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21 May: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

21 May 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Fifield on Israel, the end of Adamson’s term as DFAT Secretary, flights from India resuming, and more.

On 16 May, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations, Mitch Fifield, issued a statement on the “escalating violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.” Fifield called on “all leaders” to “take immediate steps to halt the violence and exercise restraint, and to move without delay towards a sustainable peace.” He condemned “the relentless and indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas” and stated that “Israel unquestionably has the right to defend itself and its people in accordance with international law.” Fifield further stated that “equally, the Palestinian people must be able to live peacefully.” He concluded by stating that “Australia strongly supports a two-state solution … where Israel and a future state of Palestine exist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, announced on 19 May that Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, will end her term on 25 June 2021. Payne referred to Adamson as “one of Australia’s most accomplished and respected public servants and diplomats … [whose] intellect and experience are respected across government, business and the broader community.” Adamson has been appointed as the next Governor of South Australia and will commence this role in October 2021.

On 14 May, Payne and Minister for Health Greg Hunt noted that flights facilitated by the Australian Government to return Australians from India have resumed. Payne stated that “these government-facilitated flights will be focused on returning Australian citizens, residents and families who have registered with our High Commission and consular offices within India and will prioritise the most vulnerable people.” The Ministers further noted that the plane will carry “further life-saving oxygen equipment to India to support its COVID-19 response.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison attended the Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple in Carrum Downs, Victoria, on 19 May, where he met with Hindu, Sikh, Gujarati, Tamil, Malayali and Indian and Sri Lankan community and temple leaders from across Victoria. Morrison likened multiculturalism to a garam masala, particularly “how it brings together all the different spices and the smells and the colours.” He also stated that “the tragedy we seen in particular in India, at the moment, and throughout the developing world is so hard … to see occurring.” Morrison also noted that he had spoken to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “just a few weeks ago”, and that Modi expressed his appreciation for “both the prayers and support that is coming from the community here in Australia.”

On 17 May, Morrison announced that he will visit New Zealand from 30-31 May to meet with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and to attend the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders’ Meeting. Morrison stated that “Australia and New Zealand are family … [and have both been] world leaders in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, announced that on 19 May he had signed a new 10-year Partnership Arrangement with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The Agreement reaffirms “Australia’s commitment to practical programs supporting climate change resilience and adaptation, and protecting the vital ocean ecosystems of the Pacific.” Seselja stated that Australia is providing $16 million through the partnership for SPREP’s Pacific Ocean Litter Project.

On 15 May, Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews joined New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, French President Emmanuel Macron, and more than 50 other government and technology leaders on the third annual Christchurch Call. The Christchurch Call was initiated following the March 2019 Christchurch terror attacks “to help keep online spaces safe from terrorists and extremists.”

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong criticised Morrison for lying about Labor’s position on the Israel-Palestine conflict on 14 May. Wong stated that Morrison claimed Labor did not believe in a two-state solution. She clarified that Labor is “committed to a just and enduring two-state solution, based on respect for human rights and consistent with international law.”

On 19 May, Wong gave a speech to launch Peter Hartcher’s book, Red Zone, which she referred to as an “important contribution to our national debate [about Australia-China relations]”. Wong stated that, “Morrison’s political opportunism on foreign policy is as unprecedented in Australian history as some of the foreign policy challenges themselves … the Liberals have always been awkward in Asia.” She urged Morrison to “talk less, do more” and engage in “more strategy, less politics” in his approach to foreign affairs.