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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed reports leaked to the media last week that Australia is close to signing a memorandum of understanding with Iran. Under this proposed arrangement, Australia appears likely to break precedent and trade the toning down of our travel advisory (which warns Australians not to visit Iran), and grant Iran permission to build consulates in Sydney and Melbourne.

Michael Danby
25 June 2015

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed reports leaked to the media last week that Australia is close to signing a memorandum of understanding with Iran. Under this proposed arrangement, Australia appears likely to break precedent and trade the toning down of our travel advisory (which warns Australians not to visit Iran), and grant Iran permission to build consulates in Sydney and Melbourne. The idea of allowing Iran to open up consulates in Melbourne and Sydney is a dangerous proposal and could exacerbate inter-Islamic community tensions, just as happened with the opening of Libyan and Syrian consulates in Australia under the Liberals in the 1980s (Tony Street) and ’90s (Mark Vaile). These had to be closed down later for security reasons. Australia would also offer Iran scholarships for Iranian students and an increase in work and holiday visas for Iranians. In exchange for these concessions to Iran, Tehran would assist providing for the return of failed Iranian asylum seekers to that country.


Syrian Ambassador Tammam Sulaiman and ex-Minister Mark Vaile

This comes after the foreign minister visited Iran, signed an ‘intelligence sharing’ arrangement with it, and then advocated the West coordinate with the Iranians in Western Iraq (a call repudiated by other Western leaders). The intervention of Iranian-led Shi’ite militias in the largely Sunni lands of Western Iraq is one of the most counter-productive responses to the spread of the Sunni Da’esh (IS). At the Paris meeting of allies fighting Da’esh, no one agreed to widen the talks to include Iran.

Given Bishop’s previous strident criticism of Iran, and that Iran hasn’t changed its behaviour or actions, Bishop’s U-turn is puzzling. Iran continues to illegally pursue nuclear weapons technology. Under the 2013 interim agreement, Iran was required to convert its enriched uranium to the more benign uranium oxide, but has only converted five per cent of its stock. Worse, since the interim agreement, Iran has produced a further four tons of enriched uranium. While the success of any nuclear agreement with Iran requires a thorough inspection regime, Iran has made clear there will be no inspections it doesn’t like. The Supreme Leader said “We will not allow the privacy of our nuclear scientists or any other important issue to be violated.” Lesser officials have mimicked this theme. Only two weeks ago, the official Iranian Fars News Agency quoted Iranian Deputy Chief of Staff Brigadier General Massoud Jazzayeri declaring, “We reiterate that the permission will definitely never be issued for any kind of access [for inspectors] to the military centres”

Iranian support for terrorism and its statements about Israel continue unabated. As the definitive State Department report said last weekend, Iran still supports Hezbollah, which the Australian Parliament (along with the US, Canada, the UN and others) consider an international terrorist organisation. The Deputy Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said in January, “Hezbollah showed that … nowhere in Israel is safe now and the Israelis should wait for their death every day,” and that “Hezbollah and us are one single hand and are united and anything that they do is as if we [Iran] did it.”

In recent months, Major General Qassim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, has been directing Shi’ite militias fighting Da’esh in the largely Sunni western Iraq. Soleimani has form, having forced Iraqi leaders to accept the reinstatement of Shi’ite Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki after his failure in the 2010 elections and despite al-Maliki reneging on his agreement to support the Sunni Awakening in Western Iraq. It was al-Maliki’s decision to de-fund the Awakening that brought about the collapse of order in western Iraq and the successful advances of Da’esh there in recent months.

Now, increasing reports show Iran backing the Taliban in Afghanistan with cash and arms to undermine the government of Afghanistan and remaining Western troops, including Australians. Just as it did in Iraq, Iran is working to undermine what the West has achieved. Why is Australia partnering with a country so openly intent on undermining Australian and allied interests?

How has the Abbott Government been able to get away with this turn to Iran with so little scrutiny? Foreign Minister Bishop owes Parliament an explanation of what she means by ‘intelligence sharing’. Does the Government still support military coordination with Iran after her repudiation at the allied anti-Da’esh conference in Paris? Seriously, Australia can’t be giving the bombing coordinates of the Australian air force to General Soleimani and Hezbollah. Consulates should not be opened here, nor travel advisories changed given Iran’s involvement with terrorism and Parliament’s unchanged classification of Iran’s terrorist proxies.

Michael Danby is a federal Labor MP