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27 August: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

27 Aug 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: statements on Afghanistan from Payne, Morrison, and Wong; new Australian Agriculture Visa; the fifth Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting; COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Kiribati; and more.

On 23 August, Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a speech in the House of Representatives about Afghanistan. Morrison stated that, “the situation on the ground in Kabul and across Afghanistan is dangerous and changing rapidly … Our priority is the safe and orderly departure of Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders, including formerly locally engaged Afghan employees.” He further said, “I know many of you are asking a simple question, was it worth it? Yes, it was. We did the right thing. You did the right thing. As with any war, of course, there are errors and miscalculations, and history won’t shy away from that, and neither will we, as a free people.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne delivered a statement to the Senate on 23 August regarding Afghanistan. She noted that Australia must “consider how we combat terrorism from here … There is a real risk of which we are acutely cognisant that if terrorist bases are once again established in Afghanistan this will morally energise and materially support terrorists closer to our shores.” Moreover, Payne stated that Australia makes “no premature commitments to engage with an Afghan administration that is Taliban led … We are also very clear that the Taliban has seized power by force, not through the support of the Afghan people.”

On 23 August, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong similarly addressed the Senate on Afghanistan. Wong stated that “the mission did not end the way we wanted or hoped. We should face that reality squarely. These issues demand responsible and sober engagement.” She further called on the Morrison Government to evacuate all Australians and Afghans that supported Australian operations, and to fast-track visas and evacuations for the family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents. Wong argued that “the Morrison-Joyce government’s offer of 3000 visas is insufficient. Australia did not use its full refugee quota last year, and we have over 13,000 places available every year.”

Payne issued a joint statement on 24 August alongside 68 other countries on Afghanistan women’s and girls’ human rights. The statement noted “deep concern” about “reports of serious human rights violations across Afghanistan … [especially] reports of a reduction in rights and access to services and public spaces for Afghan women and girls.” It further expressed that “the protection of Afghan women’s and girls’ human rights must ben an integral part of the political solution.”

On 24 August, Payne delivered a statement to the Human Rights Council’s 31st Special Session on serious human rights concerns and the situation in Afghanistan. She noted Australia’s “concern about recent reports of new threats of forced and early marriage” and called on the Taliban “to facilitate and allow the safe and orderly departure of those who wish to leave the country.”

Payne, alongside Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud, and Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke, issued a media release on 23 August on the establishment of the Australian Agriculture Visa. The visa “responds to workforce shortages in the agriculture and primary industry sectors” and will be available to workers in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors. It will be open to applicants “from a wide range of countries negotiated through bilateral agreements.” The Ministers noted that regulations to enable the creation of the visa will be in place by the end of September 2021, and that “the program will be operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, building on the strong outcomes from Pacific labour mobility programs.”

On 23 August, Payne and Minister for Trade Dan Tehan virtually met with their Filipino counterparts for the fifth Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM). The Ministers noted that 2021 marks the 75thanniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations, and agreed to work towards the elevation of bilateral relations from a Comprehensive Partnership to a Strategic Partnership in “the near future”. Other topics discussed include the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of security and defence cooperation, commitments to human rights, the establishment of a Philippines-Australia Maritime Dialogue mechanism, and shared concerns about the continued militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea.

Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja jointly announced on 22 August that 13,000 COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Kiribati. The doses are in addition to essential medical equipment and supplies already delivered to Kiribati under the Essential Services and Humanitarian Corridor program.

On 23 August, Tehan and Minister for Industry, Christian Porter, issued a joint media release announcing that the Government has given regulatory approval for a commercial rocket launch in South Australia. Taiwanese company tiSPACE will conduct a test flight of its Hapith I rocket from the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex. Porter noted that “space is a significant global growth market that will support Australia’s economic future through big investment, new technologies and job growth across multiple industries.” Tehan stated that “Australia has an opportunity to become a key player in the rapidly expanding global space launch market, which will bring investment, jobs and innovation to our nation.”

The Department of Defence (DoD) issued a statement on 19 August noting that the Royal Australian Navy and the Indian Navy have signed a new Joint Guidance for the Australia-India ‘Navy to Navy’ relationship. Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, said “we are proud to sign a new shared vision for working even closer with the Indian Navy to promote peace, security, stability and prosperity in our region.”

On 23 August, the DoD noted that the Royal Australian Navy will join India, Japan and the United States for Exercise MALABAR 2021 off the coast of Guam. Vice Admiral Noonan said that Australia’s participation in the exercise would “strengthen our collective ability to contribute to regional security.” This year’s Exercise MALABAR will involve a range of maritime operations, including live firings and anti-submarine warfare operations.

The DoD issued a media release on 20 August stating that Australia and Solomon Islands are deepening cooperation on explosive ordinance disposal, with a $15 million package of infrastructure works, equipment, and training announced. Australian Defence Force experts will “work closely with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force” in order to “design a tailored training package, focused on advanced skills and instructor training, as well as training for new officers.”

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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