia will not be attending either.”

The Foreign Minister outlined the text preparation process to Members explaining that the Russian chair of the working group expects to effect a shorter, revised text by March 16. Australia will study that text in preparation for the reconvening of the working group on April 4.  Minister Smith added: “If we form the view that the text is going to lead to nothing more than anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic harangue, and an anti-Jewish propganda exercise, Australia will not be in attendance.”

He said that thee was ample to time to make that judgement.

Julie Bishop

Julie Bishop

But Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, continued to question the Government saying: “The Rudd Government should make a principled decision not to attend the Durban Review Conference.While the Governmeant continues to vacillate about Australia’s attendance as  demonstrated in Question Time, Canada, Italy, Israel and the United States have taken the decisive step to withdraw from involvement.”

She said the there is a growing perception that the Rudd Government is “compromising long-held foreign policy principles, including Australia’s support for Israel.”  She linked this to Australia’s drive to win a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Ms Bishop is disturbed the Rudd Government has failed to explain why it decided in late 2008 to vote against Israel in the U.N. concerning activities in the Palestinian territories. She added that the resolution supported by Australia “did not recognise or note violence  against Israel and its citizens.”

Durban II is scheduled to begin in Geneva in late April

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