“Legend in his own lunchtime” Pyne in cabinet stoush over embassy move

UPDATED | Senior federal government ministers have traded barbs in an ugly slanging match over whether to shift Australia’s embassy in Israel, after Defence Minister Christopher Pyne chided his cabinet colleagues for publicly debating the delicate foreign policy.

Nov 19, 2018, updated Nov 19, 2018
Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham (with Steven Marshall, left) have weighed in on the diplomatic standoff with Indonesia. Photo: Russell Millard / AAP

Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham (with Steven Marshall, left) have weighed in on the diplomatic standoff with Indonesia. Photo: Russell Millard / AAP

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has argued relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be the right decision, while Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo said it would be a mistake.

Asked whether it was appropriate to express their strong views in public, Pyne told ABC radio this morning:”Well, you’ll have to ask the people who are making those comments.”

But Frydenberg was quick to return fire, telling 2GB radio: “Chris has been giving his opinion freely on this matter for quite a while so I don’t know what got into his Wheaties this morning.”

“Chris is his own person, as we know,” the deputy Liberal leader added.

“He’s quite unique. And we’ll leave him to be a legend in his own lunchtime.”

Pyne said the key issue was whether the Israeli embassy should be located in the capital of West Jerusalem.

“If the shoe was on the other foot, it would be like Israel saying that they intend to put their embassy in Sydney, and pretend that Canberra isn’t our capital,” he said.

“Now, we would think that was unusual.”

Indonesia has made it clear the relocation would risk a lucrative trade deal, while Malaysia has warned moving the embassy could fuel terrorism.

Pyne pointed out neither country has diplomatic relations with Israel.

“While their views are of interest to us – of course they are – they don’t decide our foreign policy,” he said.

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Australia is investigating whether relocating the embassy could help deliver a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

“It’s not really up to other countries to determine our foreign policy,” Pyne said.

“We’ll make the decision about where our embassy is in Israel, and no other country will determine that on our behalf.”

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says the stalled Australia-Indonesia trade deal will be signed in coming months, blaming translation issues for the hold up.

But senior Indonesian ministers have publicly said the pact is on hold until Australia clarifies whether it will shift its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, with the potential move angering the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Birmingham maintains the matters are not related and said issues with the Indonesian version of the deal have been part of the delay.

After meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated a review of the embassy site will be done before Christmas.

He announced the potential shift last month, in the week before the by-election in Wentworth, where more than 12 per cent of voters are Jewish.


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