Friday, March 18, 2016

Spotlight on the 'Australia Israel Labor Dialogue' 1

Before you read the following expose by The Australian's John Lyons - Labor Friend of Israel a lobbyist for weapons firm (16/3/16) - keep in mind that Israel's arms manufacturing Elbit Systems 'won' a $349m contract with the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) to develop a command, control and communications system for the Australian army in 2010 (See my 17/3/10 post Passports: Finally, Some Action) and is linked to Israel's illegal (ICJ 2004 ruling) West Bank apartheid wall* (See my 26/10/11 post Sucked in at Sydney University):

"A key figure behind a Labor Party friends-of-Israel group is also a lobbyist for the Australian subsidiary of one of Israel's largest arms manufacturers. Mary Easson has also played an active role in the emotive debate within the Labor Party over its policy towards Israel. Ms Easson is one of five members of the NSW branch of the Australia Israel Labor Dialogue. At the same time, she is a lobbyist for Elbit, according to her latest listing on the federal registrar.

"The fact that Ms Easson's company, Probity International Pty Ltd, is lobbying for Elbit is almost certain to lead to anger within the ALP from those who have taken trips organised by the AILD. Ms Easson has been locked in a brutal fight inside the Labor Party with former minister Bob Carr over policy towards Israel. Ms Easson wants the ALP to retain its bipartisan support for Israel while Mr Carr wants a deadline for Israel to cease its expansion of settlements in the West Bank and to return to negotiations with the Palestinians.

"Elbit is one of Israel's largest manufacturers of bombs, mortars, cyber warfare systems and drones and much of its ordnance was used in the 2014 war with Gaza. On its website, Elbit says one of its products - the Soltam Spear - has 'unprecedented lethality.' The patron of the NSW branch of the AILD, former Queensland premier Peter Beattie, said he was unaware of Ms Easson's connection to Elbit. 'I am very comfortable saying if there is any contribution made in NSW and that is made available for trips to Israel, that information should be publicly available.' Since it was formed in 2010, the AILD has sent 33 union and Labor Party officials to Israel. Ms Easson told The Australian most of those had been sent by the Victorian branch and she did not know of any being sent by the NSW branch.

"NSW convener Greg Holland said he took a group of unionists in 2014, which included now NSW ALP secretary Kaila Murnain and the Labor candidate for the federal seat of Perth, Tim Hammond. Yesterday, Ms Murnain would not answer any questions related to her trip and Mr Hammond said he was conscious  these trips were 'highly sensitive' and would make no comment.

"When asked whether her role as a lobbyist for Elbit presented a conflict of interest when being part of a Labor Party group, Ms Easson at first said she worked for Elbit Australia, not the parent company. Later she said: 'I am employed by Intech Strategies and Intech Strategies is employed by Elbit Australia.' Ms Easson said she did not know who funded the trips for unionists. 'I'm not being coy, I really don't know the answer,' she said. 'How they get their funds I don't know - I guess I should have asked.'

"She said she joined the NSW branch of the AILD twelve months ago when it formed and it had not raised any funds or sent anybody on overseas trips. No one associated with the AILD contacted by The Australian was prepared or able to say who funded the trips. She said Elbit Systems of Australia managing directer Dan Webster had yesterday assured her no donation had been made from Elbit to the AILD. In October last year, three key NSW Labor officials went on an AILD trip - the secretary of the NSW branch of the Rail Tram and Bus Union, Alex Claasens, the secretary of the NSW Police Association, Peter Remfrey, and the Transport Workers Union's Polo Guilbert-Wright. Mr Claasens said he was approached by the Victorian branch and did not know of the Elbit connection when he went. 'The question for the people who run the organisation and the individual concerned is should it be put out there for people to see? Mr Claasens said.

"One of the key figures in the AILD, ACTU assistant secretary, Michael Borowick, would not give any specifics about who funded the AILD trips. 'Many individuals pay for their participation in the trips. AILD does respond favourably to individuals who make requests for a subsidy where it is available to do so,' he said. When asked who funded the AILD he said: 'AILD employs a variety of funding methods to support its activities.'

"Ms Easson has written in support of the current ALP policy - she was not a delegate but wrote a live blog from the NSW Labor conference in February. When the conference rejected motions she opposed, she wrote that 'the moment the fanatical anti-Israel forces were stopped and stood up to by sensible people in NSW Labor.' Several motions called for the banning of products made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and mandating that all Labor MPs who visited Israel on paid trips should spend equal time on the Palestinian side. The conference accepted a motion that 'encouraged' party members to spend 'substantial time in both Israel and Palestine.'

"Mr Holland did not think the AILD should have to reveal who funded trips. Asked if unionists who had been on these trips should have been told of Ms Easson's connection to Elbit, he said: 'That's up to Mary to do.' Asked about the possible conflict between the AILD, whose stated aim was a peaceful solution, and an arms manufacturer, Mr Holland said: 'I'm not sure what they (Elbit) do and how they do it. They might have peaceful solutions to conflicts.' He had the utmost confidence in Ms Easson and her probity.

"Federal Labor MP Melissa Parke - who has not taken one of the trips - said: 'Given the significant numbers of ALP members who are apparently being taken on these trips to Israel, it is a concern to know who is providing the funds, particularly where there is a person associated with an Israeli weapons manufacturer on the AILD committee. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a matter of ongoing and sometimes heated debate within the ALP. The best antidote to distrust and suspicion is full disclosure and full transparency'."

[* This puts Mary Easson's 2007 comment on the wall in a whole new light: "A wall in principle sounds like a terrible thing, but you go and see it and you think, 'Oh well, yeah, I can see why you would need that." See my 19/6/12 post A Family Affair.]

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