Australian PM heads to Israel in first visit in nearly two decades
William WEST (AFP/File)
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull left Sydney for Israel on Saturday, leaving domestic woes behind to focus on cementing ties and engaging in discussion on a range of bilateral issues facing the two nations. The trip, the first by a sitting Australian prime minister in nearly two decades, comes amid a constitutional crisis at home pertaining to dual-citizenship legislation that has led to him shortening his visit by two days.
The visit follows a historic trip to Australia by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, which marked the first time in Israel's history that a prime minister had visited the country in an official capacity.
Turnbull, the first Australian premier to visit Israel since John Howard in 2000, will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Be’er Sheva. Often heralded as the preliminary major victory for Britain during the First World War, it paved the way for the eventual takeover of British-mandated Palestine following the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. The Australian fourth Light Horse Brigade were marked as playing an indispensable role in the battle for the southern city's liberation.
The Weekend Australian reported that Turnbull is set to speak on “common strategic challenges facing both nations” alongside his Israeli counterpart. Further discussions will include greater cooperation on areas relating to cyber-security, defense and intelligence. An Israeli international defense electronic company, Elbit Systems, is the prime systems integrator for the Australian Army’s new battle management system.
- Dual-citizenship discord -
The Australian government was thrown into turmoil Friday after losing its one-seat majority with the nation's deputy prime minister kicked out of parliament over his dual citizenship.
Barnaby Joyce was among seven politicians embroiled in a crisis after falling afoul of a previously obscure constitutional rule that bars dual citizens from sitting in parliament.
The High Court ruled he was ineligible, meaning a by-election for his lower house seat of New England in New South Wales state will be held on December 2.
Turnbull will likely use the two days to launch Joyce's by-election bid.
Joyce, the leader of the rural-based National Party, is Australian-born but found out in August he automatically acquired New Zealand citizenship through his father.
He told reporters in Tamworth, New England, "I had no reason to believe that, you know, I was a citizen of any other country that Australia. That is the way it is... Now I am going to make sure that I don't cry in my beer."
The 50-year-old has since renounced his New Zealand citizenship, allowing him to run in the by-election.
Foreign minister Julie Bishop reportedly set to take on the bulk of prime ministerial tasks when Turnbull takes off for Israel with a cadre of senior ministers.
“The government, the parliament … goes on,” Turnbull said, in comments to reporters as he departed for Israel.
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