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8 April: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

08 Apr 2022
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: AUKUS statement, more military support to Ukraine, additional sanctions on Russia, Payne in Brussels, and more.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with his AUKUS partners, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson and United States President Joe Biden, issued a joint statement on 6 April assessing the progress of the trilateral partnership. The leaders “reaffirmed [their] commitment to AUKUS and to a free and open Indo-Pacific” and reiterated their “unwavering commitment to an international system that respects human rights, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes free from coercion.” They announced their commitment to “commenc[ing] a new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as to expand information sharing and to deepen cooperation on defen[c]e innovation.”

On 31 March, Morrison noted that Australia will provide a further $25 million in military support to Ukraine, at the request of the Ukrainian Government. The new package will include “tactical decoys, unmanned aerial and unmanned ground systems, rations, and medical supplies”. Morrison further stated that the Australian Government “will continue to identify opportunities for further military assistance where it is able to provide a required capability to the Ukraine Armed Forces expeditiously.” The announcement preceded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to the Australian Parliament later that day. Morrison introduced Zelenskyy to the Parliament by stating that “the people of Australia stand with Ukraine in your fight for survival … you have our prayers, but you also have our weapons, our humanitarian aid, our sanctions against those who seek to deny your freedom and you even have our coal. And there will be more.”

Morrison also stated that there would be an additional 35% tariff increase on all imports from Russia and Belarus on 31 March. On 1 April, Australia issued a “formal notification withdrawing entitlement to the Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) tariff treatment” as well as the additional 35% tariff increase. The increase, as well as a prohibition on imports of oil and other energy products, will take effect from 25 April. Morrison reiterated Australia’s solidarity with Ukraine and that Australia is “commit[ed] to tak[ing] all actions we consider necessary, as [World Trade Organization] members, to protect our essential security interests.” He further stated that Australia “strongly support[s] similar action by our international partners to revoke MFH trading arrangements with Russia and Belarus, consistent with their national processes.”

On 5 April, Morrison announced a ban on the export of luxury goods to Russia. Morrison stated that “these sanctions target President Putin and his wealthy enablers, not ordinary Russian consumers” and that they are “being undertaken in coordination with key partners to restrict the Russian elite’s access to such goods.” He further noted that both the European Union and the United States already have bans in effect and that the United Kingdom’s ban “is due to follow soon.”

Morrison attended the virtual signing of the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (AI ECTA) on 2 April with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. A media release issued with Minister for Trade Dan Tehan noted that the AI ECTA “will further strengthen our relationship [with India] while making Australian exports to India cheaper and creating huge new opportunities for workers and businesses.” The AI ECTA will eliminate tariffs on more than 85% of Australian goods exports to India and 96% of Indian imports into Australia. Morrison stated that “this agreement has been built on our strong security partnership [with India] and our joint efforts in the Quad, which has created the opportunity for our economic relationship to advance to a new level.” Following the signing, Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal visited Australia to meet with Australian business leaders and members of Australia’s Indian diaspora community. Tehan referred to the visit as “further strengthen[ing] the relationship between Australia and India” and “send[ing] a strong signal that Australia and India are committed to strengthening our economic ties and exploring new opportunities.”

On 1 April, Morrison issued a joint statement with his Papua New Guinean counterpart James Marape on Australia’s $158 million investment in Papua New Guinea’s energy and roads sectors under the Australian infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. Morrison noted that “Australia is pleased to support the development of high-quality infrastructure across Papua New Guinea’s diverse regions, and build on our strong record of supporting critical infrastructure across the Pacific.”

Morrison acknowledged the passing of David Irvine on 31 March, who he described as “an exceptional Australian and public servant in every sense of the word”, whose “curiosity, wisdom and judgment strengthened our democracy and security over many decades.” Irvine was a public servant for over fifty years and served as High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Ambassador to China, Director-General of ASIO, Director-General of ASIS, and Chair of the Foreign Investment Review Board. In the latter role, Morrison noted that Irvine “played a seminal role in bringing new perspectives to bear in the face of changing geostrategic dynamics in our region.”

On 5 April, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne travelled to Brussels for a meeting of NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers “to discuss our coordinated international response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and other global security challenges.” She noted that Australia and NATO “enjoy a deep and enduring partnership, unified in our shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rules-based order.” Payne further stated that she will “meet with a number of ministerial counterparts” in Brussels.

Payne noted on 1 April that Australia will commit an additional $40 million in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. The commitment was made at the United Nations Afghanistan Conference and builds on the $100 million in humanitarian assistance announced in September 2021. Payne noted that the funding “will provide life-saving food supplies to vulnerable Afghans including women and children, and [will] address other urgent needs such as health, gender-based violence and shelter.”

On 5 April, Payne, alongside Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, announced that the Australian Government ratified the International Forced Labour Protocol. Cash noted that “Australia highly values our cooperation with other [International Labor Organization] members, and has long committed to ratifying the Protocol.” Payne noted that “the Coalition Government has zero tolerance for modern slavery wherever it is occurring” and that this is “a key priority within Australia’s foreign policy to uphold the international rules-based order, promote human rights, advance gender equality, counter security threats and strengthen economic growth and resilience, particularly to ensure a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.”

Payne issued a statement on the appointment of Harinder Sidhu as Australia’s next High Commissioner to New Zealand. She noted that “Australia’s relationship with New Zealand is our closest and most comprehensive, and its special nature is underpinned by enduring cultural, economic, defence and sporting ties.” Payne further stated that the two nations “stand together to meet strategic challenges and work closely to promote an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific and the global rules-based order.” She referred to the Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement as “one of the world’s most open and successful” and noted that the two nations’ close collaboration to “respond to the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 in the Pacific” will continue.

On 31 March, Payne noted that Australia and Papua New Guinea signed the second bilateral Memorandum of Understanding under the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme. The scheme seeks to “strengthen worker protection and build capacity to address workforce shortages in Australia, particularly in agriculture and across regional areas.” Payne stated that “Australia recognises the outstanding contributions by Papua New Guinea workers under the labour mobility scheme in recent times, keeping food on shelves and contributing to the cultural and economic vibrancy of our regional and rural communities.”

Payne announced on 1 April that the Australian Government will contribute an additional $85 million and offer “at least” 10 million vaccine doses to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment to “help lift global vaccination rates, guard against future variants and further protect the health security of Australia’s region.” She noted that “Australia’s strong support will help to break the cycle of this pandemic and ensure our region is better positioned to respond to the next one.”

On 31 March, Payne issued a statement on Australian citizen Ms Cheng Lei who faced a closed trial in Beijing that day. Payne noted that Cheng faced charges of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas” and that the court deferred its verdict at the end of the proceedings. She further stated that the Australian Government “has never been provided with details of the charges” and that “Australia’s Ambassador to China and [diplomatic] officials were present at the court entrance, reiterating Australia’s support for Ms Cheng and our concerns with what has been a closed and opaque process”. The Ambassador was not permitted to enter the court, a move which Payne described as “regrettabl[e]”, “concerning” and “further undermin[ing] confidence.”

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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