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18 December: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

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

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Australia taking China to the WTO; Morrison confident on Australia reaching emissions target; Moraitis appointed to Office of the Special Investigator; and more.

On 16 December, Minister for Trade and Finance Simon Birmingham stated that the Australian government will engage in formal World Trade Organization (WTO) consultations with China “to defend the interests of [Australia’s] barley producers and exporters … over China’s imposition of anti-dumping and countervailing duties.” Birmingham stated that “Australia’s decision to take this step is consistent with our previous use of WTO processes. We have continued to raise our concerns with China on numerous occasions both bilaterally and through the relevant WTO Committees.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the Pacific Islands Forum on 11 December, announcing that Australia is “very confident that we will now achieve our 2030 [emissions] target without the need to draw on our carry over credits that Australians earned from overachieving on our Kyoto-era commitments.”

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton announced on 16 December the appointment of Chris Moraitis, current secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, as director-general of the Office of the Special Investigator and Mark Weinberg AO QC as special investigator to examine the findings of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry Report. Dutton stated that “the task for these eminent appointees will be challenging and as the Prime Minister has noted, difficult for Australia.” Shadow Minister for Defence Richard Marles and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally welcomed the appointments, calling them “a significant step forward in the assessment of the serious allegations in the Brereton report.”

Birmingham issued a statement on 16 December noting that Tasmanian produce, including fruit and seafood, had been “loaded onto the first regular international flight out of Hobart for more than 20 years, bound for holiday feast tables across Asia.” Birmingham said that “this is an historic day for Hobart and a great day for Tasmanian agriculture and seafood exporters who have done it extremely tough this year.”

On 14 December, Birmingham announced appointments to the Export Finance Australia (EFA) Board. Chair James M Millar AM has been appointed for a further three-year term, whilst Chair of Carbon Revolution Ltd James Douglas and CBH Group Chief Executive officer Jimmy Wilson have both been appointed to the EFA Board for three-year terms.

Birmingham noted on 11 December that reforms to the Export Market Development Grants scheme passed through Parliament, stating that “the reforms that passed Parliament following an independent review into the administration of the EMDG scheme centre on cutting red tape, increasing awareness of the scheme and giving exporters more funding certainty.” The new scheme will commence on 1 July 2021.

On 10 December, Birmingham revealed the launch of a new Tourism Australia campaign “to urge young Kiwis to take a working holiday this summer” and to “enjoy opportunities in our agricultural, tourism and hospitality sectors, particularly those in regional areas, which offer real job opportunities as a result of COVID-19.”

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds issued a statement on 10 December reflecting on the virtual ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus). Reynolds noted that “The ADMM-Plus has strengthened practical cooperation and dialogue over the past decade and helped to shape responses to shared security challenges … It will become even more important as we confront the emerging challenges outlined in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update.”

Birmingham and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a media release on 13 December, recognising that the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus) had come into force. Birmingham stated that, “This trade deal ensures greater market access and lower tariffs across a range of products that will benefit communities, farmers, fishers, businesses and investors in our region.” Australia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and New Zealand are Parties to the Agreement. The remaining signatories that are yet to ratify are Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Payne virtually attended the Australia-Indonesia-Timor-Leste Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 15 December with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, Retno L.P. Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women of the Commonwealth of Australia and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Adaljiza Magno. The Ministers discussed strengthening trilateral cooperation, the impact of COVID-19 on the region, the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and their commitment to promoting gender equality.

On 16 December, Payne reflected on the third meeting of Pacific women leaders she co-convened that day “to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls in our region.” Payne referred to the three meetings as “a highlight of this year for me” and reinforced the leaders’ “shared commitment to women’s resilience and leadership at all levels across the region.”

Payne announced several diplomatic appointments on 16 December: Mark Foxe as Australia’s next Consul-General in Lae, Papua New Guinea; Paula Ganly as Australia’s next Ambassador to Iraq; Catherine Raper as Australia’s next Ambassador to the Republic of Korea; and Paul Kelly as Australia’s next Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

On 16 December, Payne noted the launch of the Australia-India Water Security Initiative at the World Water Summit in New Delhi. The Australian Government announced its contribution of $10 million “to support cooperation between Australia and India on urban water security.”

Payne acknowledged International Human Rights Day and the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December. She stated that “Australia will continue to defend longstanding human rights principles and norms, protect hard won gains and raise serious concerns about human rights situations around the world.”

Payne and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg issued a joint statement on 14 December welcoming the appointment of Bruce Gosper to the position of Vice-President, Administration and Corporate Management at the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The Ministers acknowledged the ADB as “one of Australia’s key development partners and a major source of development finance in our region.”

Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge noted that the Government passed legislation on 10 December “to give more migrants access to more free English language classes, so they can have the best chance to succeed in Australia.” Tudge referred to the Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020 as “one of the most significant reforms to the Adult Migrant English Program in the program’s history.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement on 10 December acknowledging the commencement of Australia’s new Foreign Arrangements Scheme, following entry into force of the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020.

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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