‘Tragedy’: Albo’s take on ex-PMs’ letter

Paul Keating refused to sign the letter. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short

Anthony Albanese has endorsed Israel’s right to defend itself while also expressing concern for Gaza civilians after six of Australia’s former prime ministers co-signed a letter affirming their joint stance on the war.

On Monday, every former living prime minister, except Paul Keating, released a statement on the escalating conflict expressing their support for Israel and condemning Hamas for the October 7 massacres. The letter called for an end to anti-Semitic hate speech and endorsed a two-state solution as the basis for “long-term lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples”.

When asked about the letter on Tuesday, Mr Albanese reitereated his stance on the issue and argued that it had “overwhelming support”.

“It is important that we recognise that the attacks from Hamas on Israel are worthy of absolute condemnation in an unequivocal way. It’s also important to recognise that Israel has a right to defend itself, but how it does that matters. And we need to make sure as well that every civilian life is valued. Whether it be Israeli or Palestinian, every innocent loss of life is a tragedy,” he said.

Anthony Albanese says every innocent loss of life is a tragedy. Picture: Monique Harmer/NCA NewsWire.

Ex Labor leader Paul Keating, the only living ex-prime minister to not sign the letter, published a statement on Sunday that said he would not put his name to something “drafted by the Zionist Federation of Australia.”

When asked about Mr Keating’s take on the issue, Mr Albanese refrained from comment.

“I think that’s a question for Paul Keating, I would have thought,” he said.

Mr Albanese said he held grave concerns for civilians stuck in Gaza after Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong confirmed there were 88 Australians trapped in the region on Monday.

He said Australia was working to urge the opening up of exit points and the government had provided $25m in humanitarian assistance to Gaza so far.

“We want Australians and other citizens to be able to leave, and we’re continuing to work through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to try to achieve that,” Mr Albanese said.

Anthony Albanese Attends 2022 Australian Labor Party Federal Campaign Rally
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was one of six signatories to the letter. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images.

Mr Albanese’s comments come after the the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) issued a scathing response to the ex-prime ministers’ letter, accusing the former leaders of being “used as (a) tool in a campaign by the pro-Israel lobby”.

“The statement’s reference to ‘Australian values of love and respect’ rings hollow, given that the former prime ministers failed to acknowledge the tens of thousands of Australians expressing their horror about Israel’s behaviour and ignored the anguish that many thousands of Palestinian Australians are currently feeling,” APAN president Nasser Mashni said.

“The prime ministers have failed in their duty as states people to equally uphold international law. Their significant platform should have been used to echo calls by the United Nations for an immediate ceasefire.”

The ex-prime ministers’ statement in full. Picture Supplied
The ex-prime ministers’ statement in full. Picture Supplied

The joint statement, signed by Kevin Rudd, Scott Morrison, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and John Howard, also called upon Hamas to release hostages taken in the October 7 terror attacks.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said the letter supported the views of the federal government and that the Hamas regime needed to be dealt with in a way that minimised suffering “on all sides”.

“We've got to remember that the last thing that this country needs is a division based on the terrible scenes we’re seeing in Palestine and Israel,” Mr Shorten said on Tuesday.

“Hamas wins if this country becomes divided, so I think the statement by the ex-prime ministers should be acknowledged. I think it reflects the pretty consistent position of the Albanese government.”

Paul Keating declined to sign the letter. Picture: Nikki Short/NCA NewsWire.

Independent MP Allegra Spender praised the joint letter and declared that “our ex-PMs have got it right”.

“Our nation’s success depends on us not allowing conflict overseas to turn Australians against each other,” the Sydney MP wrote on X.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conservative conference in London on Tuesday, former Coalition leader Scott Morrison said Paul Keating had “every right to express his view”.

“This wasn’t a sort of caucus (...) Paul has every right to express his view and I will respect his reasons,” Mr Morrison told The Australian.