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9 February 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

10 Feb 2023
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese welcomes NZ PM Hipkins to Canberra, Timor-Leste PM visiting, PALM Scheme reaches major milestone, MH17 investigation suspended, and more.

On 7 February, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed his New Zealand counterpart Chris Hipkins to Australia. The pair met in Canberra and held a joint press conference, where Albanese referred to the two nations as “family” and that Hipkins’ trip “reflects the priority that Australia and New Zealand place on our relationship and the deep friendship between our countries.” He noted that the discussion they had was “naturally wide-ranging, reflecting the breadth of our relationship, which is about our economy, climate, security issues, and how we will work together to continue the plan that was established at last year’s leaders meeting with former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, including working through a range of issues relating to citizenship for Australians in New Zealand, which we intend to conclude before Anzac Day of this year.” Albanese and Hipkins also discussed “the great value [they] place on [their] role as members of the Pacific family” and referred to the Pacific Islands Forum as “an important institution … that brings together the countries in our region.” Albanese noted that he “look[s] forward to further developing our relationship with our friends in New Zealand, to ensure that the Trans-Tasman relationship continues to grow and adapt to the challenges of the future.”

Albanese announced that he will welcome Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Taur Matan Ruak, to Australia as a Guest of Government from 7 to 9 February. The Prime Ministers will meet in Canberra to discuss “Australia’s partnership with Timor-Leste and opportunities for strengthening our economic, security and regional cooperation” and Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak will then visit Darwin to “reinforce the warm relationship and enduring people-to-people links between the Northern Territory and Timor-Leste.” Albanese noted that he was “delighted to welcome Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak to Australia for his first official visit to Australia since becoming Prime Minister in 2018” and that the visit “reflects the close ties between our people and countries, and the importance my Government places on deepening our relationships in Southeast Asia and across the Pacific region.”

On 2 February, Albanese and Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong noted that the Australian Government has “reached a major milestone – six months ahead of schedule – with more than 35,000 Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) workers now in Australia.” They noted that the scheme “is vital for filling workplace shortages in regional Australia, ensuring businesses can continue supporting their communities when there are limited local workers available” and that “workers from nine Pacific island countries and Timor-Leste are participating in the scheme, which is boosting economies and lifting families out of poverty.” They further stated that “in a region where more than one third of people live on less than $1,000 per year, long term PALM workers send home an average of $15,000 each.” Albanese also said that the scheme “is a practical measure that shows our respect for the Pacific and will build a stronger Pacific family.”

Wong, alongside Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus issued a statement on 9 February acknowledging the suspension of the Joint Investigation into the downing of Flight MH17 and noted that “Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine and its lack of cooperation with the investigation have rendered ongoing investigative efforts and the collection of evidence impossible at this time.” They also stated that “Australia has been steadfast in our enduring commitment to seeking truth, justice, and accountability for the victims of the downing of MH17” and that “the findings of the District Court of The Hague unequivocally and conclusively establish Russia’s responsibility for the downing of MH17.” Wong and Dreyfus further noted that “Australia remains committed to pursuing our ongoing case with the Netherlands in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to hold Russia to account for its role in the downing of the civilian aircraft.”

On 7 February, Wong announced the appointment of Swati Dave as the inaugural chair of the Advisory Board to the Centre for Australia-India Relations, which will open this year and “serve as a national platform to further strengthen our relationship with India.” Dave was most recently Managing Director and CEO of Export Finance Australia, and has held senior positions at National Australia Bank, Deutsche Bank, AMP Henderson Global Investors, Bankers Trust and Westpac. She is also currently Deputy Chair of the Asia Society Australia and is a member of the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations’ Advisory Board.

 Wong issued a joint statement on 7 February with Pat Conroy, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, announcing an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance to “those affected by the devastating earthquakes that have struck Türkiye and Syria.” In Türkiye, Australia will provide $7 million in lifesaving assistance, $4 million of which will be allocated “through our Red Cross and Red Crescent partners for food and items such as tents and blankets to support those injured and evacuated” and $3 million which “will be allocated as needs become clearer.” Australia will also provide $3 million in Syria through the United Nations Children’s Fund “for immediate needs including shelter, clean water, and sanitation, with a focus on women and girls.” Wong further noted on 8 February that Australia is working to provide a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Türkiye “to support local authorities with search and rescue efforts” following the earthquake there. She “activated an AUSASSISTPLAN to deploy an Urban Search and Rescue team of up to 72 personnel to Türkiye to assist local authorities.”

 On 3 February, Wong, alongside Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, and their UK counterparts issued a joint statement following the Australia-UK Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN). The Ministers “reaffirmed the importance of the UK and Australia’s modern and enduring partnership, which continues to adapt in the face of a rapidly changing world” and “highlighted the importance of working together to ensure an Indo-Pacific region that is open, stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty, human rights and international law.” They also recognised the “economic opportunity [that] will continue to grow as our Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement comes into force.” Moreover, the Ministers reiterated their opposition to “coercion or destabilising actions in the South China Sea”, shared concerns “about severe human rights violations in Xinjiang” and “underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Finally, the Ministers commended the “significant progress AUKUS partners have made on developing the optimal pathway for Australia to acquire a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability at the earliest date.”

Minister for Trade Don Farrell met with China’s Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao “for the first time, by teleconference” on 6 February. He noted that this “was the first meeting of Australian and Chinese Trade Ministers since 2019” and that the meeting “represents another important step in the stabilisation of Australia’s relations with China.” Farrell recounted the discussion, noting that it “covered a range of trade and investment issues, including the need for resumption of unimpeded trade for Australian exporters so that Chinese consumers can continue to benefit from high quality Australian products.” The Ministers “agreed to enhance dialogue at all levels” and “to explore further opportunities for a wider range of issues, including climate change.” Moreover, Farrell accepted an invitation from Minister Wang “to travel to Beijing in the near future to continue our productive dialogue.”

On 2 February, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts acknowledged the 2 November 2022 African Union-brokered peace agreement, and stated that it “offers the Ethiopian people an opportunity to achieve enduring and lasting peace.” He stated that “Australia recognises the progress made on implementing the agreement, including the resumption of humanitarian aid and government services, and the progress on disarmament.” Watts also commended the African Union’s “considerable efforts to broker the peace agreement and support its implementation” and “recognise[d] there is significant work ahead as Ethiopia enters a process of reconciliation.”

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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