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3 March 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

03 Mar 2023
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: more support for Ukraine, one year on from Russia’s invasion; Cyber Security Roundtable; Judge Charlesworth nominated for re-election to the ICJ; Wong in Malaysia and India; and more.

On 24 February, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong jointly announced more support for Ukraine, including additional military assistance and further sanctions against Russia. The announcement coincided with the one-year anniversary of the launch of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Ministers “mourn[ed] the incalculable losses that Ukraine has endured” and stated that they were “proud to stand with Ukraine as it defends its people, its territory, and its sovereignty.” The Government will provide additional Uncrewed Aerial Systems to Ukraine, which deliver battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. The additional sanctions against Russia compromise of “targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on 90 persons, and targeted financial sanctions on 40 entities.” Those targeted include “Russian ministers with responsibilities spanning energy, natural resources, industry, education, labour, migration and health.” The Government is also imposing sanctions on persons and entities “engaging in activities of economic and strategic significance to Russia or that threaten the territorial integrity or sovereignty of Ukraine” including “those perpetuating the Kremlin’s mistruths to shore up support for President Putin and key players in Russia’s defence industry.” The new sanctions bring the total number of Australian sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to over 1,000.

Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Birmingham also issued a statement on 24 February where they noted that “the anniversary of Russia’s reprehensible invasion will be a difficult day for Ukrainians” and that they “honour the bravery and strength of the people of Ukraine who continue to courageously defend their sovereignty, their freedom, and their home.” They reflected on the Morrison Government’s provision of military and humanitarian assistance, and urged the Albanese Government to “do all that is necessary to ensure that Australia remains at the forefront of non-NATO support for Ukraine.” They also stated that “the Australian embassy in Kyiv must be reinstated and join the 67 diplomatic missions which have already been returned”, that “more generous and easier visa pathways must be maintained and strengthened for Ukrainians needing to find safety in Australia”, and emphasised “the need for stronger action with sanctions and measures to put additional pressure on Russia to cease its invasion.”

Albanese and Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil issued a joint statement on 27 February noting that Albanese had hosted a Cyber Security Roundtable that day, which focused on “the whole-of-nation effort required to protect Australians and our economy, with the aim of making Australia the most cyber secure nation by 2030.” Attendees included “leaders from the public service and our intelligence agencies, and independent experts from business, industry and civil society.” Albanese and O’Neil also announced that the Government will establish a Coordinator for Cyber Security, who will be supported by a National Office for Cyber Security within the Department of Home Affairs, in order to “ensure a centrally coordinated approach to deliver[ing] [the] Government’s cyber security responsibilities.”

On 24 February, Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus noted that they “welcome[d] the nomination of Her Excellency Judge Hilary Charlesworth for re-election as a Judge of the International Court of Justice.” Judge Charlesworth has been nominated by the Australian National Group, who are “a group of eminent Australian jurists who serve as members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.” Wong and Dreyfus noted that Judge Charlesworth “is an eminent scholar and jurist who has served on the court since 2021 and made an exceptional contribution to international law” and that she is “an outstanding candidate for re-election.”

Wong travelled to Malaysia and India this week, “to advance Australia’s bilateral relationships and promote Australia’s interests in a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.” She stated that her trip to Malaysia “will reaffirm our shared priorities under our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” and that she will hold “introductory meetings with members of the new Malaysian Government, including the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Economy.” Wong also noted that Australia “is committed to working with Malaysia to support ASEAN’s vital contribution to regional peace and security.” Wong’s visit to India will be her first as Foreign Minister, where she will attend the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in New Delhi. She stated that Australia “strongly supports India’s G20 Presidency and welcomes India’s ambitious, action orientated G20 agenda”, and that she “look[s] forward to working with [her] counterparts on how we can address contemporary international challenges, including strengthening the multilateral system, food and energy security, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.” Wong will also attend the 2023 Raisina Dialogue while in New Delhi, which is “India’s premier forum for addressing the most challenging issues facing our regional and global community.”

On 27 February, Marles addressed the Defence Industry Dinner, where he noted that “right now, Australia is facing the most challenging and complex set of strategic circumstances we’ve seen since the Second World War” and that “the global rules-based order – which has underpinned the security and prosperity of not just Australia, but the region, and indeed the world – is under immense pressure.” Marles acknowledged the recent anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, and reiterated his Canadian counterpart Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s observations that this invasion “brought to a brutal end a three-decade long era in geopolitics.” He also referred to “increased strategic competition between nations … in the Indo-Pacific”, noting that “China is driving the largest conventional military build-up we’ve seen anywhere in the world since the Second World War.” Marles noted that “in the coming three months, our Government will detail three critical pieces of work”, namely “the optimal pathway for Australia to acquire conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines” under the “banner of AUKUS”, the release of the Defence Strategic Review in April, and the Government’s new Defence Industry Development Strategy. He also noted that “as Australia increases our defence spending and grows our military capability it is imperative that we do so in a way that is both predictable and transparent” and that Australia “want[s] to ensure [it is] consulting [its] partners in the region, and around the world, so that there is understanding and no surprises.” Marles concluded by stating that “while Australia will always do what we must to get the hard power equation right so that we have the capabilities which keep our people safe”, that “the frontline of Australia’s engagement with the world is diplomacy … and this will be our abiding focus, for it is through diplomacy that we can create pathways for peace.”

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts travelled to Geneva, Switzerland this week “to advance Australia’s interests on human rights and disarmament.” He addressed the High-Level Segments of both the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Conference on Disarmament. At the Human Rights Council, he noted that “Australia played an important role in the creation of the multilateral human rights system, and we will continue to work to advance and defend it.” He reflected on the appointment of Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for Human Rights and noted that the Ambassador “will work with the UN human rights system and all partners to advance human rights for all, including for Indigenous Peoples, people living with a disability, women and girls and LGBTI persons.” Watts also noted that Australia’s “inaugural Ambassador for First Nations People will help bring First Nations perspectives into Australian foreign policy and diplomacy, and progress Indigenous Peoples’ rights globally.” He further stated that “increased global ambition and urgent and impactful action on climate change is a priority for Australia” and that Pacific Island voices need to be “at the centre of international climate discussions.”

While at the Human Rights Council, Watts also delivered a statement on behalf of Canada, New Zealand and Australia at the 52nd Session High-Level Panel on the Death Penalty, where he reaffirmed the three nations’ strong opposition to the death penalty “in all circumstances, for all people” and their commitment to “pursuing global abolition.” He further stated that “while we oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, we particularly condemn its use for crimes which do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious’ crimes under the ICCPR” and urged states that retain the death penalty to “ensure that people facing a death sentence have adequate assistance to legal counsel, and to uphold their rights to a fair trial and guarantees of due process under Article 14 of the ICCPR.”

At the Conference on Disarmament, Watts reflected on Australia’s “deep commit[ment]” to the rules-based international order, and noted that the world is facing “the most challenging strategic circumstances since the Second World War”. He discussed Russia’s “illegal and immoral full-scale invasion on Ukraine” and referred to it as “not just an attack on the UN Charter, but an attack on all of us, and on the fundamental norms of territorial integrity and sovereignty.” Watts also stated that Australia “puts a premium on a stable regional order … where disputes are resolved according to international law and norms, and relations are based on partnership and respect.” He reflected on 2023 as the 50th anniversary of Australia’s ratification of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and said that its “success in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons has been fundamental to global security over the last five decades [and] the Australian Government is committed to ensure that [it] continues its vital role as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation and disarmament regime.”

On 24 February, Watts opened the new premises of Australian High Commission Chancery in Nairobi, Kenya, where he stated that “Australia is reinvigorating our relationships with Africa” and that “from this building we will work, with commitment and energy, to strengthen our ties.” Watts said that he sees “big opportunities for the Australia-Kenya relationship” and that “Australian and Kenyan businesses have much to offer each other, building on decades of trade and investment links.” He also reiterated Australia’s previous calls for permanent African representation on the UN Security Council, and also discussed the “necessity of African voices in global leadership, particularly in debates about the continent.” Watts concluded by referring to the High Commission building as “a symbol of Australia’s enduring commitment to East Africa.”

Minister for International Development Pat Conroy announced on 25 February that Australia’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) had returned from Türkiye, following their “extraordinary efforts in responding to the devastating earthquakes.” He noted that the DART “demonstrated the commitment and professionalism that our international partners have come to expect from Australia”, through “leading search and rescue efforts in difficult and dangerous conditions” and using “high-tech equipment to search through the rubble of unstable and collapsed apartment blocks.” The deployment of the DART formed part of Australia’s $18 million humanitarian assistance package, which will “continue to help our partners in Türkiye and Syria provide lifesaving assistance, including deliver food, tents, blankets, clean water and sanitation and other services.” Conroy noted that “under the most difficult of circumstances they have worked tirelessly with local Turkish authorities on search and rescue efforts, delivering supplies and supporting an international effort to save lives” and that the DART’s “dedication, expertise, and professionalism were on full display.”

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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