The national security and economic consequences of Australia shifting its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will be taken into account before a decision is made, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has stressed.
Members of the Coalition’s Right faction are demanding the move regardless of the views of regional neighbours that it could kill the free trade deal with Indonesia and increase the terrorism threat, but Senator Birmingham has indicated these will be considered.
“We consider it overall against our values as a nation and our national interest as a nation,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.
While Scott Morrison’s stated aim of helping progress towards a two-state solution in the Middle-East was in Australia’s national interest, it was not the only factor that needed to be weighed up, Senator Birmingham said.
“Our national interest is, of course, an interwoven network of complex factors: security factors, economic factors, strategic factors, and we have to bring all those together,” he said.
So, too, would the review process have to take into account Australia’s obligations under various United Nations Security Council resolutions that it was a party to.
Australia won’t be ‘reactive’
The embassy shift was part of a log of claims presented to Mr Morrison by the Right after he became leader on August 24. He announced a review into shifting the embassy in the final days of the campaign for the byelection in Wentworth, which has a sizeable Jewish population.
Consequently, Indonesia, as it confirmed last week, will not sign the free trade agreement with Australia even though it has been finalised. And Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed told Mr Morrison in Singapore last week the move could increase the terrorist risk.
Some in the Right have cited Indonesia’s threat and Dr Mahathir’s warning as even more reason to move the embassy, saying Australia should not be dictated to.
But Senator Birmingham said Australia would neither be dictated to by foreign powers, “nor will we be reactive to the statements of any particular world leader or anybody else for that matter”.
He said he hoped the FTA, which the government had wanted signed by Christmas, would be signed “in the coming months”.
“It will be signed when both countries are ready to do so,” he said.
The government looked at moving the embassy when Malcolm Turnbull was in charge but decided against it after the various consequences were taken into account.
Mr Morrison has promised a decision by Christmas.