Australian Outlook

In this section

Australian Foreign Affairs: 17 December-15 January

15 Jan 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This month in Australian foreign affairs: Morrison’s comments on United States developments, new passenger caps, a cabinet reshuffle, Payne’s concern at Hong Kong arrests, and more.

In a press conference on 7 January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the storming of the United States Capitol Building that day as “rather disturbing.” He stated that “we hope for a peaceful and stable transition of government to the new administration, elected by the American people.”

On 8 January, Morrison announced that international passenger caps in New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia will be temporarily halved from 15 January “to manage the flow of returning Australians and other travellers who have potentially been exposed to the new [COVID-19] variants.” Morrison also announced further measures, including that international travellers to Australia must return a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure and masks must be worn by passengers and air crew on flights and in airports.

On 10 January, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a joint statement with her counterparts from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, noting “serious concern at the mass arrests of 55 politicians and activists in Hong Kong for subversion under the National Security Law.” This statement followed one made by Payne on 6 January, where she stated that “Australia has consistently expressed concern that the National Security Law is eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy, democratic principles and rule of law.”

In a joint statement with Attorney-General Christian Porter, Payne noted on 17 December that “the Australian Government welcomes the latest, significant developments in Israel overnight in the extradition proceedings against Malka Leifer.” Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus echoed these comments, welcoming the “imminent conclusion of the 12 year battle to bring Malka Leifer to justice in Australia.”

On 22 December, Payne announced the appointments of Poh Ling Yeow and Professor Nicholas Farrelly to the Board of the Australian-ASEAN Council, noting that the role of the Council “is to support stronger networks between people and institutions in Australia and the region.”

Payne noted on 5 January “the UK Court’s decision in relation to the application to extradite Mr Julian Assange to the United States, which the Court has made on the grounds of his mental health and consequent suicide risk.” Payne further stated that “Australia is not a party to the case and will continue to respect the ongoing legal process.”

Payne virtually met with her New Zealand counterpart, Nanaia Mahuta, on 17 December for the biannual Australia-New Zealand Foreign Minister Consultations. She stated that “the trans-Tasman relationship has never been stronger, as the alignment of our efforts to tackle the challenges of the past year have shown.”

On 23 December, Payne announced the establishment of the Sydney Dialogue, “the world’s premier summit on emerging, critical and cyber technologies.” The summit will be hosted in Sydney in 2021 by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, with the Australian government contributing $1.5 million in support.

On 11 January, Payne and Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds released a joint statement noting the progress of Australian Defence Force personnel working on Operation Fiji Assist following Tropical Cyclone Yasa. This followed the ministers jointly announcing on 23 December that the Australian government will provide $4.5 million in humanitarian relief to Fiji following the cyclone.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton issued a joint Five Country statement on 13 January calling on the European Parliament to “protect children around the world by addressing the unintended consequences of the new European Electronic Communications Code.”

Morrison announced a cabinet reshuffle on 18 December, including appointing Dan Tehan as Minister for Trade, Alex Hawke as Minister for Immigration, Zed Seselja as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and Andrew Hastie as Assistant Minister for Defence. Reynolds welcomed Morrison’s appointment of Andrew Hastie to Assistant Minister for Defence on 18 December.

New Minister for Trade Dan Tehan thanked Morrison for his appointment on 22 December, stating “Trade is a mutually beneficial relationship between nations that enhances friendships, understanding, respect and co-operation. I will engage, listen and work tirelessly to advance Australia’s trade interests.”

On 1 January, Tehan announced that Australian farmers and businesses will benefit from more tariff cuts “delivered by our network of free trade agreements.” Tehan noted that “The proportion of Australian trade covered by free trade agreements is around 70 per cent, up from around 27 per cent in 2013.”

New Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke issued a joint statement with Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud on 5 January, announcing “more flexibility” to encourage student visa holders to “support Australian farmers struggling to find workers during COVID-19.” The increased flexibility means that student visa holders will be permitted to work more than the standard 40 hours per fortnight limit if they are working in the agriculture sector.

On 23 December, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong urged the Morrison government to guarantee a $200 million deal between China and Papua New Guinea to build a “comprehensive multi-functional fishery industrial park” does not “threaten Australia’s security interests or fisheries.” Wong noted that “growing concerns [about the initiative] among security experts and Torres Strait and Far North Queensland communities have not been addressed by the Morrison Government.”

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.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.