22 February 2017


Good afternoon everybody. 

I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past and present. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu, welcome. This is, as Prime Minister Turnbull said, a most special occasion. 

I welcome you, your wife Sara and your whole delegation to Australia. 

As Prime Minister Turnbull has said, our nations share strong ties. And at crucial times, Australia may have even been arguably been pivotal in Israeli history. 

We are all familiar with 29 November 1947, in New York, when then Australian Labor Foreign Minister H.V. Evatt cast the first vote in favour of the formation of the modern state of Israel. 

But I’d like us to consider another date which was arguably pivotal too. 

It was, as we have heard, on 31 October 1917, when the 4th Light Horse Brigade of the Australian military, smashed Ottoman lines at Beersheba. 

What is perhaps a little less well known in Australia, is that one of the reasons why we were able to carry out one of the great, marvellous cavalry charges of the 20th Century, was due to the work of a young Romanian Jewish settler, in the then-Palestine part of the Ottoman Empire - Aaron Aaronsohn. 

He was a botanist and an agronomist, but he and a small network of like-minded Jewish settlers, put the case to the Allied Command, and to General Allenby, that rather than the Allies proceed up the sea road to the formidable entrenched defences of Gaza, he said there were a series of oases which could outflank the Ottomans. 

As we know, the rest of history happened. 

That the Australians, through that series of oases, led to make that valiant charge of Beersheba, which is arguably the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire. 

But what I think particularly makes that date, 31 October 1917 so interesting, is it was just three days before a most significant date in the formation of the State of Israel -  I speak of the Balfour Declaration. 

Perhaps there is a new strain of Australian history to investigate: whether our charge at Beersheba was the tipping point for British colonial authorities to finally do the deal which lead to the formation of Israel. 

And our history remains equally entwined 100 years on. 

We understand that what happens in Israel, and the region of the Middle East, still matters to Australia despite our distance. 

It matters to our prosperity and it matters to our security. 

We know that Israel understands the menace of ISIS. 

I suspect no nation does ISIS intelligence like Israel, and I cannot imagine how we would adequately prevent the spread of ISIS and similar extreme ideologies if Israel wasn't Israel. 

Mr Prime Minister 

As much as we have our challenges in our foreign policy in Australia, we do not share the neighbourhood that you share. 

For instance, we do not underestimate in this country, the difficulty of neighbouring regimes, such as Iran. 

Now I understand Mr Prime Minister, that you’ve been a former Opposition Leader yourself, in fact I take some pleasure in it, you’d appreciate there are times when you disagree with the Prime Minister of the day – sometimes more colourfully. 

But there is a fundamental point of agreement in this country between the Prime Minister and myself - and between our parties for many decades. 

It is our strong support for the right of the people of Israel to live in peace, within secure borders. 

And equally strong is our condemnation not just of the BDS movement as Malcolm has said, but in this country too, we must vigilant against the spread of anti-Semitism. 

Anti-Semitism is not a curse or a virus of the pages of history, it is something we must combat now. 

And together, our mainstream political parties must stand up against those on the far-left or the far-right who would promulgate anti-Semitism. 

And as a friend of Israel, as a supporter of peace in the region, certainly, my party believes in a two-state solution. 

We expect the Palestinian leadership to recognise Israel’s legitimate right to security. 

Of course we acknowledge the people of Palestine’s legitimate aspirations, for a state of their own. 

This will take leadership from both sides. 

As I have said before, it will require dealing with some of the roadblocks to peace: from settlements to land swaps, to fundamental propositions such as security and borders. 

There is a role here for nations in the region: Jordan, Egypt, the Emirates and Saudi Arabia amongst others. 

And we cannot be naive in Australia, we must acknowledge the impediment to peace that the intransigence of the Hamas leadership presents - and the divisions between them and the Palestinian Authority. 

Put simply: everyone’s short-term, medium-term and long-term interests are best served by finding a way to peace. 

I know there are different views about different paths – from Washington to the United Nations. 

But I have found in life more often than not, the most direct way is best. 

Which is why we urge all parties to continue and return to direct negotiations to settle final status issues - refraining from actions that would jeopardise this. 

It is said, quite correctly, that in its region, Israel is an island of progress – but we would all prefer it was not an island. 

The more we can do to make the Middle East safe from Islamist extremism – the easier it becomes to deliver a two-state solution. 

Mr Prime Minister, so much has been said about the economic success of your nation. 

  • 20 per cent of the world’s cyber security investment.
  • A global leader in water and agribusiness, in technology and research.
  • 500 start-ups in the automotive industry alone. 

And all of this with so few natural resources 

This disadvantage that has led some to wonder if Moses was a great leader but a terrible navigator. 

With new wealth flowing from Israel’s off-shore natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean, it may be too late for Moses to claim the royalties, but not too late to acknowledge his foresight. 

I think that if there is one question everyone which people share, they want to know the secret to Israel’s success –and everyone’s got a theory. 

Israel has opened your economy and liberalised your currency -  not enough by itself, but an essential precondition. 

There’s military service - and there’s the way you take the smartest young people and encourage them to think outside the box. 

Turning knowledge workers into knowledge entrepreneurs. 

Or, as you put it – not just making things but creating things. 

But I also think that if you want to understand Israel and its success, you have to at the power of Jewish culture: that spirit of relentless inquiry, of tireless, forensic curiosity, a determination not just to know ‘what’ but to understand ‘why’. 

Applying this to the scientific as well as the philosophical - in his way, Einstein was a lot like a Rabbi of previous centuries. 

We are very fortunate in this country - and grateful - that generations of Australia’s remarkable Jewish community have gifted our nation this quality. 

It is a remarkable, if tragic circumstance, that out of the most terrible of times, the Holocaust that was Europe in 1930s and 40s, Australia was the beneficiary of that large diaspora that Australia has come to know so well. 

That European turn of mind, that love of arts which marks some of the vanished Jewish populations of eastern Europe and has been transferred to this country in something nothing short of a miracle. 

A virtuous circle of entrepreneurialism and philosophy – enriching our business, our medicine, our universities, our philanthropy and community.

Mr Prime Minister, you lead a nation which rose from the ashes of humanity’s darkest days. 

A democracy which has made a desert bloom. 

A self-starting economy, fired by the power of discovery. 

And if some countries in the Middle East don't want to have direct flights to Israel, then let's have a Dreamliner and fly it direct from Australia to Tel Aviv.  

Welcome to Australia, enjoy your stay.