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22 September 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

22 Sep 2023
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: second anniversary of AUKUS announcement, Wong in New York for 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Australia signs High Seas Biodiversity Treaty, ICJ intervention in Ukraine v Russia, and more.

On 15 September, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, alongside the President of the United States Joe Biden and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak issued a joint statement to mark the second anniversary of the announcement of AUKUS. The leaders noted that “our work under AUKUS reflects our continued commitment to supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific that is secure and stable” and that “Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have a long history of working together, along with other allies and partners, to uphold the rules-based international order where human rights and the rule of law are respected, and states can make sovereign choices free from coercion.” Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Birmingham and Shadow Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie also acknowledged the second anniversary of the partnership and reaffirmed the bipartisan support for AUKUS, stating that the Coalition is “committed to working with the government in the best interest of Australia’s defence and national security.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong is presently leading Australia’s delegation to the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly from 18 to 23 September. Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy Jenny McAllister is joining the Foreign Minister in New York “to continue the Australian Government’s global engagement on climate change, including at the United Nations’ Climate Ambition Summit.” Wong noted that “Australia has a big stake in the effort to make the United Nations fit for purpose – working with other countries to make sure it evolves for the challenges of our time.” She will deliver Australia’s national statement, “emphasising our contribution on climate and development, our commitment to UN reform and our priority of preventing conflict in our region.”

On 21 September, Wong addressed the UN Security Council high-level open debate on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine, where she condemned Russia’s “illegal and immoral full-scale invasion of Ukraine”. She emphasised that “the Security Council has a singular responsibility to the people of the world for the maintenance of international peace and security” and that the veto power “was never intended to empower a country to abuse the UN Charter; to be above the law.” Wong noted that Australia “stands steadfast with the people of Ukraine” and that “as UN Member States we all have a responsibility to call out Russia’s egregious behaviour.” She used the address to emphasise “the need for urgent reform of the Security Council, including constraints on the use of the veto” and that “it has never been more necessary for this Security Council to uphold the principle of the sovereign equality of all members of these United Nations.”

Wong met with her German counterpart, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, on the margins of the UN General Assembly “to reaffirm the closeness of our bilateral relationship, underpinned by shared values and commitment to the international order based on the rule of law.” They discussed further bilateral cooperation “on defence, hybrid and cyber threats including disinformation, and Women Peace and Security.” They also condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and emphasised their partnership “in protecting and promoting universal human rights evident in our twin resolutions on National Human Rights Institutions in the Human Rights Council and General Assembly.”

On 20 September, Wong noted that Australia “has joined like-minded nations, including Pacific partners, as a founding signatory of the historic High Seas Biodiversity Treaty. The Treaty delivers stronger protections for the ocean under the framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, including by providing a mechanism for establishing marine protected areas on the high seas. Australia will also deliver $3 million through the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner over the next three years to support Pacific countries to sign and ratify the Treaty. Wong noted that “the Australian Government’s signing of this Treaty demonstrates our enduring commitment to multilateralism, which remains critical to tackling global challenges including the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus issued a joint statement on 20 September noting that Australia had joined 31 other countries delivering interventions before the International Court of Justice in support of Ukraine’s case against Russia that day. Wong and Dreyfus noted that “Australia strongly supports Ukraine’s decision to bring this case before the International Court of Justice, which alleges Russia has violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” They also emphasised that “Australia continues to call on Russia to comply with the ICJ’s legally binding order of 16 March 2022 to immediately withdraw its military forces from Ukraine.”

On 20 September, Wong announced that Australia will provide $100 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) to support global efforts to prevent, prepare for, and respond to pandemics. The funding will consist of $75 million in voluntary core funding over five years to the WHO, and a further $25 million for the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme. Wong noted that Australia’s commitment to the WHO “will support activities to mitigate the risk of future pandemics, including strengthening national health systems and responding to disease outbreaks.” She stated that Australia “will also work with the WHO and partners to support coordinated responses to emerging disease threats in our region, and ensure the global system meets our region’s needs.”

Wong issued a statement on 19 September noting that Australia will provide a further $3.5 million to support the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) “efforts to apply nuclear science and technology for tangible outcomes in our region. The funding includes $2 million for the IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative, which is “improving access to affordable, equitable and sustainable radiotherapy services and building the cancer care workforce in the Asia-Pacific and in Africa.”Australia will also contribute to the IAEA’s Global Water Analysis Laboratory (GloWAL) Network, to “make water resource management in the Pacific and Southeast Asia more sustainable”, and to the Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology for Asia and the Pacific, “which is advancing regional capacity-building in nuclear science and technology.”

On 16 September, Wong, alongside Minister for International Development Pat Conroy and Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts, jointly announced that the Government will provide $1 million for “urgent life-saving humanitarian assistance to affected communities”, following the devastating floods in Libya. The assistance will be delivered through the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Wong noted that “we send our deep sympathy and condolences to the loved ones of those who have lost their lives, the Libyan people, and the Libyan community in Australia.” Conroy stated that “strong bonds with our international partners underpin our emergency response efforts and are vital to delivering this life-saving humanitarian assistance.”

Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles attended the first ministerial meeting of the Resettlement Diplomacy Network (RDN) convened by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, held on the margins of the 78th UN General Assembly on 19 September. The RDN “is a new multilateral initiative aiming to drive high-level strategic and diplomatic engagement among resettlement states, to strengthen and expand global refugee resettlement and additional third-country pathways to protection.” Ministers and Representatives from Australia, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom took part in the US-chaired ministerial meeting, joined by the European Commissioner for Home Affairs. In a joint statement, the representatives noted the RDN’s work will centre around three pillars: “(1) strengthening the global resettlement infrastructure; (2) addressing current situations of concern in specific regions; and (3) identifying opportunities for strategic solidarity.” They agreed to establish “a new Emergency Coordination Platform (“Red Phone”) to ensure closer and more efficient collaboration between our member countries to respond to individual or collective situations requiring swift resettlement” and to “step up coordinated diplomacy among interested RDN members, including through targeted outreach to third countries.”

Isabella Keith is a weekly columnist for Australian Outlook. She is also a Research Officer at the Australian National University, with a focus on international law. Isabella attended the AIIA #NextGen study tour to South Korea last year and was also a delegate to the AIIA’s Australia-Korea-New Zealand and Australia-United States-Japan Policy Forums. She can be found on Twitter here.

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