This week in Australian foreign affairs: Payne’s statement on consular support for Australian journalists in China; the announcement of several diplomatic postings; DFAT’s new Hardship Program for Australian citizens struggling to return from overseas; and more.
On 8 September, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a statement on the provision of consular support to two Australian journalists in China, Bill Birtles and Michael Smith, “to assist their return to Australia.” She stated that “[the Australian] Embassy in Beijing and Consulate-General in Shanghai engaged with Chinese Government officials to ensure [Birtles’ and Smith’s] wellbeing and return to Australia.” Payne also noted that consular support is continuing to be provided to “Australian citizens detained in China, including Ms Cheng Lei,” but that she is “unable to provide further comment [on Ms Lei’s detention] owing to privacy obligations.”
Payne also announced the appointment of several diplomatic postings on 4 September: Ms Jennifer Cartmill as the new High Commissioner to Malta; Mr Michael Cutts as the new Ambassador to Morocco; Ms Chiara Porro as the new Ambassador to The Holy See; Dr Kate O’Shaughnessy as the new High Commissioner to Mauritius; Ms Susan Allen as the first resident High Commissioner to Niue; and Ms Jane Duke as the new Consul-General in Los Angeles.
Payne noted on 2 September that the Australian government “will provide additional support to the most vulnerable Australian citizens whose return to Australia has been impacted by the restrictions arising from COVID-19.” A Hardship Program has been made available to provide loans which “are intended to cover temporary accommodation and daily living expenses” and “must be repaid upon return to Australia.”
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong characterised this announcement as “an attempt to get a headline without actually helping people … [the] 23,000 Australians stranded overseas need more than empty announcements – they need a plan to get home.” She further stated that “Labor is calling on the Morrison Government to take urgent action to stop airlines price gouging, increase quarantine capacity and put all options on the table to repatriate stranded Australians.”
Wong also issued a media release objecting to the United States’ decision to sanction International Criminal Court officials. She urged Payne to express to her United States counterpart that this decision does not maintain “norms that underpin universal human rights, gender equality, and the rule of law.” Payne has not issued a statement on the United States’ decision.
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds issued a statement on 4 September noting the farewell of “more than 85 Australian Defence Force personnel … ahead of their upcoming deployment to the Middle East Region.”
On 4 September, Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced the launch of the second round of public consultations on a possible future Geographical Indications framework “as negotiations progress with the European Union to secure an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement.”
Birmingham also released a statement on 4 September revealing the new Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce which will bring together “experts from across the Commonwealth, States and Territories” in order to encourage international businesses to Australia to support post-COVID recovery and boost local jobs.
Isabella Keith is an intern at AIIA National Office.
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