This week in Australian foreign affairs: a Cabinet reshuffle, new Australian-funded Solomon Islands Border Outpost, Payne on Australia’s approach to working with partners to address challenges to global and regional security, funding to the World Food Programme, and more.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on 27 June proposed changes to the Ministry to be recommended to the Governor-General. In the foreign affairs space, among other changes, Member for Calare Andrew Gee will join the Cabinet and will replace Darren Chester as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel.
On 23 June, Morrison noted that Australia and Solomon Islands have held a “ground-breaking ceremony” in the Shortland Islands for the Western Border and Patrol Boat Outpost. Morrison referred to the ceremony as marking “the next phase of the Australia and Solomon Islands infrastructure and security partnership.” He further noted that, “Australia is proud to be working closely with Solomon Islands to promote economic development and stability in the region, and strengthen and protect its Western Border … The project will boost Solomon Islands’ capacity to respond to natural disasters, deliver health programs in the Western Border area and provide a foundation for economic growth in the region.” Prime Minister of Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogavare described the two nations as being “joined by the waves of peace, cooperation, prosperity and mutual respect.”
In response to a Parliamentary question asked on 15 June by Senator James Paterson, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne outlined Australia’s approach to working with partners to address current regional and global challenges to security and stability. Payne stated that “we know that Australia’s future prosperity and security depends on a Pacific region that is stable, open and free but supported by cooperation between sovereign nations. We are working with allies and partners to maintain and expand a resilient region in which sovereign states make decisions which are free from coercion, interference or aggression.” She stated that Australia’s approach to achieving this goal is through working closely with “all countries that share this vision”, such as through “reinforcing traditional alliances” with the United States and the United Kingdom, through regional groups such as ASEAN, the Pacific Islands Forum, and the Quad, and “innovative partnerships” such as the Australia-France-India and Australia-Indonesia-Timor-Leste trilateral partnerships.
On 27 June, Payne announced that the Australian Government is providing a further $34.7 million to support the World Food Programme (WFP)’s work to address the risk of food insecurity. The funding will specifically support those in Myanmar, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. Payne further noted that “with Australia’s assistance, WFP will continue to monitor food security across the Pacific, given the region’s vulnerability to price shocks and the economic impacts of COVID-19.”
Payne and Minister for International Development Zed Seselja issued a statement on 26 June about the political situation in Samoa. The Ministers noted that the Australian Government “acknowledges the declaratory statement by the Samoan Court of Appeal that its ruling of 2 June 2021 does not prevent the convening of Parliament.” Payne and Seselja urged all parties to cooperate, “with a view to convening the parliament and enabling the formation of a government.” They also noted that this year Australia and Samoa mark 50 years of diplomatic relations.
On 26 June, Payne and Seselja announced that Australia and Fiji are teaming up for a new sports partnership through the PacificAus Sports program “that will capture the heart and spirit of Vuvale between our two countries.” The partnership will support men and women’s rugby teams to enter Australia’s Super W competition and the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition. Payne stated that, “while the health security of our near neighbours remains a critical priority, sport will help facilitate the region’s cultural and economic recovery and help our countries stay connected.”
Payne announced several diplomatic postings on 25 June: Dr Helen Cheney is Australia’s next High Commissioner to Nauru; Andrea Gleason is Australia’s next Consul-General in Honolulu; Mark Donovan is Australia’s next Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and will also be accredited to Bahrain, Oman and Yemen; and Dr Justin Lee is Australia’s next High Commissioner to Malaysia. Payne also issued a statement announcing the appointment of Helen Stylianou as Australia’s next Ambassador for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and announced that she has extended the appointment of Professor Andrew Campbell as Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research until 31 July 2023.
On 30 June, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan and Seselja noted that trade ministers from the Pacific virtually met that day for the first time since the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus) entered into force on 13 December 2020. Australia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and New Zealand are Parties to the Agreement, while the remaining signatories that are yet to ratify are Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Tehan said the PACER Plus was an important part of Australia’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific, and Seselja noted that the meeting discussed the delivery of the $25 million development and work program, co-funded by Australia.
Tehan announced on 24 June that the Morrison Government will introduce legislation to enable Export Finance Australia (EFA) to provide equity finance in certain circumstances “to finance transactions that serve Australia’s national interests and priorities.” Tehan noted that equity power would “enable EFA to better support overseas infrastructure development and export-linked Australian businesses in sectors of economic significance.” Moreover, the reforms will align Australia with other countries such as the United States, China, Japan, Canada, and South Korea, “which are already making equity investments in our region to support their development and commercial objectives.”
On 30 June, Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews noted that Australia’s participation in Operation Redback XV, a week-long Malaysia Coast Guard led exercise to strengthen maritime security in our near region, concluded the previous day. Andrews stated that “while Australia’s strong border protection measures [have] suppressed Australia’s maritime people smuggle threat, the Government remains vigilant and focused on protecting our borders.” The fifteenth iteration of Operation Redback focused on the Malaysia Coast Guard and the Australian Border Force’s ability to undertake “strategic communication as a deterrent to maritime people smuggling adventures.” Andrew stated that “Redback XV marks another milestone in the significant and ongoing relationship between Australia and Malaysia.”
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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