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Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




1 NOV 2023


LAURA JAYES: Joining me now is Shadow Cabinet Minister Paul Fletcher. Paul, thanks so much for your time. We always have fights in parliament. You'd expect that. But this is a time where you certainly would have a lot of sympathy for Mark Dreyfus.

PAUL FLETCHER: Absolutely. Very sad news for Mark. I certainly want to express my condolence to him and his family. You know, I know from personal experience how demanding being a Cabinet minister is and it's obviously been a very difficult time for him, juggling his responsibilities with supporting his wife. This has been an illness, has been going for some time. So I certainly do want to express my condolences and sympathies to Mark and his family.

LAURA JAYES: Thank you for that. Let's talk about Israel and Gaza now. We heard Anthony Albanese there say that Israel has a right to defend itself, but how it defends itself matter itself matters. Do you disagree with anything in that statement?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, Israel absolutely has a right to defend itself. And if you look at the way that Israel has been seeking to conduct itself in terms of providing advance warning to civilians in Gaza, for example, of its intended movements, that is consistent with the values of Israel, which is a multi party democracy. And this is in many ways a clash of values. Gaza unfortunately, is under the control of brutal terrorist thugs, Hamas, who are known for their complete indifference. Certainly to the human life. And the lives of Israeli civilians. As we tragically saw on October the 7th with that horrific attack. But they're also known for their indifference to the lives of Palestine civilians. They're notorious for using civilians as human shields. They're notorious for placing military facilities in the middle of densely populated civilian areas. And, of course, they are holding more than 200 Israelis captive within Gaza. So a lot of the commentary here, I think, overlooks the reality that if Hamas cared much about what the lives of Palestinian civilians, there is plenty they could do right now to greatly increase the safety of Palestinian civilians. A very good place to start would be releasing the more than 200 Israelis who are held captive. Let us hope they are all still alive. But of course, we don't know that.

LAURA JAYES: We don't know. And the IDF doesn't know that either. I spoke to Jonathan Conricus yesterday and he confirmed as much. The stated aim of Israel at the moment is to wipe out Hamas. But don't we need to have a realistic conversation about whether that is actually possible? Should we not learn from history here? You wipe out one terrorist organisation down and another springs up. Same motives, different name, perhaps.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, let's be clear here. The way that Hamas conducts itself is an affront to fundamental values of humanity, of decency -

LAURA JAYES: No one disagrees with that but can they be wiped out?

PAUL FLETCHER: But I make the point out that they are operating in exactly the same mode as ISIS and other terrorist organisations. And there was a widespread consensus about the need to combat and take strong measures to combat ISIS. And a similar imperative is here. And let's not forget that the disgraceful Iranian regime is very closely involved in supporting Hamas. We've seen the colour and character of that regime in the appalling oppression of Iranian people, particularly Iranian women. I know from talking to my own Iranian Australian constituents that they are fearful because of the operation of agents of the Iranian regime in Australia. This is a thuggish, autocratic mindset that is demonstrated by the regime in Iran, which is demonstrated by Hamas. And this is essentially a battle over values, a conflict of values.

LAURA JAYES: But you say mindset. This is battle against a mindset. So it's more than just Hamas. And how do you wipe out such a mindset? I mean, we can't approach this with naivety, can we?

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, I'm not going to presume to give military or strategic advice to the government of Israel or to the to the IDF. What I will say, though, is that it is very important that a liberal democracy like Australia expresses strong support for another Liberal democracy in a time when it is under physical attack and large numbers of its civilians have been killed, others have been taken hostage. But it's also an attack on the values that underpin Liberal democracies.

LAURA JAYES: Sure, and I think our government has done that. Would you agree?

PAUL FLETCHER: The joint statement , the joint motion that was agreed to by all parties except disgracefully, the Greens in Parliament, a couple of weeks ago, condemned Hamas and recognised Israel's right to self-defence and that was appropriate.

LAURA JAYES: Okay. And former prime ministers too,


LAURA JAYES: Okay. Where do you see this going? Because we've just spoken to so many people on this program, the IDF know this just as much international war criminal experts. There's a PR battle as well as a battle on the ground. If Israel starts losing that, which, you know, if you look at history, it loses. It starts to lose hearts and minds as these battles go on. What would your view be? Is there a line on if Israel oversteps that that Australia, you would not support?

PAUL FLETCHER: The point I would make is that a democratically elected government in Israel is wrestling with these very issues and they are of course making ethical judgements as well as military and strategic and public safety judgements on a daily basis. Let's bear in mind again, in a liberal democracy, multi-party, 20% of Israelis are Israeli Arabs with voting rights. There are Israeli Arabs in the Knesset, the parliament. So these are matters. These are always very difficult issues for democracy, as we saw this in World War two, where democracies like Australia, like the US, like Canada, like Britain dealt with the totalitarianism that had taken hold in Germany and Japan, and that involved very difficult ethical choices. But it was very clear that what was done there was the right thing to do. Very similar ethical issues arise here.

LAURA JAYES: Indeed. Paul Fletcher, thanks for your time.