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25 March: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

25 Mar 2022
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: additional sanctions on Russia, further support for Ukraine, diplomatic announcements, Australia’s Defence Space Command, and more.

On 18 March, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced new sanctions on 11 additional Russian banks and two more oligarchs with close ties to Vladimir Putin. The banks listed include the Russian National Wealth Fund and the Russian Ministry of Finance, meaning that Australia “has now targeted all Russian Government entities responsible for issuing and managing Russia’s sovereign debt.” Payne stated that the Australian Government is “deeply committed to imposing high costs on Russia” and has done so in “close cooperation with key international partners.” She also welcomed “the principled stand taken by Australian companies in announcing moves to cut ties with Russia in protest of Moscow’s illegal, indefensible war against Ukraine.”

Payne, alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Defence Peter Dutton, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan, Minister for Resources Keith Pitt, and Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke, issued a joint media statement regarding $21 million of additional support for Ukraine on 20 March. The support package consists of defensive military assistance, including “additional material from Australian Defence Force Stocks” to meet “Ukrainian priority requests.” The Ministers further noted that Australia is committing an additional $30 million in emergency humanitarian assistance, including $10 million through non-government organisations under the Australian Humanitarian Partnership, $8 million to the United Nations Population Fund, and $10 million to the World Food Programme. They also stated that the Government has imposed “an immediate ban” on Australian exports of alumina and aluminium ores to Russia, and that Australia will donate “at least 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal” to Ukraine.

On 21 March, Payne made several announcements regarding diplomatic postings: Andrew Barnes as Australia’s next Ambassador to Lebanon; Maree Ringland as Australia’s next Ambassador to Peru; Josh Riley as Australia’s next Consul-General and Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner in Toronto; and John Prowse as Australia’s next Consul-General and Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner in Sãu Paulo.

Payne co-chaired the inaugural Southeast Asia Dialogue of Women Leaders with her Indonesian counterpart on 18 March. The Dialogue “brought together Ministers and leaders from government, the private sector and civil society across Southeast Asia.” During the Dialogue, Ministers “recognised the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and girls”, “discussed the importance of striving for a gender inclusive social and economic recovery” and “discussed the importance of access to digital and financial inclusion for women and multi-stakeholder collaboration in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.” The Dialogue also “reaffirmed ASEAN’s centrality to [the] region’s security and prosperity” and “strengthened the network of women leaders in the region.”

On 21 March, Morrison hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a Virtual Annual Leaders’ Meeting. In a media statement following the meeting, the leaders noted that they reaffirmed their commitment to the India-Australia Strategic Partnership and welcomed “the substantial progress in deepening political, economic, security, cyber, technology and defence cooperation”, noting that the bilateral relationship has “prospered on the strong foundations of trust, understanding, common interests, and the shared values of democracy and the rule of law.” They welcomed progress made in the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) negotiations and the extension of the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund. The leaders further expressed “serious concern about the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine” and “reiterated the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities”, while agreeing to “remain closely engaged on the issue and its broader implications for the Indo-Pacific.” During the meeting, Morrison also announced the establishment of the Centre for Australia-India Relations, which will “help foster new ties and support our expanding exchange and cooperation with India, including by engaging Australia’s rich Indian diaspora community”. The Government has committed $28.1 million in funding to the Centre and it will focus on four key areas: “policy dialogue”, “Australian business literacy and links”, “engaging Australia’s Indian diaspora communities to support the Australia-India bilateral relationship” and “deepening cultural connections and understanding.”

Dutton addressed the Royal Australian Air Force Air and Space Power Conference on 22 March, where he announced Australia’s Defence Space Command, to be led by Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, and the release of the Defence Space Strategy. He noted that “while space is primarily a civil domain … it will undoubtedly become a domain which takes on greater military significance in this century” and that “all nations have an interest in assuring their access to space.” Dutton further stated that the Command “will initially be modest compared to those similar, well-established functions which already exist among some of our allies” but that it will be “forward looking … with a view to protecting our national interests and our need for a Space Force in the future.” He referred to the Command as “Australia’s contribution towards a larger, collaborative effort among like-minded countries to ensure a safe, stable and secure space domain” and that the United States will be working with Australia “to support our mutual objectives in the space domain.”

On 22 March Dutton also delivered a speech to the opening of the new Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) offices, marking its 75th anniversary. He noted that “in an interconnected world where the boundaries between competition and conflict are increasingly blurred, cyber is the new frontline” and that “a resilient and robust strategic cyber capability is absolutely crucial for the times in which we live.” Dutton referred to the invasion of Ukraine as “a hybrid war”, existing both “on the ground” and “in the digital realm” through cyber-attacks. He also warned that “within this facility and across the Home Affairs Department, and indeed across government, there will be efforts in the run up to the federal election in trying to prevent online activity or foreign interference otherwise affecting a democratic outcome.”

Tehan announced on 17 March that Australia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will pursue a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) to “grow the trade relationship between both countries, creating new jobs and opportunities for exporters.” He noted that a trade deal with the UAE would be Australia’s first in the Middle East, and that the CEPA “has significant potential to strengthen and deepen the dynamic relationship between the two countries.” He referred to a UAE CEPA as “an important building block to a subsequent potential free trade agreement with the wider Gulf Cooperation Council.” In a joint statement with his UAE counterpart, Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, the Ministers committed to undertaking the “required domestic procedures” towards negotiating a CEPA, and to “commence preparatory discussions” to develop the CEPA’s terms of reference. They also “affirm[ed] the shared objective of achieving a forward-looking, high-quality, mutually beneficial and comprehensive economic partnership agreement that is comprehensive with World Trade Organization rules.”

On 20 March, Hawke noted that Australia will make available a temporary humanitarian (subclass 786) visa to all Ukrainian visa holders currently in Australia, as well as those who arrive “in the coming months.” The visa will “allow people to work and access Medicare and appropriate associated support services” and will be valid for three years. He further noted that “around 5000 mostly temporary visas have been granted since 23 February 2022 and around 750 Ukrainians in this cohort have now arrived”.

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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