The Big Debate

May 9, 2022 by Henry Benjamin
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It was billed as a debate, but the meeting of Independent candidate Allegra Spender, Liberal MP Dave Sharma and Labor MP Matt Thistlewaite took the form as a forum as each speaker fielded questions from moderator Peter Wertheim.

Dave Sharma         Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Over 300 members of the Sydney community attended the “debate” held at Moriah College and organised by The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, The Executive Council of Australian Jewry and The Australasian Union of Jewish Students.

Dave Sharma is the incumbent MP for Wentworth and Matt Thistlethwaite is likewise in Kingsford Smith. Darren Bark, CEO of the NSWJBD told the audience “Wentworth and Kingsford Smith are the two federal electorates in New South Wales with the highest proportion of Jewish voters”.

Allegra Spender is contesting Wentworth as an Independent.

In his opening statement, Matt Thistlethwaite said: “We will fix our aged care system. We will help young people get into our housing market. Now cheaper childcare policy. will mean cheaper access to childcare for 95% of families in Australia and we will take climate change seriously and listen to the scientists and institute stronger action with a stronger medium term target 43% reduction in emissions by 2030.”

Allegra Spender said why she is running. She said: ” It’s about climate. It’s about integrity, and it’s about a future focused economy.”

She spoke about the stories of a member of her campaign having an anti-Israel bias.

She declared: “I have been a strong friend of Israel, and quite literally a friend of the of many in the Jewish community my entire life. Over the past six months, I’ve had the absolute privilege of getting to know this community on a deeper level. I’ve consulted with countless Jewish community groups and peak bodies. I’ve attended many afternoon teas organized by and for members of this community. And I’ve had the privilege of meeting rabbis, organizational leaders and the community security group. I thank each and every one of you for making the time to discuss with me the ways in which we can strengthen this community. Israel is the only nation whose land name language and religion are essentially the same as they were 3000 years ago. Your connection to Israel is historic and inevitable. Your right to the land derives from the copper urns from the house of David, from the 2000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls from the temple in Jerusalem of which the Western Wall remains.

Allegra Spender, Dave Sharma and Matt Thistlethwaite   Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

She spoke “of that unbroken 3000 year connection to the land and how much more so after the worst genocide in history, which claimed a third of the Jewish people”.

On the member of her team who had been exposed by media as having an anti-Israel bias she said: “I met her after I decided to run. She’s an expert in climate issues. So we spoke a couple of times about that, about climate change. I did not know her views on BDS and Israel because we never discussed them. Never. These are the facts. I stand with Israel. I always have and I always will.”

In his opening remarks, Dave Sharma said: “We’ve seen with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that the surge is ensured is that the post war post cold war global war can no longer be taken for granted. Economically, we’re seeing a return of inflationary pressures, supply chain disruptions and gradual decoupling from the world’s second largest economy in China and even in our own neighborhood of Australia. Now Australia is in a strong position post-pandemic. We have a very high vaccination rate. We’ve had one of the lowest death rates we’ve saved 10s of 1000s of lives. Our economy is larger than it was going into the pandemic. We’ve got more people in work than we did before the pandemic.”

This election is all about who has the best pathway the best way to deal with those challenges ahead. We’ve got the challenge of securing the economic recovery and combating inflationary pressures. We’ve got the challenge of strengthening Australia’s capacity to defend itself and protect itself in a more hostile and aggressive world. And we’ve got the challenge of easing domestic pressures on families cost of living pressures, increased funding for social services within high demand.”

Allegra Spender and Dave Sharma           Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Speaking about changes ahead with a change of government, Dave Sharma said: “You’ll also get a different outcome in terms of support for Israel and for the Jewish community. I am wise enough  to know that the Jewish community shares many of the interests of every other Australians but there are particular interests that unique to the Jewish community, and they are standing up for Israel Israel’s right to defend and protect itself and standing against antisemitism and other forms of harassment and threats to the Jewish community here in Australia.”

When Israel has been under attack with rockets from Gaza. I’ve lived through it. My family lived througfh it. We’ve hidden in bomb shelters. We’ve heard the air raid sirens. We’ve had to lie face down on the street and get out of our vehicles. When they’ve been terrorist attacks in Israel, I’ve visited the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. I’ve been to see the injured and wounded in hospital. I’ve been to the funerals of some of those killed. And when I see these things happen now, I react to it almost viscerally because I know what it’s like.

Allegra Spender         Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

So when Israel came under attack from Hamas in Gaza last year I defended Israel’s right to defend itself. And I’ve criticized Hamas  for starting a war.  When antisemitism  in the form of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, appeared in the boycott of the Sydney Festival. I spoke up against that to all major media outlets and I said it was wrong.  I’ve been a friend of the Jewish community before I became a politician, and I’ve got resolute clarity on this.”

Moderator peter Wertheim asked Matt Thistlethwaite: “Isn’t it likely that Labor will unilaterally recognizes Palestinian state. withdraw Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and revert to a voting pattern at the UN that is less sympathetic to Israel under the current government. And as a follow up to that, that if there is a coalition with the Greens, how will your Labor deal with their lack of sympathy towards Israel?”

Matt Thistlethwaite responded: ” Our policy platform has been well known for several years now, and that is to support if we are elected to government, the legitimate interests and the legitimate right of the people of Israel and Palestine. To live behind secure borders internationally recognized and to recognize the legitimate aspirations of all peoples in those states and work towards a peaceful resolution to what’s been a very, very long standing conflict. As to the status of the capital. I certainly recognize the rights of any sovereign nation to choose where they put their capital. In terms of the status of Jerusalem, I would anticipate that that is something that should be dealt with through the negotiations towards a two state solution.”

On the Greens, he pointed out they had only seat in the House of Representatives. On foreign policy he said: “We’ll run a centrist sensible government that certainly consults with all of the organizations that are represented here today, and I will certainly consult with the Jewish population in my electorate about important decisions, such as those of us discussing tonight.”

Wertheim further asked Allegra Spender: “There is an indication that you do not support unilateral recognition by Australia of  Palestinian state i n the absence of a negotiated peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. In the event that there is a hung parliament after the election, would you make it a condition that the party that forms government will undertake not to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state?

Allegra Spender replied: ” I’m strongly advocated against the sort of unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. I’m not going to make it a condition of forming a hung parliament. This is going to be something for me negotiating very carefully with if this comes up as an issue in the next parliament.

Dave Sharma said: ” I’d also like to point that when way the coalition government recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, we were criticized by the then and now current labor Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, anyone as well as our opening of an office in West Jerusalem and zonings. A legitimate question to ask his labor going to reverse those decisions. If elected, are they going to withdraw recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Are they going to close the embassy, the office that we’ve got in this tourism? And the final point I make is yes, the Greens only have one seat in the house of representatives, but they have much more seats in the Senate. So a Labor/Greens coalition, whether it’s in the House or not, it’s certainly going to be an option. There’s certainly going to be the only viable option in the Senate and that will undoubtedly dictate Labor’s policy choices. It’s unrealistic to pretend otherwise.”

Lesli  Berger, PeterWertheim, Allegra Spender, Dave Sharma, Matt Thistlethwaite, Darren Bark, ECAJ president Jillian Segal           Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

All three candidates received strong supporting applause during the evening.




4 Responses to “The Big Debate”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    Matt Thistlethwaite certainly comes in third in this debate where Israel is concerned. It’s of concern to consider Labor’s trajectory over the last few years, and where it seems to be leading now, with their obvious, although carefully worded, spiel about the Palestinians and a two state solution. It would be terrible to see the Australian UN vote shift away from pro-Israel.

    It’s also a major problem for Australian voters who can’t stand the Liberal/Coalition government for their absolute lack of concern for those who are not well off, for their arrogance and game-playing.

    No wonder the independents are in there with a chance.

  2. Jake says:

    So, seeing that this was organised by JBOD and ECAJ where we’re the two Jewish candidates for Wentworth. Seeing that Matt thistlethwaite is not standing in Wentworth, why was he there?

  3. Yvonne Coburn says:

    As a member of the Jewish community I was ashamed by your disrespect in failing to correctly name Allegra Spender and calling her Bianca Spender . This suggests to me that you were never listening to her . By now everyone knows what Dave Sharma thinks and you devoted most of your article to what he thinks .

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