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28 April 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

28 Apr 2023
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Defence Strategic Review released; 2023 Quad Summit to be held in Sydney; Conroy attends Anzac Day commemorations in PNG; and more.

On 24 April, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles released the public version of the Defence Strategic Review, as well as the Government’s response to the Review, and the National Defence Statement for 2023. In response to the Review’s recommendations, the Government has “agreed, or agreed in-principle with further work required” to all recommendations, and has also identified six priority areas for “immediate action”. The priority areas identified in the Review are: “acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines through AUKUS to improve our deterrence capabilities”, “developing the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) ability to precisely strike targets at longer-range and manufacture munitions in Australia”, “improving the ADF’s ability to operate from Australia’s northern bases”, “initiatives to improve the growth and retention of a highly skilled Defence workforce”, “lifting our capacity to rapidly translate disruptive new technologies into ADF capability, in close partnership with Australian industry” and “deepening of our diplomatic and defence partnerships with key partners in the Indo-Pacific.” The Government’s response “includes specific directions to Defence with immediate effect, while establishing a methodical and comprehensive process for long-term and sustainable implementation”. It has also accepted the Review’s recommendation for an inaugural National Defence Strategy in 2024, to be updated biennially, which will “encompass a comprehensive plan of Defence policy, planning, capabilities and resourcing, including reprioritisation of the Integrated Investment Program”. Albanese noted that “the Government will continue to invest in our capabilities and invest in our relationships to help build a more secure Australia and a more stable and prosperous region”, while Marles stated that “there are a lot of tough decisions which need to be made, but in doing so, we are making them in the best interest of our Defence Force and our nation.”

Marles and Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy noted on 24 April that the Defence Strategic Review has recommended “significant reforms to the way Defence is structured, postured and operates, to respond to our current strategic circumstances”, and that it makes clear that “a genuine partnership between the Government, industry and unions will be critical to growing Australia’s defence industry and speeding up the acquisition of vital defence capabilities.” The Review recommended that the Defence Integrated Investment Program (IIP) be “rebuilt to align with the priorities outlined in the Review”, and the Government has agreed to this recommendation. Marles and Conroy noted that the Government has directed Defence to begin work on removing unnecessary barriers to acquisitions, streamlining strategically important projects and low-complexity procurements, making faster decisions in the delivery of Defence projects, and developing practical solutions in close consultation with Defence industry. They also flagged that later this year, the Government will release a Defence Strategic Industry Development Strategy which will include the “strategic rationale for a sovereign defence industrial base”, “mechanisms to improve security within defence businesses” and “more targeted and detailed Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities.” Marles referred to the Review as “a clarion call for action in light of our strategic circumstances”, while Conroy noted that “it’s essential that this Government works closely with industry and unions to get this right, and to build the industrial base we need for our future national security.”

On 26 April, Albanese announced that Australia will host the 2023 Quad Leaders’ Summit for the first time on 24 May in Sydney. In Sydney, Quad leaders “will discuss how the Quad can work alongside partners and regional groupings, foremost ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum, to strengthen our cooperation and shape the region we all want to live in.” Albanese noted that “Quad partners are deeply invested in the success of the Indo-Pacific” and that “leveraging our collective strengths helps Australia advance its interests and more effectively respond to the region’s needs.” He also stated that he “look[s] forward to discussing with Quad Leaders how we – alongside important regional institutions, such as ASEAN, the Pacific Islands Forum, the Indian Ocean Rim Association and our regional partners – can shape the Indo-Pacific region we all want to live in.”

Albanese issued a joint statement alongside Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil and Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles on a new direct pathway to Australian citizenship for eligible New Zealand citizens. From 1 July 2023, all Special Category Visa holders “will be able to apply directly for citizenship without becoming permanent residents first, as long as they meet a four-year residence and other eligibility requirements.” The Ministers referred to the announcement as “a fair change for New Zealanders living in Australia [which] brings their rights more in line with Australians living in New Zealand.” Albanese referred to Australia and New Zealand’s “deep friendship” that has been “forged through our history, shared values and common outlook” and that he “look[s] forward to strengthening our relationship.”

On 25 April, Conroy, in his capacity as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, attendedAnzac Day commemorations in Papua New Guinea at the Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby, as well as along the Kokoda Track, in order to “reflect on Australia and Papua New Guinea’s deep historical connections.” He noted that “the people of Papua New Guinea suffered greatly as war tore through their homeland” and that “we remember the Papuan Infantry Battalion soldiers who served alongside Australians and the Papuans who risked their lives to carry our wounded to safety.” Conroy reiterated Australia’s deep commitment “to working in partnership with the Pacific family to achieve our shared vision of a peaceful, prosperous and resilient region.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued a statement on 26 April following the 18thAustralia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue held two days earlier in Hanoi. Australia’s delegation was led by Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for Human Rights, Bronte Moules, and included staff from DFAT, the Australian Embassy in Vietnam, and the Australian Human Rights Commission. The statement noted that the Dialogue “was frank and open, and covered a range of topics relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in both countries … includ[ing] … protection of freedoms, legal reform, rights of diverse groups and cooperation on human rights in multilateral institutions.” In addition, the delegations also discussed “Australian Government-funded technical assistance, including support from the Australian Human Rights Commission, to enhance the protection and promotion of human rights in Vietnam.”

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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