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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 3288

Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-Monaro) (10:23): I join with my colleagues on emphasising the privilege that it is to speak on this motion in relation to someone who was a truly great statesman, an international statesman. I think we often use that term 'great man' casually and loosely, but in this case we are truly acknowledging the benchmark of what a great man, a great statesman, truly was and is. Looking at Shimon Peres's life, I think none of us in the politics of Australia would understand just how existential it was. The life's work of Shimon Peres in terms of the preservation of not only his very state on so many occasions but the very survival of his people as a whole. It is poignant to note that, whereas he and his immediate family left Poland in 1932 to go to Israel, all of his remaining extended family in the Polish town of Vishneve were annihilated in the Holocaust. All of those members of his family, in the same incident, where the Jewish population of the town of Vishneve were rounded up and taken to the local synagogue and burnt alive in the town synagogue. Those times presented not only a challenge for the very survival of his people, but, then following on that, the survival of the nation through the period of 1948, the existential battles '67 and '73 and onwards.

As has been mentioned by previous speakers, he is owed a great deal for his role in creating the sinews by which Israel was able to defend itself and stay alive during that time. In particular, this was a great man of the Israeli Labor movement—a product of the kibbutz movement. I was privileged to have spent time on a kibbutz in Ein Herod Meuchad, up in Emek Yizra'el and the valley of the Galilee. This is a movement that has produced so many great people in the history of that nation, invested in the state and invested in the collective principle that has helped keep that state alive. Through his life, he demonstrated the values of the kibbutz movement.

His role has been mentioned not only in developing the political frameworks, the international relationships and the defence industries et cetera that helped keep the state alive but also in the Entebbe mission. My colleague from Canning will probably have more to say as he has probably studied this mission in depth in his career. Shimon Peres's role in that mission was absolutely instrumental. As the defence minister at the time he formed the crisis committee to look into the options for the rescue of a number of Israeli hostages taken captive by terrorists in Entebbe, in Uganda. He was involved in working through the detail of that mission with the nominal commander of the mission, Yonatan Netanyahu, and then took the detail of that mission to Prime Minister Rabin and convinced Rabin to back the mission. Rabin was very uncertain about using a military option in this case, but Peres was across the detail and had worked through the detail and was convinced of the viability of the mission and the audacity of it, which was borne out in the success of that operation, which has become quite a hallmark in the conduct of those kinds of special operations and hostage rescue missions.

Apart from that, through all that period of war and grief, he learnt many lessons that fuelled his impetus and his motivation in the cause of peace, once the existence and survival of the state of Israel were secured. There is no man ever in the history of the Middle East's difficult relationships and histories who has put more effort into the cause of peace. He brought to the peace process the same boldness that he brought to the design and execution of the Entebbe mission. It has been mentioned that through Oslo and the peace agreement with Jordan he was able to be awarded and afforded the honour of the Nobel Prize.

But one of the honours he greatly esteemed beyond that was being made an honorary sheikh by the Hura Bedouin of the Negev. He adored the Negev and put a lot of effort into looking after the Bedouin community in the Negev. He was very much a fan of his relationship with the Bedouin and was honoured for that relationship.

That was emblematic of his ability to forge relationships and bridges across the divides of the region—across internal and other state relationship divides. As my good friend the member for Melbourne Ports mentioned, he took that through to his involvement in the creation of the Start-Up Nation dynamic, which we have all learnt to admire and study in detail for the benefits and lessons it has for Australia. His real interest in being involved in the Start-Up Nation process was to ensure that the benefits of that economic development and the opportunities that the new economy offered were spread across all of the citizens of Israel, and hopefully the region—the Israeli-Arabs, the Palestinians and all the neighbours of the region. He felt that this opportunity was there to be exploited to help build those bridges and relationships. He took that forward, too, in the situation of developing the sharing of water resources and other issues that are central to creating a viable relationship amongst the nations of that area.

He tried hard to make the peace process with the Palestinians work after Oslo. That included energetically pursuing investment on behalf of the Palestinians, right around the world, and understanding the key role of the peace dividend and economic prosperity in the role of ensuring and bedding down peace in the area.

All of this was in the face of the massive wave of terror and bombings by the terrorists who attempted to derail that Oslo peace process, but he never lost his focus, his perseverance, his optimism and his determination to pursue that process. He also had to deal with the debilitation and the disappointment of watching some of that investment disappear into the extremely corrupt circumstances that existed amongst some of the players in the Palestinian Authority at the time. A lot of that money and investment would end up in Swiss bank accounts. And then, of course, there was the really disappointing situation of the Hamas takeover of Gaza after 2006 and the systematic dismantling of all the democratic institutions that we had all been working hard to build in the developing Palestinian Authority, which would have been the secret to them achieving an effective and viable statehood, and which I had been very pleased to be involved in. As a member of a strategy group, I convinced the Howard government to deploy an Australian lieutenant colonel to become a part of General Ward's security sector reform that was doing great work over there at the time, all of which was brought undone and abandoned because of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza strip.

But Shimon Peres was a great friend of Australia. He, along with all Israelis, remembered fondly and very well the Australian troop presence in Palestine during the Second World War and the First World War. In fact, both my grandfathers were beneficiaries of the welfare arrangements that the Schulte Jewish community provided to our thousands of Australian troops. I was very grateful for that. My grandfathers had very difficult circumstances to endure in the campaigns in Syria and Lebanon and the Western Desert, and very much appreciated the support of the Jewish community. But they also really appreciated the friendliness and engagement with the Australians at the time.

It was a very special privilege to have met President Peres, too, as part of a parliamentary group in 2010. He was very generous to us with his time, and it fell to me to thank him for that. I did highlight at the time the difference in attitudes to politics in Israel and Australia, noting that the old saying there was that you get two Israelis together and they form three political parties; I said, 'In Australia you get two Australians together and they have a party!' I also highlighted that his was a precious voice of reason in a world full of increasingly strident and irrational voices. It is extremely sad that we have lost that precious voice of reason. It is incumbent on all of us to work hard to help make up for that loss.

His greatest virtue was that he was not a prisoner of the past. He understood learning the lessons of the past. Not becoming a prisoner of the past is no mean feat in the Middle East. He always looked forward and was never swayed from his path to peace, no matter how hopeless this has looked. His is a life-affirming example of dreaming large, but in his case it was matched with the practical skills to realise those dreams. With his passing, we are obliged to pick up the torch he has passed to us and pursue peace with all the relentless optimism he exhibited all his life.