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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 3292


Mr FRYDENBERG (KooyongMinister for the Environment and Energy) (10:41): I thank the member for Canning for that heartfelt and powerful address and also acknowledge my colleagues and friends on the other side of parliament—the member for Isaacs, the member for Melbourne Ports and the member for Eden-Monaro—and of course my colleagues the member for Sturt, the member for Fadden and the member for Goldstein, who is soon to speak, and say, isn't this a wonderful thing? Members from both sides of the political divide have put aside any partisan differences to salute a career and a life that has been full of achievements and goodness, not just for the people of Israel but for the Jewish community around the world. In speaking on Shimon Peres, a man who died on 28 September this year in Israel, age 93, we remember somebody who really made a difference.

Shimon Peres was a remarkable office holder. He was first elected to the Knesset in 1959. During that time he became the longest-serving member of the Knesset in Israel's political history. He held so many positions, including Minister of Transportation, Minister of Finance, Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and of course became Israel's eighth Prime Minister in 1984, then serving again in that office, and became the ninth President of the state of Israel, serving for seven years when he reached that position in 2007.

His achievements also saw him lauded across the world with many awards. The French gave him their highest honour, the Legion d'Honneur, as commander. He received from the United Kingdom an honorary knighthood—Knight Grand Cross—and the Order of St Michael and St George from Queen Elizabeth II. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, for his role in the Oslo Accords. And President Obama gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012—the United States's highest civilian honour—for his meritorious contributions to world peace.

But his story was a remarkable personal one. He migrated to then Palestine in 1934. All of his remaining relatives in Poland were murdered during the Holocaust. In fact, Barack Obama, in his wonderful address on Mount Herzl, at the funeral of Shimon Perez, reminded us that when he was still a teenager Peres's grandfather was burned alive by the Nazis in the town in which Shimon was born. And when he reached then Palestine he became one of Israel's founders, and now Israel has lost the last of its founders. At age 29 he became Director-General of the Ministry of Defense—the youngest person to hold this position—and did so much to help build Israel's defence capability, particularly the relationships he developed with the French government.

But it was his values and his moral clarity that stood Shimon Peres out among the rest. He once said:

The message of the Jewish people to mankind is that faith and moral vision can triumph over all adversity.

And he made a very powerful point, which needs to be recognised in the context in which Israel lives, often in a sea of hate and hostility. Peres said:

The Jewish people weren't born to rule another people. From the very first day we are against slaves and masters.

That signalled what was his life's work, which of course was to bring security and stability to Israel but, clearly, to also bring peace to his people.

Not only did he have a moral compass and a large number of achievements to his name, but also he managed to develop wonderful relationships with other world leaders to advance Israel's interest. President Obama referred to the fact that he was the 10th US President to play host to Peres over the course of Peres's life. I will refer to some of the testimonies given on his death. Theresa May called him, "… a visionary and courageous statesman, who worked relentlessly for peace and never lost hope that this would one day be achievable".

Tony Blair, on the other side of politics, described him as, '… a political giant, a statesman who will rank as one of the foremost of this era or any era, and someone I loved deeply'.

Tony Blair: 'someone I loved deeply'. Ban Ki-moon said about Peres:

Even in the most difficult hours, he remained an optimist about the prospects for reconciliation and peace.

And Obama:

Shimon Peres was a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace, and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves—to the very end of our time on Earth, and in the legacy that we leave to others.

Wonderful testimonies to a wonderful man.

But one of my favourite stories goes back to 1986 when then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher played host to Shimon Peres. She said, in welcoming Shimon Peres to No. 10 Downing Street:

I am not sure whether all our guests here tonight know that the last time you fell into our hands was in 1945.

We caught you on a camel in a restricted military area and locked you up for two weeks.

History doesn't relate what happened to the camel.

She went on to say:

Israel is small in geography but large in history.

But perhaps even more impressive than the achievements is the spirit of your people: pioneering, brave, resourceful, determined; an example of how indomitable will can overcome almost any problem.

That very fact makes it all the more urgent that you who have built a nation should also be able to build peace.

She went on to say to Shimon Peres:

… your personal reputation as a man of peace, a man dedicated to seeking that peace with Israel's neighbours, is itself grounds for greater hope.

I never met Shimon Peres, but isn't it interesting that the people who did have such wonderful things to say about him.

My friend and colleague the member for Melbourne Ports pointed out that Peres visited Australia in March 1998. During that time he was hosted by John Howard. John Howard, a giant in this country, said:

It is a special honour to be here this evening in the company of one of Israel' s most highly regarded statesmen, Shimon Peres. In various capacities over the fifty years of Israel's statehood, including three periods as prime minister, you have been an instrumental figure in setting Israel's course for the future. Your presence here tonight brings a special significance and lustre to these anniversary celebrations.

Peres reciprocated that affection from Howard when he described the relationship between the Jewish state and Australia as one of love, saying, 'Australia is a beloved country in Israel.' Those were the words of then Prime Minister Howard, and they were also the words of Tony Blair, Theresa May, President Obama and Margaret Thatcher. We have also heard from my colleagues in this place about what a wonderful contribution Shimon Peres made to Israel's security through his boldness and activities—sending Israeli commandos into Entebbe; the work he did rescuing Jews from Ethiopia; the way he embraced science and technology; and the way in which, as Obama says in his speech:

As a young man, he had fed his village by working in the fields during the day, but then defending it by carrying a rifle at night.

Few people on this earth have had a life as full and as important as Shimon Peres. He helped make Israel the country it is today. We salute him for his contribution to the state of Israel; we salute him for his defence of the values and the freedoms that we hold dear; and we salute him for the relationship that he built with Australia, among many other countries. We in this place, despite our political differences, have an obligation to ensure that his dream of peace between Israel and its neighbours one day becomes a reality.