Steve Irons MP Federal Member for Swan

Private Members Business- Israel’s 70th anniversary Motion




I rise today to support the motion the honourable member for Fadden has put forward in this chamber today. The state of Israel has strong supporters and long friends in the member of Fadden and the member for Eden-Monaro. Listening to both their contributions I thought that for anyone who wants to know the historical links between Israel and Australia, particularly through the AIF, listening to those two speeches would be a good start. I thank the members for their contributions and I also note that the member for Fadden acknowledged the motion moved by the member for Isaacs 10 years ago. The motion was as heartfelt then, 10 years ago, as the member for Fadden’s motion is now.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel, the home for the Jewish people. Since 1948 Israel has flourished and become one of the powerhouses of emerging technology, democracy and prosperity. As the only democracy in the Middle East, the nation of Israel is one steeped in institutions that support the individual, and that is based on the rule of law and equal rights for its people. In an ever-changing world, Israel has shown how a nation can harness uncertainty and embrace the market and the innate worth of the individual.

The modern state of Israel has come as a result of the immense suffering, at the hands of the Nazi regime, of the Jewish people during the 1930s and forties. This year also marks the 80th anniversary of the Evian conference. This conference was convened by President Roosevelt in July 1938 in France to discuss the plight of Jewish refugees fleeing from persecution at the hands of the Nazi regime in Germany. The conference was a precursor to the creation of the state of Israel after World War II. Unfortunately, our government at the time, during the early stages of the Nazi persecution, was unaware of the extent of the plight of the Jewish people. This is a dark part of our history and one that is remembered at the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem with the words of the then Minister for Trade and Customs, Lieutenant Colonel White. I will not repeat those words, as they were mentioned in the motion put forward by the member of Fadden, but those words show our past. The then minister for trade, Colonel T W White, declined to assist, noting Australia was a young nation and wary of giving ‘undue privileges’ to ‘one particular class of non-British subjects without injustices to others’. The member for Fadden gave us good insight into the message that Colonel T W White delivered. These are past indiscretions that this House today has the chance to amend. It is one part of our history that should be corrected.

On the night of 9 November and long into the morning of 10 November in 1938, the Nazis torched synagogues, vandalised Jewish homes and businesses, and killed nearly 100 Jews. Although Jews had been suppressed by Hitler’s policies since 1933, it was the actions of the Nazis on this date that marked a significant turn to violence. It was only after this, the ‘night of the broken glass’, that the Australian government—rightly—reassessed its policy to help the Jewish people of Germany by admitting 15,000 refugees over three years, rather than the quota of 1,800 per year used previously.

The Australian government and many other nations around the world failed the Jewish people. It failed to do more to fully protect the Jewish people from persecution. In years to come, an estimated six million Jewish people would be killed during the Holocaust. This number was exacerbated by the Australian government and other governments around the world being naive to the extent of the persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi regime.

In this great place and in our strong democracy we have the opportunity to right the wrongs of our past. As the member for Fadden noted, we can do that by having this House—the house that represents all political parties of Australia and all Australians—issue an apology to the Jewish people for the indifference demonstrated by the Australian parliament in 1938. If this motion is supported by the House, the parliamentary apology will be presented to the Yad Vashem in this significant anniversary year. We will also request to have our apology displayed alongside Lieutenant Colonel White’s 1938 statement issued on behalf of the Australian government. War is an atrocity, but the atrocities visited upon the Jewish people by the Nazi regime must be set right. I support this motion by the member for Fadden.

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