PM Scott Morrison. Picture: Kym Smith
PM Scott Morrison. Picture: Kym Smith

Shock as PM backs moving Aus embassy to Jerusalem

SCOTT Morrison's surprise announcement that he's open to moving Australia's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has been slammed as "desperate attempt" to win votes at the crucial Wentworth by-election to hold onto government.

Labor has shot down the Prime Minister's indication today that he could be open to move, which caused violent protests in the Middle East and more than 50 deaths on the Gaza Strip after US President Donald Trump made a similar move earlier this year.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already welcomed the dramatic potential shift in Australia's foreign policy, writing on social media that he had already spoken to Prime Minister Morrison about it today.

But Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong blasted the move as a "desperate" bid to change longstanding and bipartisan foreign policy to win votes in the Wentworth by-election on Saturday, where 12.5 per cent of voters are Jewish.

Scott Morrison has been accused of being desperate to win votes in Wentworth. Picture: Kym Smith
Scott Morrison has been accused of being desperate to win votes in Wentworth. Picture: Kym Smith

"Foreign policy, and Australia's national interest are far too important to be played with in this fashion," she said today.

"Instead of playing dangerous and deceitful word games with Australian foreign policy in a desperate attempt to win votes Scott Morrison should try governing in a way that reflects the values of the people of Wentworth by committing to serious action on climate change, and legislating to protect teachers and students from discrimination.

"The people of Wentworth, and all Australians, deserve a leader who puts the national interest ahead of his self-interest, and governs in the best long term interest of the nation, not one prepared to play games with long standing foreign policy positions five days out from a by-election."

Senator Wong added: "Both the Government and the Opposition have supported the approach of most other nations of maintaining our embassy in Tel Aviv on the grounds that Jerusalem's status must be determined as part of an overall two state solution that recognises the State of Israel behind secure borders."

She highlighted that Prime Minister Morrison had previously rejected calls to shift the embassy.

Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the nation's top diplomat DFAT Secretary Frances Adamson, and former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have also been opposed to the move.

Ms Adamson declared earlier this year that moving the embassy would be "unhelpful" to the peace process between Israel and Palestine.

Senator Wong also said both Labor and the government, like the United Kingdom, France, Germany and most of the international community also supported the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as being the best option for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Morrison has credited Wentworth Liberal candidate Dave Sharma, the former Australian Ambassador to Israel, with suggesting the move.

Mr Morrison told The Daily Telegraph Mr Sharma had convinced him that Australia's Israeli embassy could be moved to West Jerusalem without prejudicing support for a two-state solution.

"I am open to further pursuing (moving the embassy) and doing that together with Cabinet colleagues," Mr Morrison said. "I am saying I'm open to considering it.

"Dave was the first one to put something to me which showed that we could achieve this".

During an interview on ABC radio, Mr Sharma rejected suggestions the Prime Minister's announcement was a bid to win votes in Wentworth.

He pointed out he first made comments around moving the Israeli embassy in May and said the way the US moved its embassy was not consultative.

Mr Sharma said he would have preferred the US stick with the Iran deal but it made sense for Australia to review its position in light of the withdrawal. Labor and the coalition - along with the United Kingdom, France, Germany - have until now backed the Iran nuclear weapons deal.

The Liberal Party must retain Wentworth to hold onto the Coalition's one-seat majority in the lower house.

The seat was made vacant when Malcolm Turnbull quit politics after Liberal MPs voted to change leader in a spill in August.


- with AAP