Rudd, Abbott and Shalom talk at Sydney Forum

December 4, 2009 by Henry Benjamin
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Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott and Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom spoke at the Australia-Israel Forum in Sydney yesterday.

More than 600 guests packed the ballroom at the city’s Westin Hotel where Robin Margo, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies introduced the Prime Minister to the podium.

Prime Minister Rudd makes a point            pic: Henry Benjamin

Prime Minister Rudd makes a point pic: Henry Benjamin

Rudd immediately referred to Be’er Sheva, the city of Shalom’s childhood, reminding the audience of how the Australian Defence Forces had been actively engaged in its environs during First World War. After acknowledging the presence of Treasurer Wayne Swan and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Rudd welcomed Tony Abbott, congratulating him on becoming Leader of the Opposition and telling him “good to have you here”. He also welcomed six members of the Knesset who formed part of the 35-strong delegation to the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum. Others delegation members included representatives of academia, business and the media.

A special mention was given to the two Jewish members of the Australian Federal Parliament, Labour MPs Mark Dreyfus and Michael Danby…and the two Ambassadors, the Israel Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem and Australia’s ambassador to Israel, James Larsen, ending with a tribute to AIF Chairman Albert Dadon “for putting together this important forum for the future”.

The work of Australian Labour Leader Doc Evatt in 1947 towards the establishment of the State of Israel was acknowledged and Rudd received an ovation when he reminded the audience that “the first country to vote for the establishment of the State of Israel was the Government of Australia.” He told the room that Foreign Minister Evatt and the then Australian Labour Prime Minister Ben Chifley “worked the telegram lines hard” to persuade Britain’s Prime Minister Atlee and the United States’ President Truman “that the time had come, given the horrors of the Holocaust to establish the modern State of Israel.”

Rudd mentioned that Australia’s support had been bipartisan and that all governments, Labour and Liberal, had continuously maintained their support for the Jewish State.

The Prime Minister reminisced about his own personal visits to Israel over the years ending by saying the the concept of the new Forum had the “potential of taking a good relationship and making it a great relationship for the future”.

Mention was then made of the three issues the Prime Minister wanted to address….the global economy, climate change and the challenge of terrorism.

He told the room that collective action to stop the rot had been taken by the world’s strong economies through the G-20 programs to stem the downturn This resulted in March/April this year flagging “the return of business confidence…of consumer confidence”.  He added that had it not been for the action taken by the G-20 countries “I fear to think what the consequences for the world’s economy would have been”. He said that Australia “right now, stands in strong shape. None of us is out of the woods yet…not Australia, not Israel.” Of the 33 countries of the OECD Australia is the only one to have grown in the last 12 months. He said that Australia stands in great shape

On the subject of Climate Change, Rudd mentioned the recent Commonwealth meeting in Trinidad which involved 53 countries…representing a microcism of the global community.

The galvanising challenge represented by climate change climate change seized the corprate attenion of all because, as he said,  “climate change affects us all. It affect our economy jobs, the availability of water, natural disasters like fire  and the impact on the production of food. Globally 13 of the warmest years on record occurred between 1995 and 2008.  Australia has experienced above average temperature for 17 out of the last 19 years. Temperatures will be up by 5 degrees by the end of the century. Droughts may rise by 40% in Eastern Australia and up to 80% in South Western Australia. Water scarcity is a problem in Israel too.”

Prime Minister Rudd turned his attention to terrorism. He told the forum that terrorism is alive and well. He said:  “It is a threat to all civilised peoples everywhere. Our friends in Israel know this threat  only too well. All democracies face the threat of terrorism.”

To all those who question the presence of Australia in Afghanistan he said: “Never let it be removed from your minds…the picture of the twin towers collapsing in 2001”.

The Prime Minister concluded with praise for the local Jewish community saying it was “formidable” and “punching far above your weight”

Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, introduced to the podium, the Israeli Vice Prime Minister, Sylvan Shalom.

Vice Prime Minister of Israel Silva Shalom          pic: Henry Benjamin

Vice Prime Minister of Israel Silva Shalom pic: Henry Benjamin

Silvan Shalom thanked Rudd for Australia’s support and for “being so friendly towards the State of Israel”. He thanks Australia for its decision to oppose the Goldstone Report and to be among the few countries that did so and for Australia being one of the nine countries not to participate in the Durban Conference earlier this year in Geneva.

Shalom said that while Australia was so visible in its support, there were other countries with a diametrically opposite agenda singling out Iran.

J-Wire filmed this part of the proceedings and you can watch/hear Shalom’s speech below. Please note the camera was hand-held in a confined area with a high degree of passing traffic –  hence more camera shake than we would like!

It was Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s turn next at the podium. He acknowledged the presence of NSW Liberal Leader of the Opposition Barry O’Farrell and Liberal party members Christopher Pyne, George Brandis and welcomed the first opportunity to be able “to go head to head with the Prime Minister”. He added: “Australia’s new era of political parliamentship could hardly have a more convivial start.”  He said: “No country in the world is subject to the same kind of existential threat that Israel has faced since the very beginning its existence a threat now immeasurable worsened upon the nuclear program of Iran. Israel’s success and flourishing against such odds in such a hostile environmnent for more than 60 years is a sign that the impossible is achievable in this world.”

Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott           pic: Henry Benjamin

Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott pic: Henry Benjamin

Abbot concluded his address by addressing Shalom saying: “You have many more militarily powerful friends than Australia but I would like to think that nowhere in the world would you have a stauncher friend than us.”

The final speaker was Avi Dichter former head of Shin Bet and the Immediate Past Minister of Homeland Security for Israel,

He told the Forum “It is hard to take out the wagon of peace from the mud it has been stuck in for so many years.”

Dichter dealt with two questions. What went wrong in our regions? Where do we go from here?

He said that Hamas and Hezbollah had become not just terrorists but armies of terrosists and proxies of Iran. He added: “Hezbollah became a stronger army in Lebanon than the Lebanese army and Hamas is ruling the Gaza Strip. From here we must start building the peace process by answering the question ‘How do we go from three states for two peoples into two states for two peoples?’  We need to see the PA take back control of the Gaza Strip and we need to start a peace process in Syria to deal with the threat from Hezbollah in the north. Thirdly, we need the Arab countries like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia’ support. If Iran is not stopped, their own stability is in danger.”

Avi Dichter

Avi Dichter pic: Henry Benjamin

Dichter suggested that the probability to make peace in the area would be higher if peace was made with Syria and Lebanon parallel or even before it was made with the Palestinians.

He then delivered a message in Arabic addressed to Israel’s neighbours through the TV networks covering the Forum. He quoted from the Koran telling them that if abided by, the region should be peaceful.

Dichter told the story of three stones on a friend’s desk. One from Auschwitz, the second from Masada and third, given to him by Dichter from the Western Wall. He told the audience that for 2000 years Jews had recited “Next Year in Jerusalem.

He concluded by saying that Jerusalem would never return to the borders of 1967.

A video of a section of Prime Minister Rudd’s speech is on the sidebar [right]

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