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24 March 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

24 Mar 2023
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Samoa PM Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa visits Australia, Wong announces more sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities, ICAO MH17 decision on jurisdiction, and more.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa, to Australia on 20 March as a guest of the Australian Government. Ahead of Mata’afa’s visit, Albanese noted that this is “the first official visit to Australia by a Prime Minister of Samoa since 2019.” He stated that the leaders “will discuss ways to strengthen our partnership and regional cooperation in support of a peaceful, prosperous and resilient Blue Pacific.” The leaders issued a joint statement on 22 March following their bilateral talks, which they said “reflected the longstanding relationship between Australia and Samoa, underpinned by mutual respect and trust.” They “acknowledged the centrality of the Pacific Islands Forum in driving collective responses to shared regional challenges such as climate change, economic recovery from COVID-19 and regional security” and “welcomed Kiribati’s return to the Forum”, as well as “underlin[ing] their commitment to continue to work together to contribute to a stable, prosperous and resilient Blue Pacific, based on the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, regionalism and a Pacific family-first approach to peace and security.” The Prime Ministers also “acknowledged the urgent need to accelerate international action to address the existential threat of climate change” and “reinforced their commitment to work together to advance real and significant climate action and drive the transition to net-zero.” They “discussed how the Pacific-Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) program could best operate to ensure mutual benefit, including ensuring the program delivers for all Samoans”, as well as “welcom[ing] the strong people-to-people links between Australia and Samoa.” In addition, the leaders signed a Bilateral Partnership Agreement, “Ole fala folasia i lo ta va” (“the map that guides us”), and “warmly welcomed the closer cooperation the Partnership Agreement will engender across the pillars of climate and disaster resilience, security cooperation, economic growth, human and socio-economic development and people-to-people linkages.”

On 20 March, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong announced the imposition of “Magnitsky-style targeted financial sanctions and travel bans” in response to “human rights violations in Iran and Iranian support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” The sanctions and travel bans in relation to human rights abuses extend to 14 individuals responsible for “egregious human rights abuses and violations in Iran”, including “four members of the Morality Police who were responsible for the arrest, detention and ill-treatment of Mahsa ‘Jina’ Amini” and “senior law enforcement, political, and military figures”, as well as targeted financial sanctions on 14 entities similarly involved in human rights abuses in Iran. Wong also noted that Australia is “joining partners to impose additional targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on 13 Iranian individuals and targeted financial sanctions on one entity involved in the production and supply of drones to Russia.” She stated that “Iranian-made drones have been used by Russia to target Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure” and that the listing “demonstrates that there will be consequences for those who provide material support to Russia.” Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Birmingham noted that the Coalition “welcomes” the sanctions and travel bans, but that the “slow response is disappointing” and that “further sanctions on officials responsible for violence and human rights abuses [were] recommended by the Senate Foreign Affairs References Committee more than seven weeks ago.” He noted that the Coalition “continues to offer bipartisan support for any action by Australia [to] strengthen the condemnation of the continued abuses of human rights being carried out by the Iranian regime.”

Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus issued a joint media release on 18 March in relation to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council’s decision upholding its jurisdiction to hear Australia and the Netherlands’ case against Russia for the downing of Flight MH17. Wong and Dreyfus referred to the decision as “an important step in our collective efforts to hold to account those responsible for this horrific act of violence which claimed the lives of 298 people, 38 of whom called Australia home.” They reiterated that “the Russian Federation is responsible under international law for the downing of Flight MH17” and that Australia “look[s] forward to presenting [its] legal arguments and evidence to the ICAO Council as [it] continues to seek to hold Russia to account.”

On 22 March, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles noted that United States Marines had arrived in the Northern Territory as part of the 12th rotation of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D). The rotation will involve “up to 2,500 Marines” conducting “combined training exercises with their Australian Defence Force counterparts, as well as regional partner nations” over the next seven months. Marles stated that the rotation “will enhance the capabilities, interoperability, and readiness of the ADF and the United States Marine Corps, and is a significant part of the United States Force Posture Initiatives, a hallmark of Australia’s Alliance with the US.” He also reflected on last week’s AUKUS announcement, which included “an expansion of the Force Posture Initiatives in the Submarine Rotational Force – West, which will see US nuclear-powered submarines rotate through HMAS Stirling beginning from 2027.” Marles stated that “the US is our most vital security partner and the strength of our Alliance highlights our joint commitment to promoting a secure, stable, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.”

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts addressed the second ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Nuclear Risk Reduction Workshop, which Australia co-hosted with the Philippines in Brisbane, on 22 March. Watts stated that “reducing the risks associated with nuclear weapons is as important today as it has ever been” and that Australia “remains fully committed to efforts to reduce these risks.” He reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to “ASEAN centrality and advancing the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”, and noted that “Australia shares ASEAN’s wish for parties in the region to consider how they can best contribute to upholding regional peace and stability, including by reducing the risk of escalation and miscalculation.” Watts acknowledged that “ARF members may hold different views about the way to manage [the risks posed by nuclear weapons”, but that “these differences make institutions such as the ARF important … because the purpose of the ARF is to reduce the risk of conflict.” He reiterated Australia’s commitment to “do more on non-proliferation and disarmament” and that “Australia’s extensive work throughout the region demonstrates our enduring commitment to this goal.” He referred to the AUKUS partnership and stated that “Australia has committed to transparency in our ambition to acquire conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines”, and that Australia “understand[s] that acquiring this critical capability comes with a responsibility to engage with our friends and partners in the region.” Watts concluded by encouraging attendees to “work together toward a productive dialogue that contributes to the uptake of practical risk reduction measures in our region and beyond.”

Isabella Keith is a weekly columnist for Australian Outlook. She is also a Research Assistant, Sessional Academic, and Honours student in Law 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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