This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese’s full Ministry sworn in; Wong addresses the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat in Fiji and announces a $525 million increase in Pacific development assistance; Wong travels to Samoa and Tonga; and a statement on Dr Yang Jun.
On 1 June, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s full new Ministry was sworn in. Cabinet Ministers include Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles as Minister for Defence, Penny Wong as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Don Farrell as Minister for Trade and Tourism, and Clare O’Neil as Minister for Home Affairs. The Outer Ministry includes Pat Conroy as Minister for Defence Industry and Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Assistant Ministers include Matt Thistlethwaite as Assistant Minister for Defence, Tim Ayres as Assistant Minister for Trade, and Tim Watts as Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong addressed the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat on 26 May while in Fiji on her first bilateral visit. Wong referred to “a new era in Australian engagement in the Pacific.” She noted that the Pacific Island Forum is “the heart of Pacific regionalism” and that Australia’s membership of the Forum is “a membership we treasure”. Wong stated that “I’ve come here on day four [as Minister for Foreign Affairs] because I wanted to say in person, and in the Pacific, on behalf of the new Australian Government, how deeply we value being part of the Pacific family.” She referred to Pacific nations’ support for Australia during the Black Summer bushfires and floods as “what families do”. Wong repeated part of the Pacific Island Forum’s Boe Declaration on Regional Security from 2018, that “climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.” She acknowledged that “under past governments, Australia has neglected its responsibility to act on climate change” but that “this is a different Australian Government [that] will stand shoulder to shoulder with our Pacific family in response to this crisis.” She further stated that Australia is “a partner that won’t come with strings attached, nor impose unsustainable financial burdens.”
In her speech at the Pacific Island Forum, Wong also announced an increase in Australia’s overseas development assistance to the Pacific by $525 million over the next four years, and the Australia-Pacific Climate Infrastructure Partnership “to support climate-related infrastructure and energy projects in Pacific countries and Timor-Leste.”
Wong announced on 1 June that she will travel that day to Samoa and Tonga “to renew and strengthen Australia’s deep ties of friendship and family.” She noted that the trip will be her second visit to the Pacific following her swearing in as Foreign Minister. Wong stated that she “look[s] forward to listening to leaders in Samoa and Tonga about how the Australian Government can best apply the new energy and resources we are bringing to the Pacific.” She said that the Australian Government “want[s] to make a uniquely Australian contribution to help build a stronger Pacific family through social and economic opportunities including pandemic recovery, health, development and infrastructure support, as well as through our Pacific labour programs and permanent migration.” Wong will meet with Samoan Head of State Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II and Prime Minister the Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and Tongan Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku and Foreign Minister Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu.
On 27 May, Wong issued a statement noting that it has been one year since Australian citizen, Dr Yang Jun, “faced a closed trial on national security charges” and that he is “yet to learn the outcome.” She stated that “the Australian Government is very concerned about this delay” and further referred to the fact that Dr Yang has been unable to access his family, and has only had “limited access” to his legal representation since his detention in January 2019. Wong reaffirmed that the Australian Government “will continue to advocate for Dr Yang’s interests and wellbeing, and provide consular support to Dr Yang and his family.”
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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