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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2533

Ms JULIE BISHOP (3:01 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer the minister to the fact that Canada, Italy, Israel and the United States have all withdrawn from the Durban Review Conference due to concerns that it will be used as a platform for rampant anti-Semitism. Why has the Australian government not withdrawn from this conference?

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her question. It is an important issue. The first Durban conference, which was a conference against racism and in favour of antidiscrimination, took place in Durban in 2001. The then government ensured that Australia was represented through the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the former Minister for Health and Ageing Kay Patterson. At the conclusion of Durban I, my predecessor, Alexander Downer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, issued a statement saying that a number of good things had come out of the Durban conference but that the Australian government was concerned about the anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish sentiment also expressed at that conference. As a consequence of that, until the middle of February no Australian official took part actively in the preparations for Durban II, which is a conference that will take place in Geneva from 20 to 24 April next month.

On 16 February, as a result of like-minded nations including the United States and the European Union doing so, Australian officials took part in the preparatory or working group proceedings to see whether it was possible for the text which had been circulated to be improved. That did not prove to be the case. As a consequence of that, we saw the United States, a few days subsequent to those working group proceedings, indicate that unless improvements could be made to the text it would not take part in the conference.

There are two nation-states who have indicated they will not take part in the conference under any circumstances: Israel and Canada. Two other nation-states, the United States and Italy, have indicated that, unless qualitative improvements are made to the text, they will not attend the conference either. As I have indicated publicly and privately over recent days and weeks to those people who have raised it with me, unless we see qualitative improvements made to the text Australia will not be attending either.

The process we are following is this: the Russian chair of the working group has indicated that he is proposing to effect a revised and much shorter text by 16 March. We will carefully examine that revised text if it emerges. The working group is proposed to reconvene, from memory, on 4 or 6 April. The Australian government will give very careful consideration to what, if any, changes are made to the text to see whether it is appropriate for Australia to participate in the conference.

If we form the view that the text is going to lead to nothing more than an anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic harangue and an anti-Jewish propaganda exercise, Australia will not be in attendance. We have ample time to make that judgment. We will give the working group every opportunity to revise the text in a qualitatively improved way to ensure that that does not happen, and we will make our judgment at a time of our choosing when we have given all nation-states concerned the opportunity to add qualitatively to the text to enable it to form the proper basis of debate at the conference. If it does not form such a basis, we will not participate in an anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic propaganda exercise.