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21 January: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

21 Jan 2022
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: support for Tonga, AUKMIN 2022, Novak Djokovic, changes to visas, and more.

On 16 January, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, alongside Minister for Defence Peter Dutton, and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke, announced that Australia will provide assistance following the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami in Tonga. The Ministers noted in a joint statement that the Tongan Government agreed to the Australian Government’s offer of a “surveillance flight to assess the damage caused”. They further stated that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Department of Defence are “coordinating critical humanitarian supplies for disaster relief.”

Payne and Dutton issued a statement on 19 January regarding the upcoming Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN) 2022. This year, the United Kingdom Secretary for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Elizabeth Truss and Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace will visit Australia on 21 January for AUKMIN. Payne and Dutton stated that the discussions “will focus on strategic challenges and identify areas in which Australia and the United Kingdom can work to support an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific region where the sovereignty of all nations is respected.” The Ministers further noted that “AUKMIN will be the first 2+2 Ministerial Meeting hosted in Australia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On 14 January, Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke exercised his power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa, “on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.” This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January to quash a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds. The Full Federal Court of Australia upheld the later decision on 16 January, which Hawke welcomed, noting that “Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world”. Prime Minister Scott Morrison similarly welcomed the Full Federal Court’s decision, stating that “strong borders are fundamental to the Australian way of life as is the rule of law.”

Hawke announced on 18 January that the Government would allow for increased flexibility for temporary migrant visa holders. Skilled Regional Provisional visas will be extended by 3 years where its holder was “impacted by COVID-19 international travel restrictions”. Hawke estimates that this measure will “assist around 10,000 skilled regional workers” and claims that the change “will provide sufficient additional time for all current and former Skilled Regional Provisional visa holders to make travel arrangements to start or resume living and working in regional Australia.” He further announced that the Government will allow the entry of current and former Temporary Graduate visa holders from 18 February, to enable them to apply for a further stay. Hawke noted that “these changes support the return to Australia of temporary graduates as soon as possible, ahead of further planned changes on 1 July 2022 that will provide a further visa extension option to former graduates.”

On 19 January, Hawke, alongside Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, announced three additional temporary changes to the Australian visa regime. These changes are aimed at incentivising fully vaccinated Student and Working Holiday Maker visa holders to return to Australia “to help address current workforce shortages caused by COVID-19.” The new measures include a refund of visa application charges for anyone who enters Australia on either visa in the next few months. Secondly, the Government will temporarily suspend the limit on Student visa holders’ working hours “across all sectors of the economy”. Finally, there will be “no limit on the length of time Working Holiday Makers can work for the same employer.” Hawke and Frydenberg emphasised that the three measures are temporary and are specifically “designed to provide immediate assistance to Australian businesses that are currently facing critical workforce shortages.”

Minister for Trade Dan Tehan issued a press release on 16 January on China’s request for the establishment of a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel to hear its claims regarding Australia’s trade remedies on stainless steel sinks, railway wheels and wind towers. Tehan said that Australia is “confident” that the measures are “consistent with [its] WTO obligations” and that Australia’s trade remedies system is “independent, transparent, non-discriminatory and rules-based.” Tehan also expressed strong support for the “rules-based multilateral trading system” and noted that Australia “respect[s] the right of any WTO Member to take its concerns to the WTO.” He further stated that Australia “remain[s] ready to resolve this matter through further discussions with China.”

On 19 January, Tehan, alongside Minister for Health Greg Hunt, announced that the This week in Australian foreign affairs: support for Tonga, AUKMIN 2022, Novak Djokovic, changes to visas, and more. IFAM “provides logistical and administrative support for international air freight movements by aggregating cargo loads, negotiating with airlines, and dealing with partner governments to facilitate clearances and improve [the] transparency of freight costs during the pandemic.” The Ministers stated that up to 52 million RATs will be flown into Australia from Asia and the United States on “IFAM-supported commercial flights.” Tehan has referred to the IFAM model as “a great example of the Government and the private sector collaborating to support the importing of critical [RATs] for Australians.”

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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