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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 8516


Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/05/1992

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 8516

Thank you for inviting me to the 35th Biennial Conference of
the Zionist Federation of Australia.
I am very pleased to be here.
The fact that, as Acting Prime Minister, I spoke at your
last conference in 1990 can only be read as proof of the
constancy of both of us.
In those two years extraordinary events have occurred,
extraordinary changes have taken place.
So it is important that some things are constant.
It is important that we talk together and understand each
other. The Zionist Federation of Australia and the Australian
Government have enjoyed a long and mutually productive
relationship, and I havd no doubt that we will continue to
do so.
You can be sure that the Australian Government values the
Federation's opinion just as you can be sure of our belief
in the Federation's cause, Israel.
This is a commitment of long standing. It is as old as the
state of Israel, and it is as strong now as it was in the
beginning. -AIAW

We are also well aware that very often issues of concern to
the Jewish community properly concern the Government on a
broader front.
We are conscious of the role the Zionist Federation plays in
keeping policy issues before the Government and the public
and we admire you for it.
The Jewish community, of course, has long been in the
forefront of Australian public life.
In business, academia, science, arts and letters, politics
and the law, the Jewish contribution to this place has been
remarkable. The Jewish connection goes back to the First Fleet. It is
present throughout the last two hundred years.
Shortlists of the greatest Australians of this century
always number among them two Jews John Monash and Isaac
Isaacs and others could easily be added.
Jewish Australians have played such a leading role in
shaping this country in a sense it is not appropriate to
distinguish them from other Australians.
Beyond their individual contributions, there is a broader
cultural influence I might even say, a civilising
influence. By that I mean not just the obvious contributions of Jewish
Australians to the life of the mind in Australia, or their
enrichment of Australian culture by the traditions they
brought with them.
I also mean the lesson in tolerance which, by their presence
here and their tragic history elsewhere, Jewish Australians
have taught Anglo and Celtic Australians.
As an outpost of British civilisation on the other side of
the world, Australia was always prey to xenophobia and
intolerance. Jewish Australians and intending Jewish settlers sometimes
felt that before the War.
During the War, when many of them were shamefully interned
as enemy aliens, they felt it even more strongly.
Australia was then a narrow, insular society.
It is therefore one of the more amazing features of our
recent history that we have become a nation which rightly
prides itself on the diversity of its cultures and the
tolerance of its outlook.

I might say in parenthesis that, of all the lessons to be
learned from this transformation, none is more important
than the capacity of Australians to embrace change.
We are not as conservative as we sometimes think.
We have achieved more in nation-building than we sometimes
think. The Jewish community has played no small part in this in
widening our horizons and keeping our minds open.
They have been great settlers. Great Australians.
Their success underlines the wisdom of committing this
country to the principle of tolerance, and actively
supporting cultural and religious diversity.
I might say that I am very much of the view that, in
pursuing these multicultural policies, we should in no way
be compromising the principle of loyalty to Australia.
Both the vitality and the cohesion of this society
substantially depend on the right of all to express their
cultural heritage and to receive equal treatment, regardless
of race, culture or religion.
But its essential strength must derive from an overriding
loyalty to Australia, its interests and its liberal
democratic values.
In the end it is only this which will guarantee tolerance.
Our strongest weapon against discrimination and racial or
cultural vilification is the idea of Australia itself.
While recognising that a great deal remains to be done to
combat all the forms of exclusion which confront Australians
of non-English speaking backgrounds, and that Aboriginal
Australians still contend with discrimination, we can say
that we have made great progress.
Last year's Report of the National Inquiry into Racist
Violence showed that Australia's experience of racist
violence, intimidation and harassment is well below the
levels of most other countries.
But we must be vigilant, and we must actively promote the
cause here and abroad.
Domestically we are now examining possible terms of
legislation to proscribe acts of racial vilification.
Australia was the first country whose Parliament passed a
motion in support of rescinding the infamous United Nations
Resolution 3379_ which equated Zionism with racism.

And Australia was a co-sponsor of the UN action which led to
the recission of the Resolution.
The overwhelming vote in the General Assembly to overturn
3379 sent a clear signal that the UN will not be used as a
vehicle for propaganda, or for the promulgation of doctrines
which are racist or unjust.
Our support for the UN action sent a signal that Australia
will express publicly its abhorrence of racism in all its
forms, and will actively support international action to
focus attention on the unacceptablity of racist doctrines.
The UN decision was particularly timely, in view of some
worrying political developments in Europe, where right-wing
groups with anti-Semitic platforms appear to be growing in
influence. I think it was also evidence that there is a new
determination in the international community to take a more
balanced approach to the problems of the Middle East.
Above all, recission of Resolution 3379 was a positive step
towards removing the obstacles to peace in the region.
Partly to mark the overthrow of the Resolution, we were
visited this year by Mr Simcha Dinitz, the Executive
Chairman of the World Zi-onist Federation and the man
responsible for organising the emigration of over 400,000
Jews from the former Soviet Union.
Mr Dinitz explained to me the importance of continuing
migration to Israel, bringing as it does highly trained
people to contribute to the development of Israeli society.
Naturally we found common ground on this we too depend on
migration to stimulate economic growth and add vitality to
society. Mr Dinitz and I also had the opportunity to frankly exchange
views on current developments in the Middle East peace
process. Ladies and gentlemen, it is important that the Australian
Government continue this valuable dialogue with the Zionist
movement. It is important for the specific reason that Israel is a
great cause.
It is important for the general reason that we recognise, as
a principle of tolerance, the right of ethnic groups to take
a close interest in the affairs of their cultural homelands.
We expect of all Australians an unequivocal loyalty to
Australia, but we do not expect the bonds of culture to be
cut, or old sympathies to disappear.

We know that for Jewish Australians those bonds are very
strong. Israel is a cherished place, a natural focus of attention.
The Australian Government takes the view that these
sentiments are natural and, in any case, inescapable and
irreversible. We expect from Jewish Australians some active lobbying on
foreign policy issues, particularly now as Israel faces a
fluid international outlook and is reinvigorated by a
massive influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
We are attentive to your representations.
But of course we have to decide Australian policy on the
basis of a wider view of Australian interests.
As you are all aware, the Australian Labor Party has been
consistent in its commitment to Israel.
This dates from strong links between the Australian Jewish
community and Labor Party in office through the 1940s.
Like many others, my party saw the establishment of Israel
in moral terms. As international redress of the shameful
horror of the Holocaust.
The Chifley Government and Dr Evatt, as Chairman of the UN
Committee on Palestine, gave important political support to
Israel at the time of its creation at the United Nations.
Since Israel's achievement of independence and modern
statehood in 1948, Australia has been proud to support its
fundamental right to security, territorial integrity and its
freedom to pursue its national development in peace.
Let me assure you, in unequivocal terms that Australia
remains, as we have been over the past 44 years, wholly
committed to Israel's independence and territorial
integrity. In commenting on contemporary Australian policy towards the
Middle East, I should say at the outset that our approach is
tempered by realism.
Australia is not a major player in Middle Eastern affairs.
We do have significant trading interests in a number of
Middle Eastern countries.
The region lies across some of our principal communication
routes. Like other responsible countries, we are concerned at the
implications for global security of conflict in the region.

But we do not have any illusions about our influence in the
region, or any pretensions to assume anything other than our
traditional support of international stability and efforts
to find a just and lasting peace.
Australia's policy towards the Israel-Arab dispute is a
balanced one which takes account of political realities in
the region.
As a non-participant, our broad policy objective is to
encourage all parties to recognise that long-term peace and
stability in the region can only be achieved through
negotiated settlement.
This must be based on mutual respect of the national
interests and aspirations of both Israelis and Arabs.
As we see it, Israel's independence and security are
ultimately dependent on its being able to find a stable
accommodation, a modus vivendi, with its Arab neighbours.
Australia is not only committed to Israel's security, but
also recognises the right of the Palestinian people to selfdetermination.
This allows, logically, for the possibility of their own
independent state if they so choose.
The Australian Government seeks to encourage, wherever and
whenever possible, dialogue which offers hope to all those,
Israelis and Arabs alike, who have a genuine desire to live
in peace.
Over the years, Australia has been willing to play its part
in a number of peacekeeping operations in the Middle East.
We have also been consistent in raising concerns about human
rights violations throughout the region.
During the two years since I spoke to you at your last
conference, there have been momentous changes in
international relations.
The end of the Cold War has provided an opportunity to
restructure international security arrangements, to define a
new approach towards collective security.
This was demonstrated forcefully by the international
community's response to Iraq's aggression against Kuwait.
For the first time, the United Nations functioned
effectively in enforcing international law, as it was
originally intended to do nearly half a century ago.
The unprecedented international consensus and cooperation in
responding to Iraq's invasion were only possible in the new
international climate created by the dissipation of the
superpower rivalry between East and West.

For its part, Australia recognised the wider international
ramifications of Saddam Hussein's criminal actions.
I was part of the Australian Government's decision to make a
substantial commitment to the multinational naval force in
the Gulf.
During the Gulf War, Australians were horrified at the
indiscriminate targeting of Israel's civilian population by
Saddam Hussein.
The Australian Government expressed at the time its
condemnation of the brutality of the Scud missile attacks on
Israel, and of the crude attempt by Iraq to undermine
international efforts to expel it from Kuwait.
We were impressed most of all, however, by Israel's
restraint in not becoming involved in the conflict, despite
direct attacks on its territory and people.
The aftermath of the Gulf War has provided a rare
opportunity to start on the long road towards peace in the
Middle East.
The new environment of international rapprochement has
encouraged Israel and its Arab neighbours to take a fresh
look at the issues dividing them.
The Australian Government's sincere hope is that the Middle
East peace talks which began in Madrid last October will
enable the parties to the dispute to take full advantage of
this historic opportunity, and negotiate a truly just and
lasting peace.
We recognise that progress on substantial issues is not
likely to be rapid.
But the process itself of dialogue and negotiation should,
incrementally, improve the political and security climate
between Israelis and Arabs.
This, the world still hopes, will gradually build mutual
respect between Israel and its neighbours, without which no
permanent trust can ever be established.
It is only upon such trust that a lasting peace can be
built. We have been disappointed that much of the peace discussions
so far have been taken up with procedural wrangling, and
that violence has continued, especially in Lebanon and the
Occupied Territories, while the peace talks have been
underway. The Australian Government has consistently called on all
parties to exercise restraint, to give the negotiations a

One encouraging aspect of the peace process so far has been
a degree of moderation on the part of the Palestinian
negotiators. We have also observed that the Palestinian Liberation
Organisation has played a more positive role in encouraging
the peace process over the past six months.
In recognition of this development, the Australian
Government recently announced that we would restore our
policy on official contact with the PLO to what it had been
before the Gulf War.
In response to the PLO's support for Iraq's invasion of
Kuwait, restrictions were imposed in January 1991 which
barred Australian Ministers and officials from initiating
contact with the PLO. Those restrictions have now been
lifted. The restoration to our earlier policy on contact with the
PLO is consistent with our long-established aim of
encouraging the forces of moderation rather than extremism
within the PLO.
I am aware that this issue is one of considerable
sensitivity to your Federation, and one you will no doubt
want to continue discussing with us.
Let me assure you that the Government's recent decision is
neither an endorsement of the PLO, nor an absolution of the
organisation's past actions.
Nor has there been any change in the government's basic
policy towards the PLO.
We do not accept the PLO's claim to be the sole
representative of the Palestinian people, but we do accept
that the organisation represents the view of a significant
proportion of them.
Accuracy of the record also requires me to mention another
issue on which our views may differ.
Along with many other countries including the United States,
Australia has long expressed its opposition to Israel's
continued settlement activity in the Occupied Territories.
As friends of Israel, we have to say that we regard such
activity as an obstacle to peace.
I discussed this question at some length with Mr Dinitz
during our meeting in Canberra last March. He acknowledged
there is a range of opinion on settlement policy in Israeli
political circles.

As an outside party, Australia respects the complexity and
sensitivity of the various questions involved in the Middle
East peace talks.
We simply urge all parties to exercise the courage and
resourcefulness necessary to make the most of the current
relatively favourable international environment.
The Australian Government has taken a strong interest in the
plight of Syria's Jewish population.
Australia has been making direct representations to Syria
for several years on discrimination against Jews.
It is pleasing to note recent reports that the Syrian
Government has lifted restrictions on travel abroad by
Syrian Jews, and on the disposition of property by the
Jewish community there.
The Government will, of course, be monitoring the situation
closely to see whether in practice whole Jewish families are
able to leave Syria.
I should add here that the Syrian Government's decision
represents a significant confidence-building measure in the
context of the Middle East peace process.
It is exactly the kind of step Australia has been urging on
all parties to the process to follow in order to promote a
spirit of moderation and flexibility in the current
One of the subjects your Federation has actively pursued
with the Australian Government is the Arab economic boycott
of Israel.
Australia has consistently opposed the boycott, and has
repeatedly urged Arab governments to dismantle it as a
gesture of goodwill.
The boycott, apart from being morally untenable, is a
barrier to progress in the Middle East peace process.
Earlier this year, the Government reminded Australian
Chambers of Commerce that they do not have, and should not
claim to have, any official authorisation for issuing
certificates which effectively comply with the Arab boycott.
We are not persuaded that legislation against the boycott is
appropriate, but the Government is keeping that possibility
under active review.
As I noted earlier, Australia and Israel are nations built
largely on immigration.
We each grapple in our own way with a constantly evolving
process of reconciliation among different cultural, social
and political groupings within our societies.

It is characteristic of immigrant nations, that we draw
strength from our diversity, from our need to be conscious
always of new perspectives and new ways to achieve our
national priorities.
We draw strength from exercising tolerance.
Nations such as ours are uniquely placed to be receptive to
change, to embrace it and profit from it.
This is why I feel it appropriate to speak to you about the
need now for Israel to make the most of international
change, and to persevere in dialogue and negotiation with
its Arab neighbours.
Equally, Australia urges Israel's Arab neighbours to come to
terms with Israel and recognise its right to exist as an
independent state.
My comments have been offered in the spirit of frank and
vigorous dialogue which characterises the Australian
Government's close relations with your Federation.
We have a long relationship, and a productive one.
You can be sure the Government sets a very high value on it.
Thank you once again for having me. I wish you well with the

Transcript 8516