Syrian officals ordered to leave, a Cabinet committee for foreign worker agreements and possible change to online betting laws, Tim Lester reports.
Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr says he is open to discussions about military intervention in Syria but said it would need to be discussed “very thoroughly” and that there were significant logistical and political hurdles before intervening in the war torn country.
Senator Carr said that the Syrian regime had considerable ground-to-air missile defences, which would make it very hard to enforce a no-fly zone.
“They have an army hugely more powerful than that of Libya,” Senator Carr told reporters in Canberra this morning.
The Foreign Minister said that the lack of unity in the Syrian opposition was also a “major consideration” before launching any military action. “We’ll talk about it but you would need unanimity in the [UN] Security Council for that took take place,” he said.
Yesterday, Australia took its part in an international diplomatic offensive against Syria to protest against the regime’s brutal crackdown on civilians, delivering a 72-hour ultimatum for the country’s top envoy to leave Canberra.
The rare move to cut official ties follows the worst violence in the year-long conflict, after more than 100 civilians - including women and children - were massacred when government troops shelled the city of Houla.
Senator Carr said today that Australia wanted to see a ceasefire in Syria and political dialogue between the warring parties "rather than slaughter".
But when asked if he thought there was a moral inconsistency between the strong international responses to Libya – which saw NATO intervene last year - and the current approach to Syria, Senator Carr said: “I’m not saying there aren’t contradictions.”
The Syrian embassy in Canberra was empty last night with a police guard outside after the expulsion order was delivered late in the afternoon.
Some staff will be allowed to remain in Australia and Senator Carr said that Australia was not considering shutting down the embassy altogether.
“I don’t think that would convey a message stronger than the one we have already conveyed,” he said, adding there may be an advantage to keeping it open.
Senator Carr, spoke to his British counterpart, William Hague, last night to confirm Australia had ordered the Syrian chargé´ d’affaires, Jawdat Ali, to leave.
France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and Canada all said Syrian diplomats were being told to leave last night. The US was expected to expel its ambassador.
’’Australians have seen the bodies in Houla and they’re appalled,’’ Senator Carr said.
’’Appalled that a regime could connive in or organise the execution, the killing, of men, women and children.’’
The decision to expel Syria’s two diplomats in Canberra is the strongest measure Australia can take, with no embassy in Damascus to withdraw Australia’s representative in return. But the move also amounts to a concession international action against the regime in the United Nations has ground to a standstill, with Russia’s veto in the Security Council a block to stronger measures.
The UN special envoy, Kofi Annan, met the Syrian ruler, Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus yesterday to revive a peace plan.
Mr Annan called on ’’every individual with a gun’’ to lay down arms to stop the killing.
The deaths of 116 people on Friday shattered a month-long ceasefire that had barely held.
But Russia has made it clear it will not support any foreign military intervention in the conflict.
Western countries have instead moved to further isolate the regime. ’’This is the most effective way we’ve got of sending a message of revulsion at what has happened in Syria,’’ Senator Carr said.
’’The message [is] the Syrian government should implement the ceasefire that has been called for by Kofi Annan and the Security Council, and beyond that give effect to a political settlement.’’
The opposition backed the move, with its foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, saying ’’it is clear that the Assad regime has abandoned any pretence at honouring its commitments to a halt in military action’’.
The Syrian embassy in Canberra was stormed in February by about 30 men who forced their way in while staff huddled in a back room.
The uprising in Syria has followed a similar wave of protests against despots across the Middle East that led to dictators being toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, along with ongoing protests in Bahrain.
The former foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd had taken a strong stance against brutality by the Syrian regime, calling last April for Mr Assad to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses.
Mr Rudd had extended the protest last August by refusing to accept the nomination of a new Syrian ambassador to Australia.
Yesterday’s expulsion of a top envoy was the first since the ambassador from Iraq was ejected in 2003 during the Iraq war.
Senator Carr had summoned Mr Ali for a dressing down yesterday over the massacre but had been in talks with Britain since the weekend over expelling the diplomats.
The United States also remains opposed to military action.
Yesterday Pentagon spokesman George Little said: "The focus remains on the diplomatic and economic track."
Contacted this morning, Mr Ali declined to speak to National Times. ‘‘I am sorry I can't see you, I am very busy,’’ he said.