Labor and Coalition at B’nai B’rith

September 2, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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Malcolm Turnbull and Mark Dreyfus both addressed a meeting at Sydney’s B’nai B’rith.


Liberal Malcolm Turnbull, sitting member for the Sydney seat of Wentworth and Labor member for Isaacs Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus addressed a full house at the B’nai B’rith Centre in Sydney, presenting their ideas and answering questions of immediate interest to the Jewish community.

The Election Forum was presented jointly by B’nai B’rith and ECAJ, and chaired jointly by James Altman, President of B’nai B’rith Australia / New Zealand and Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of ECAJ.

Foremost on the minds of many in the audience was the policies of both parties in relation to refugees and asylum-seekers.  Both speakers agreed that there is no simple moral solution to deal with unauthorised boat arrivals – the declared core aim of both parties being to eliminate the people-smuggling business which had caused 1100 drownings at sea over the last 10 years.  In response to a question on the Liberals’  announced policy of removing the existing informal process for reviewing the situation of refugees with adverse security assessments, Mr Dreyfus voiced his strong opposition to this idea, while Mr Turnbull took the question on notice.

The speakers differed on the Liberals’ policy of amending the section of the Racial Discrimination Act which prohibits racial vilification.  Mr Turnbull promised that any amendment made by a Coalition government would still prohibit Holocaust denial which he characterised as a form of hate-speech. Mr Dreyfus said that there was no good reason to water down the existing protections afforded to all racial groups, and promised that the current provisions would be retained by a Labor government.

In relation to Israel, both speakers emphasised the bipartisanship in support of Israel that has prevailed for over 50 years.  Mr Turnbull expressed concern that this bipartisanship has been put under a cloud by recent statements by Foreign Minister Bob Carr characterising all settlements as illegal, and by the pattern of Australia’s recent voting at the UN. Mr Dreyfus characterised these differences as minor.

Both speakers answered questions on the economy, education and training programs to remedy long-term unemployment, and the plight of retirees and others on fixed incomes during a period of low interest rates.

Mr Turnbull referred to his very strong links with the Jewish community in his seat of Wentworth, while Mr Dreyfus spoke of his great sense of honour in representing the seat of Isaacs, named after our first Australian-born – and Jewish – Governor General.


Highlights of what they had to say:

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull

Turnbull:  We will ensure that the amendments we make to s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, if we ultimately decide to make any at all, will not open the door to Holocaust Denial.  We recognises that Holocaust Denial is a form of hate speech.

Turnbull:  It is in the interests of both Israel and Australia that the main political parties maintain the bipartisanship that has prevailed for more than 50 years on the basic issues of the Arab-Israel and Israel-Palestinian conflicts.  I am concerned that in some parts of the ALP, including in the recent statements of Foreign Minister Carr, we are seeing a move away from that bipartisanship.


Mark Dreyfus

Mark Dreyfus  with Peter Wertheim and James Altman


Dreyfus: In the context of the peace negotiations currently underway between Israel and the Palestinians it’s probably not helpful to proffer any opinions about the complex question of the legality of the settlements. (By implication, it was not helpful for Carr to have done so).   I understand that the legal opinion expressed by the Foreign Minister from the steps of Lakemba Mosque reflects the views of advisers within his department.  (By implication, no such views have been articulated by advisers within the Attorney-General’s Department headed by MD).


Dreyfus: I am confident that the historic bipartisanship concerning Israel will continue and minor disagreements and differences have been overblown.


Dreyfus:  I have been greatly troubled by the indefinite detention of people who have been found to be genuine refugees but against whom there has been an adverse security assessment by ASIO.  I have introduced a new process of non-statutory review as a result of which two people have had their assessments changed, and ASIO has changed some of its procedures.  I am concerned that a Coalition government would remove any kind of review process as this would make it practically impossible ever to resettle the person.


The two speakers agreed that there is no simple moral solution to the question of unauthorised maritime arrivals to Australia.  A too liberal policy has greatly increased people smuggling and the number of deaths at sea.  It has also worked an injustice against refugees in UNHCR camps in Africa and Asia.  Some 2 million people apply each year to come to Australia through the regular migration program and Australia clearly does not have the capacity to accept them all as well as unlimited numbers of unauthorised maritime asylum seekers.


Both speakers also answered questions on the economy, education and training programs to remedy long-term unemployment, and the plight of retirees and other people on fixed incomes during a period of low interest rates.


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