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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 10049

Middle East


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:00): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Carr. I refer the minister to his remarks on Sky Agenda yesterday: 'There is a feeling in the Labor Party that you go for abstention. You even go for a yes vote.' Minister, what are the arguments in favour of a yes vote on Palestine being granted UN observer status as opposed to abstention? At any stage during discussions on this issue of our vote on Palestine being granted UN observer status, was the effect on Labor's vote in Western Sydney raised?


Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:01): The draft resolution 'Question of Palestine' is scheduled to be voted on in the UN General Assembly this Thursday, 29 November. If passed, the draft resolution will accord non-member observer state status in the UN to the Palestinians. It does not confer statehood.

The decision by the government to abstain on this question accords with our strong support for legitimate Palestinian aspirations towards statehood but reflects our view that the only way to a two-state solution in the Middle East, with a strong Palestinian state side by side with an Israel with absolute security, is through an outcome negotiated by the two sides, the two sides thus having a commitment to the success of the outcome. You cannot get that through a resolution of the General Assembly, but to have voted no would have sent a message that Australia does not believe in something we do believe in—namely, statehood for Palestinians.

Before I continue, let me just set the last question to rest. That is that there was some discussion of the political impact of this decision here. I say this candidly to the Senate: I do not believe that a decision on this has a political impact, because the vast bulk of Australians want a two-state solution. That is the common-sense, mainstream position adhered to by the Australian people: that there should be a Palestinian state side by side with a secure Israel. That is the view that the majority of Australians hold.

Senator Cormann: Why did you roll the Prime Minister?

Senator BOB CARR: You will have to speak up; I cannot hear these little piping voices.(Time expired)




Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:03): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister maintain that the US understands that opinion in the Labor Party is trending towards a yes vote on this vital issue and that the government's shift on this long-held bipartisan plank of Australian foreign policy will have no impact on Australia's relationship with the United States?


Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:03): Isn't it delightful to have a question as predictable as that? The answer is simply yes. When I phoned Mr Bleich, the US ambassador, yesterday, he was entirely relaxed about the Australian decision. Moreover, he made a public comment today that I am astonished Senator Abetz is not aware of. Such is their preparation for question time that he asked me the view of the United States when their view has been on the public record all morning. Senator Abetz, tactics, tactics, tactics! You will have to work harder. Last week we were of the view that Senator Brandis had fouled up the management of question time, but you have come back, when we have all wished you well, even more inept than your deputy.


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:05): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Personal abuse will get him nowhere, and unlike the minister the US does—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Just wait a minute. When the shouting stops on both sides, we will continue. Wait a minute, Senator Bob Carr. I will give you the call when there is order.

Senator Bob Carr: Mr President, on a point of order: I take offence that those mild-mannered comments of mine represent a test of my capacity, well established over many years, for personal abuse.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! We are not debating this.

Senator ABETZ: And this man represents Australia overseas! What a pathetic creature! My question is this: I refer the minister to his own statement on ABC News 24 last night on—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Wait a minute, Senator Abetz. Just resume your seat. Just wait a minute. Senator Abetz is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator ABETZ: I ask that the clock be reset. I refer the minister to his statement on ABC—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Resume your seat. I need to hear the question. The clock is a guide to me. I will allow the question.

Senator ABETZ: I refer the minister to his statement on ABC News 24 last night on the government's decision to abstain from the vote on Palestine's bid for UN observer status—namely, 'I was, with abstention, willing to be persuaded to vote yes.' Minister, did you threaten to vote against the Prime Minister in caucus on this issue? Aren't your honeyed words about the Prime Minister shaping the final decision on this issue simply designed to paper over her humiliation?











Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:07): The answer to that question is no. The government's position—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bob Carr, just resume your seat. Just as Senator Abetz was entitled to be heard in silence before, Senator Bob Carr is entitled. I will give you the call when there is silence.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: This behaviour does you no good at all.

Senator BOB CARR: The answer is no, of course, but I do like his language. I like the fact that he has returned to Shakespearean language: 'My honeyed words.' I like that deft Shakespearean touch; I take it as a compliment. As for the question of abstention, which is the government's position on this, let me remind the House that on countless occasions the previous, coalition government opted to abstain, which is a valid option in the General Assembly of the UN. In 2001, the coalition government abstained on a vote concerning the status of Jerusalem. In 2003, the coalition government abstained on a resolution concerning— (Time expired)