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1 October: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

01 Oct 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Quad meeting in Washington, Payne on AUKUS, the Singapore Convention, and more.

On 24 September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with his counterparts from India, Japan and the United States for the first in-person ‘Quad’ summit. In the communique following the summit, the leaders stated that ‘[t]ogether, we recommit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.’ They reflected on their ‘considerable progress’ in tackling challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and ‘critical and emerging technologies.’ The leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to the ‘complete denucleari[s]ation’ of North Korea, an end to violence in Myanmar, and further implementation of the ASEAN Five Point Consensus.

Morrison virtually addressed the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, where he reflected on the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged the need to ‘prevent future pandemics’ and noted that Australia ‘supports the calls for a stronger, more independent World Health Organization, with enhanced surveillance and pandemic response powers.’ Morrison also noted that ‘Australia called for an independent review [into the origins of COVID-19], and sees understanding the cause of this pandemic, not as a political issue, but as being essential, simply, to prevent the next one.’ He reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to an international rules-based order and to ‘[playing] our part in meeting the global challenge of climate change.’

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne published an opinion piece on 27 September in response to widespread media commentary on the new AUKUS strategic alliance. She argued that AUKUS must be viewed in the context of the various other ways that Australia engages with ‘our region and the world’, including the Quad, ASEAN, and the Pacific Islands Forum. She noted that ‘China as a major power is asserting itself and pressuring the system of rules that enjoys broad international support and provides broad international benefit … The rising intensity of this competition need not provoke us into despair or paralysis: it means that there are new risks and opportunities and that passive spectatorship is not an option.’

Payne issued a joint media release with Attorney-General Michaelia Cash which announced that Australia has signed the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (‘the Singapore Convention’). The Convention ‘establishes a uniform framework for the enforcement of international commercial agreements resulting from mediation.’ Payne noted that ‘[s]igning the Convention demonstrates Australia’s support for enhanced simplicity, certainty and autonomy for parties in commercial disputes.’

On 30 September, Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja revealed that the number of Pacific and Timorese workers ‘ready to take up jobs’ in regional Australia has doubled from 27,000 to 55,000 in recent weeks. This follows ‘major recruitment drives in several Pacific countries and Timor-Leste.’ The Ministers noted that ‘with many Pacific nations recording no community transmission of COVID-19, Pacific labour mobility remains the most significant source of temporary migrant labour for the upcoming harvest season.’

Payne noted on 29 September that Australia will stand for re-election to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Council at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest, Romania. She said that the re-election campaign ‘will focus on our efforts to build global connectivity, particularly in the Pacific and other developing states, by sharing Australia’s domestic experience in improving connectivity in remote locations. Australia’s campaign will also reflect our strong commitment to promoting liberal-democratic values in key international standard-setting organisations like the ITU.’

On 24 September, Payne issued a media release which noted that Australia stands in solidarity with the European Union’s statement denouncing malicious cyber activity against its member states. She stated that ‘Australia is committed to cooperating with our international partners, including the EU, to deter and respond to malicious cyber activities, in accordance with existing international law and norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. The rule of law applies online, just as it does offline.’

Minister for Trade Dan Tehan noted on 28 September that he will shortly travel overseas to ‘boost trade and investment opportunities and represent Australia at multilateral engagements.’ He will visit Indonesia, India, the United Arab Emirates, France, Italy, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. Tehan will attend the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting, the G20 Trade Ministers’ Meeting, a WTO mini-ministerial meeting, the AIBX 2021 Business Leaders Forum, and meetings with his ministerial and trade counterparts. He will also meet with various businesses and tourism industry representatives.

On 29 September, Tehan announced the launch of the Blueprint for Trade and Investment with Indonesia. He noted that the Blueprint ‘will help Australian companies grow their commercial links and develop new opportunities within the Indonesian market following the commencement of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in 2020.’ Tehan further stated that ‘as strategic partners and the two largest economies in Southeast Asia, the Indonesia- Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and supporting Blueprint complements and supports our shared interest in fostering a secure and prosperous region.’

Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews issued a joint media release with Nauruan President Lionel Rouwen Aingimea announcing the signing of a memorandum of understanding ‘to establish an enduring regional processing capability in Nauru.’ The Ministers noted that the memorandum ‘demonstrates both countries’ continued commitment to countering maritime people smuggling.’ Andrews stated that ‘this is a significant step for both our countries and I thank President Aingimea for his ongoing commitment to regional leadership in stamping out the threat of maritime people smuggling.’

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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