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11 December: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

11 Dec 2020
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: the new Foreign Relations Act, Payne’s speech at DFAT, the Malaysia-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the Richardson Review, and more.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a media release on 8 December about the passage of the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020  by the Australian Parliament that day. Payne stated that this legislation will “ensure that arrangements entered by States and Territories, local governments and Australian public universities with foreign governments are consistent with Australia’s foreign policy.” The Act will mean that the minister for foreign affairs will have the power to prevent prospective foreign arrangements from proceeding, or to cancel existing arrangements, “where that arrangement is not consistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adversely affects Australia’s foreign relations.”

Payne delivered a speech at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 4 December on “building a cohesive Indo-Pacific”. Payne stated that “Australia will be true to our values and respectful of the fundamental rules and norms that have stood the test of time. The order based on these rules and norms has served all countries in the region well. These are not necessarily static, but their reform should be pursued through negotiation, not through the exercise of power.”

Payne virtually attended the 3rd Malaysia-Australia Annual Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 4 December with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, the Honourable Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. The ministers discussed post-COVID-19 recovery, collaboration in defence and security, and consolidating regional links. Moreover, “in line with the commitment in 2019 to work towards elevating the Strategic Partnership, [the ministers] agreed to recommend a Plan of Action to the Leaders of both countries for their consideration.”

On 9 December, Payne acknowledged the one-year anniversary of the Whakaari/White Island Volcano Disaster in New Zealand and stated that she was “immensely proud of the interoperability that [she] saw between the New Zealand and Australian responders [following the eruption].”

Attorney-General Christian Porter responded to the release of the Comprehensive Review into Intelligence Legislation (Richardson Review) on 4 December. Richardson found that “the key principles underpinning Australia’s intelligence and security legislation are sound and enduring.” Porter stated that “The Review shows not only do our agencies work tirelessly to keep Australia safe, they are just as focused on making sure they do so within the limits of the law.” The government has agreed in full, part or principle to 186 of the 190 unclassified recommendations, with Porter saying that the government’s response “lays out a pathway for the evolution, rather than revolution” of intelligence and security agencies.

On 9 December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison virtually attended a Leaders’ Meeting with Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands. The leaders committed to establishing a General Security Agreement between their countries, which will “enable greater collaboration … and reflects the commitment of both countries to work in partnership to uphold international law and address common strategic security challenges.” They also expressed their “disappointment in the Russian Federation’s decision to withdraw from the trilateral meetings with Australia and the Netherlands regarding the Russian Federation’s role in the downing of Flight MH17 … [and] agreed to continue to urge the Russian Federation to reconsider its decision.”

In a press conference on 3 December, when asked about the Australia-China relationship, Morrison stated that, “We’ve been very consistent. We’ve sought to be very respectful. We will continue to do that and we will seek opportunities for constructive engagement.”

Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced that the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement came into force on 9 December, saying the Agreement “[sets] a new global benchmark for digital trade rules and [provides] more digital trade opportunities for businesses and consumers in both countries.”

On 4 December, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds noted that The Royal Australian Navy and the Indonesian Armed Forces completed a “coordinated maritime patrol to improve security along our shared maritime border,” in the tenth iteration of the Australian and Indonesian coordinated maritime security patrol, known as AUSINDO CORPAT.

Minister for International Development Alex Hawke released a statement alongside Payne to acknowledge the arrival of Tongan workers to support Queensland’s horticultural producers. Hawke described their arrival as “another significant step towards restarting Australia’s highly valued Pacific labour mobility programs and supporting our Pacific family.”

Isabella Keith is an undergraduate student at the Australian National University studying Law and Politics, Philosophy and Economics. She is currently an intern at the AIIA National Office.

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