Payne’s painful silence on the Iranian threat

Marise Payne addressing the UN General Assembly. Photo: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

MARISE Payne is the new Foreign Minister of Australia; she will be an even blander version of Julie Bishop. Her first speech to the United Nations was an extremely cautious restatement of the Coalition’s foreign policy in her first international platform. As The Australian newspaper editorialised, she lost an opportunity to give real meaning “to Australia’s stance on global issues”.

I agree with the editorial which rightly condemned her “two-sentence reiteration of the ongoing Australian support for the Iranian nuclear deal” set by the Turnbull Government.

Apart from their support for the Iran deal the Liberal Government, over the last two and a half years has refused to even condemn six Iranian ballistic missile firings, although other world leaders, especially those who are signatories to the Iranian nuclear deal, Angela Merkel (Germany), Emmanuel Macron (France), Theresa May (UK) all raised their voices against Iran’s provocative missiles that could be tipped with atomic warheads.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Payne made no comment about widely reported new developments with the Iranian nuclear program or Iran’s regional aggression.

One didn’t expect her to say anything about the Israeli chutzpah in stealing the entire warehouse of archive material proving nuclear weapons were Tehran’s plan from the beginning, but she did worse.

Before her appearance she might have read the newspapers that reported new developments in Iran’s aggressive push. She might have had her department of Foreign Affairs view the Israeli presentation to the United Nations, made a few days earlier by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One doesn’t have to be the greatest advocate or admirer of the tough, sun-tanned Israeli premier to say that his presentation in New York, to the UN was jaw-dropping.

It was focused exclusively on Iran and Tehran’s Middle East stooges. He gave the street address of yet another atomic warehouse in the Iranian capital (and the Google map reference to it).

This new warehouse contained radioactive components from the Iranian nuclear program and it was around the corner from Iran’s finest rug cleaning business.

Netanyahu explained the irresponsibility of the Ayatollahs who rule in Tehran. Once they were aware the Israelis were on to them, they simply started distributing this radioactive material all over Tehran.

It is arresting to watch an Israeli premier accuse European and other countries (like Australia) that do nothing about these Iranian nuclear activities of “appeasement”. Appeasement is the word that denigrates the policy of the 1930s, whose defeatism gave rise to Germany and its aggression.

Our Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, did not seem to know of this new nuclear warehouse, she didn’t even make a generic plea to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to fulfil its responsibilities to conduct an inspection of all nuclear sites.

Netanyahu said that generally the IAEA were sincere but it is up to members of the international community, like Australia to urge them to keep to their mandate.

Payne is one of the founders of the left faction of the NSW Liberals. It is disappointing that she said nothing about Iran’s support for organisations officially categorised by the Australian Parliament as terrorists: Hezbollah and Hamas. Nor did she refer to Iran’s deep and widespread penetration of Syria. The Australian editorial rightly claimed she said nothing about Iran’s work in undermining the US-led Middle East coalition of which Australia was a part.

She is continuing Julie Bishop’s policy of appeasement of Iran. As the Australian editorial concluded “Australia is a serious player on the world stage … Senator Payne could have used her appearance more effectively”.

Finally, before the usual suspects whinge in the letters column but what does the Labor Party say? I can only state my view that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would have the most disastrous consequences, not just for Israel and the moderate Arab states but for the world.

Michael Danby is a past chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade.