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1 April: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

01 Apr 2022
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Alliance at 70 dinner, 2022-23 Budget, further sanctions on Russia and Belarus, and more.

On 28 March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the “Alliance at 70” dinner in Canberra, marking the 70th anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS Treaty. Morrison stated that the bilateral relationship is “a partnership of values, not of contract and certainly not of contradiction … [Australia] look[s] to the United States but we will never leave it to the United States. We come to this partnership as equals.” He referred to the past eight years as Australia’s “most comprehensive expansion of our defence capability in our lifetimes”, and noted that the AUKUS partnership is “the most significant defence partnership agreement Australia has entered into since ANZUS itself.” During his speech, Morrison also announced that the Australian Government is establishing the Cyber and Critical Technology Intelligence Centre, to be led by the Office of National Intelligence, which will seek to ensure that Australia “working with our allies, can better anticipate and capitalise on emerging technologies.”

Morrison and Minister for Defence Peter Dutton delivered a joint statement on 29 March reflecting on the 2022-23 Budget’s “record investment in Australia’s national security”. The Ministers noted that the Budget will “build Defence capability and create jobs, boost Australia’s cyber resilience, support Australia’s sovereign Defence industry and improve the lives of Defence Force members, veterans and their families.” Morrison stated that “in these uncertain times, it is vital that Australia is well-positioned to tackle the challenges our country and our region face.” The Budget will push the Defence budget above 2% of GDP and includes a $9.9 billion investment over the next decade in “new national cyber and intelligence capabilities.”

On 29 March, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Minister for International Development Zed Seselja issued a joint media release on the 2022-23 Budget. The Ministers stated that the Budget “will help build a more prosperous, stable and resilient region, shape our strategic environment and advance Australia’s national interests in the face of increasing global uncertainty.” The Budget includes an additional $460 in Official Development Assistance (ODA) on top of Australia’s $4.089 baseline level of ODA, and a further $324.4 to the Pacific region under the Pacific Step-Up. The Government will further commit $65.2 million to “construct and maintain” a new High Commission chancery in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Payne announced further sanctions on an additional 22 Russian “propagandists and disinformation operatives” and the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his family members on 25 March. She referred to the steps as continuing Australia’s “focussed efforts to ensure that Russia and those who support its illegal, unprovoked invasion of its democratic neighbour, pay a high cost.” Payne reiterated the Australian Government’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and stated that Australia will “continue to impose further sanctions to inflict significant costs on those in Russia and Belarus who bear responsibility or hold levers of power”.

On 28 March, Payne issued a joint statement with her United Kingdom counterpart, Elizabeth Truss, on bilateral efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Two chartered flights carrying over 8,000 items including hygiene kits, solar lights, kitchen sets, batteries, and blankets have been sent to Poland and are being distributed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Payne noted that “as we do in the Indo-Pacific, Australia is proud to work with the United Kingdom to alleviate human suffering wherever it occurs.”

Payne noted that the first set of Australian “Magnitsky-style listings” under the Government’s “thematic sanctions” framework on 29 March will “[target] Russian individuals responsible for the corruption that Sergei Magnitsky uncovered and those complicit in his subsequent mistreatment and death.” The initial tranche consists of “targeted sanctions and travel bans against 14 Russian individuals responsible for the serious corruption that [Magnitsky] exposed and a further 25 Russian perpetrators and accomplices of [Magnitsky’s] abuse and death.”

On 25 March, Payne and Seselja delivered a joint media release, noting that Australia will extend the Solomons International Assistance Force until December 2023, in response to a request from the Solomon Islands Government. The Government will also construct a second patrol boat outpost on Solomon Islands’ eastern border. The Ministers further stated that “Australia is aware of the proposed draft Security Cooperation agreement between China and Solomon Islands. We respect the right of every Pacific country to make sovereign decisions. We have regularly and respectfully raised our concerns with the Solomon Islands Government and will continue to do so. We would be particularly concerned by any actions that undermine the stability and security of our region, including the establishment of a permanent presence such as a military base.” Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, Shadow Minister for Defence Brendan O’Connor, and Shadow Minister for International Development Pat Conroy, similarly expressed Labor’s “deep concern” about the proposed security agreement, and noted that they are seeking a briefing on the matter.

Payne noted on 26 March that the Australian Government has been notified that Australian citizen Cheng Lei will face trial in China on 31 March. She reiterated that “the Australian Government has regularly raised serious concerns about Ms Cheng’s welfare and conditions of detention” and that they expect “basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms.” Payne further noted that the Government has requested that Australian officials be permitted to attend Cheng’s hearing on 31 March, “in line with China’s obligations under the Australia-China bilateral consular arrangement.”

On 25 March, Payne condemned North Korea’s “return to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing” and noted that the latest test on 24 March had landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. She referred to the incident as “a serious escalation of North Korea’s destabilising behaviour” that “poses an unacceptable risk to our region.” Payne further stated that the ICBM testing “is in flagrant violation of [United Nations] Security Council resolutions and significantly threatens global peace and security, stability, and the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.”

Payne released Australia’s second International Engagement Strategy on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery on 25 March, which seeks to “[increase] our strategic cooperation with partners, and [strengthen] the systems in our region to detect, prevent and respond to these crimes.” She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the prevalence of modern slavery and that the Australian Government “will continue to work with partners on all fronts” to prevent modern slavery, including the ASEAN Counter Trafficking Program.

On 26 March, Payne and Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews issued a joint statement expressing the Australian Government’s concern about “global malicious cyber intrusions” targeting the global energy sector on behalf of the Russian Government between 2012 and 2018, as detailed in the recent indictments by the United States Department of Justice. The Ministers called on “all countries to refrain from behaviour which is contrary to the framework for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace” and referred to the indictments as “highlight[ing] once again Russia’s pattern of destructive, disruptive, or otherwise destabilising behaviour in cyberspace.”

Vietnam and Australia signed the first bilateral Memorandum of Understanding under the Australian Agriculture Visa Program on 28 March. In a press release, Payne noted that Vietnam’s participation in the Program “demonstrates the Morrison Government’s commitment to deepening cooperation under the Australia-Vietnam Strategic Partnership” and is a “key initiative of the Australia-Vietnam Enhanced Economic Strategy” launched in late 2021. The Australian Agriculture Visa Program “supplements” the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme and is intended “to provide a sustainable, long-term contribution to Australia’s labour supply that supports Australia’s agricultural and primary industry sectors.”

In a statement on the 2022-23 Budget, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan announced $187.1 million in funding for the Simplified Trade System reform agenda, an additional $100 million to support Export Market Development Grants, $171.7 million to implement the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement, and $19.5 million over two years to attract global business investment and “talented individuals” into Australia. Tehan further stated that the Government will provide $146.5 million to support the tourism industry, and will boost the number of Working Holiday Makers by a one-off 30% increase in 2022-23.

Tehan met with United States Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo on 30 March in Washington D.C. for the inaugural Australia-U.S. Strategic Commercial Dialogue (AUSSCD). Tehan and Raimondo noted the “deep and long-standing trade and investment relationship” and committed to “building on the strategic cooperation of both countries” in measures to support Ukraine, developing an economic framework for the Indo-Pacific, supporting sustainable investing, critical minerals and supply chain resilience, and countering economic coercion and non-market policies and practices. Tehan noted that the Dialogue “is an important new component of the Australia-US bilateral architecture and will serve as the main forum for deepening cooperation on strategic economic issues.”

Isabella Keith is a weekly columnist for Australian Outlook. She is also an undergraduate student at the Australian National University studying Law and Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Isabella’s research interests include international law and comparative constitutional law.

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