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18 March: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

18 Mar 2022
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: legal proceedings initiated against Russia for the downing of MH17, ADF set to increase to over 100,000 by 2040, new sanctions on Russian oligarchs, Albanese’s Lowy address, and more.

On 14 March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, and Attorney-General Michaelia Cash issued a joint media statement announcing that Australia and the Netherlands initiated legal proceedings that day against Russia in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014. The statement referred to the action as “a major step forward in both countries’ fight for truth, justice and accountability for this horrific act of violence and that Australia has maintained “since May 2018 that the Russian Federation is responsible under international law for the downing of Flight MH17.” Morrison Payne and Cash further noted that “the Russian Federation’s refusal to take responsibility for the downing of Flight MH17 is unacceptable” and that “the escalation of [Russia’s] aggression [in Ukraine] underscores the need to continue our enduring efforts to hold Russia to account for its blatant violation of international law.” Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong offered Labor’s “bipartisan support” for the initiation of the proceedings, and stated that “the illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine has shown us the contempt Russia holds for international law. It must be held to account for its shameful actions.”

Morrison and his Fijian counterpart, Frank Bainimarama, announced the official opening of the redeveloped Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Camp in Nadi on 14 March. Morrison participated virtually in the opening ceremony and noted that “the collaboration between the women and men of our armed forces and our officials in redeveloping Blackrock Camp has demonstrated the character of our broader relationship, and the values of family, mutual respect and mateship that underpin it.”

On 10 March, Morrison and Minister for Defence Peter Dutton issued a statement noting that the size and capability of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will increase to over 101,000 by 2040 “to keep Australians safe in an increasingly uncertain global environment.” Morrison noted that “ADF personnel will be increased in every state and territory with a particular focus on capabilities associated with our trilateral security partnership between Australia, [the] United Kingdom and [the] United States (AUKUS), as well as air, sea, land, space and cyber … Our world is becoming increasingly uncertain so it’s important we take steps now to protect our people and our national interest over the coming decades.”

Payne announced sanctions on 33 Russian oligarchs, prominent businesspeople and their immediate family members on 14 March. She noted that the sanctions “reinforce Australia’s commitment to sanction those people who have amassed vast personal wealth and are of economic and strategic significance to Russia, including as a result of their connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin.” Payne also reiterated her support for the further restrictive measures announced by Canada, the European Union, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, and stated that Australia “will continue to coordinate closely with our partners to impose a high cost on Russia for its actions.”

On 11 March, Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke issued a media release noting that the Australian Government has granted over 3,000 visas to Ukrainians since 23 February. He further stated that all Ukrainian nationals in Australia with a visa that is due to expire by 30 June 2022 will be given an automatic six-month extension, and that the Government “continues to progress applications from Ukrainians across all visa categories as a priority.” Hawke said that he had met with Adrian Edwards, Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to receive a briefing on the UNHCR’s activities in Europe and “to reaffirm Australia’s commitment to support international efforts to assist those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.”

Hawke noted on 10 March that the Government has provided $4 million to 20 Afghan-Australian community groups and community-based organisations “to support the critical settlement and integration needs of recently arrived members of our Afghan community” as part of the first round of the Afghan-Australian Community and Settlement Support (AACASS) grant program. He stated that the AACASS grant “recognises the unique settlement needs of those most recently arrived from Afghanistan.”

On 11 March, Assistant Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie noted that Australia had delivered the first of two Guardian-class Patrol Boats to the Federated States of Micronesia through the Pacific Maritime Security Program. Hastie stated that “Australia has a longstanding commitment to supporting our Pacific partners through the Pacific Maritime Security Program, working together to address illegal fishing, transnational crime, and other maritime security challenges.”

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese addressed the Lowy Institute on 10 March. In his speech, he noted that “the security of our nation is the most solemn responsibility of any government – and the first priority of every Prime Minister.” Albanese stated that the principle of Australia’s sovereignty “has remained at the core of Labor’s approach to our foreign policy and defence policy” and that Labor “treat[s] national security as the first priority, with our national interest at its core.” He outlined the three key principles “at the heart of Labor’s national security policy”: “defending Australia’s territorial integrity”, “protecting our nation’s political sovereignty from external pressure”, and “promoting Australia’s economic prosperity and social stability, with sustainable growth, secure employment, and a unified country.” Albanese stated that a Labor Government will achieve these objectives through: “supporting a stronger Australian Defence Force”, “prioritising better and smarter cybersecurity”, “shoring-up our economic self-reliance”, “strengthening our communities and institutions”, “deepening our partnerships in the region and globally around the world” and “taking action on climate change.” He referred to the “complex strategic environment” of the present day, particularly noting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s “fail[ure] in its special responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council” through offering Russia relief from sanctions.

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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