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26 November: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

26 Nov 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: the Australian border continues to reopen, further reforms to the PALM scheme, Wong’s foreign policy speech at the ANU, and more.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews and Minister for Education Alan Tudge jointly announced on 22 November the next step in Australia’s border reopening. From December 1, fully-vaccinated eligible visa holders, including skilled and student cohorts, can come to Australia without requiring a travel exemption. Fully-vaccinated citizens from Japan and the Republic of Korea who hold a valid Australian visa will also be able to visit from 1 December without an exemption.

On 18 November, Payne noted that Australia had joined the international United Kingdom-led statement condemning the use of sexual violence and rape as weapons of war. Payne acknowledged the rise in gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and that signatories to the statement had agreed that “there must be a stronger international response for all affected by sexual violence in conflict.” She further noted that the Australian Government remains committed to implementing Australia’s second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2021-2031, which adopts “a survivor-centred approach that recognises gender inequality as a precursor to conflict and sexual violence.”

Payne, alongside Minister for International Development Zed Seselja, announced the next stage of reforms to the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme on 23 November. The reforms will merge the two existing PALM initiatives, the Seasonal Worker Programme and the Pacific Labour Scheme, to create a single PALM scheme. The Ministers noted that the new PALM scheme will “remain uncapped and demand-driven” and will be “the primary means of filling unskilled to semi-skilled workforce shortages in rural and regional Australia.”

On 22 November, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued a media release noting the Australian Government’s deep concern about recent incidents in the South China Sea. The statement concerned an incident the previous week, where China’s coast guard “blocked and used water cannons against Philippine vessels seeking to resupply Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.” DFAT also referred to the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award, which found that Second Thomas Shoal was within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

Minister for Defence Peter Dutton issued a statement on 22 November on the signing of the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement with the United Kingdom and the United States. Dutton referred to the signing as “another important step in Australia’s pursuit of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines”, as it will permit the three countries to exchange sensitive and classified naval nuclear propulsion information. He further noted that the Agreement “will support Australia in completing the 18 months of intensive and comprehensive examination of requirements underpinning the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines.” Dutton stated that the Agreement is consistent with Australia’s international obligations, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as “the Agreement only allows for the sharing of naval nuclear propulsion information [and] no nuclear equipment can be transferred under this agreement.”

On 23 November, Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews announced the conclusion of Operation Redback XVI, a joint operation between the Australian Border Force and the Malaysia Coast Guard. Andrews stated that “Australia’s ongoing collaboration with Malaysia makes it very clear to people smuggling syndicates that both countries are resolute in their determination to stamp out maritime criminal activity.” She further noted that Australia “look[s] forward to strong collaboration [with the Malaysia Coast Guard] in 2022 and beyond.”

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong delivered a speech on Australian foreign policy under Labor to the National Security College at the Australian National University on 23 November. Wong discussed three central features of Labor’s foreign policy: “projecting modern Australia to the region and the world”, “fostering genuine partnerships grounded in trust”, and “enhancing our capability in navigating international relations, including in the grey zone.” She referred to the risk of conflict in Taiwan as “the greatest risk to peace, stability and prosperity in our region”, the consequences of which would be “catastrophic for humanity”. Wong further argued that the Morrison Government is embarking on “the most dangerous election tactic in Australian history” by “amping up the prospect of war against a superpower” over Taiwan.

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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