30 May 2010

Why Julie Bishop must go

Julie Bishop’s behaviour last week in relation to the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat demonstrated conclusively that she has no place dealing with sensitive matters of foreign relations, and indeed is not fit to hold a leadership position with any self-respecting Australian political party.

Politics is a rough game but there are certain courtesies and civilities to be observed within our parliamentary system or the system cannot operate and, when it comes to matters of national security, the nation’s interests are put at risk.

When I heard that Julie Bishop had said in relation to the expulsion that there was no absolute proof of Israeli involvement in the forging of Australian passports, I wrote, “What would she regard as proof, I wonder”. At that stage I assumed that she had no more knowledge than I had, i.e., what was in the public domain. When I heard that she had been given a briefing on the matter by Australian security agencies, I was shocked.

I think Julie Bishop violated three rules of political courtesy and common-or-garden professionalism in relation to this matter.

(1)    If she was not prepared to accept a priori that the senior officers of the security agencies would behave in a professional manner and brief her in good faith on the evidence as they saw it, she should have said so and declined the briefing.

(2)    If she was in any doubt about what the evidence showed she should have told them and asked them questions to establish whether she and they really did draw different conclusions from the same evidence, or whether there was some misunderstanding on one side or the other.

(3)    If she remained unconvinced, she should have advised the briefing officers at the time that she found the evidence unpersuasive, and having been given the courtesy of a briefing she owed it to the Government to tell the Prime Minister and/or the Foreign Minister that she was not convinced and that she proposed to say so.  It was outrageous, and insulting to all concerned, for her to rush off and say that there was “no absolute proof” (whatever that means) and that the Government was just trying to curry favour with the Arab States in the interests of its aspirations to win a seat on the UN Security Council.

In her television interview she showed herself, not for the first time, to be completely out of her depth.

In our parliamentary system, there are times when it is in the interests of the nation’s security that the Government be able to take the Opposition leadership into its confidence and brief them on sensitive matters to ensure that our security interests are not inadvertently compromised by their public response to Government action. This need could arise at any time.  By her behaviour Julie Bishop showed that she cannot be trusted to behave appropriately in such matters, and that she lacks the judgement to be entrusted with sensitive classified information.  She must go.

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