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This Year in Australian Foreign Affairs: 2020

Published 15 Dec 2020
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

We want to make it easier for interested Australians to access key official statements about the direction of Australian international policy. Current Events in Australian Foreign Policy will identify and collate important speeches, Parliamentary statements, press releases, and media interviews given by ministers and opposition spokespeople on foreign, trade, defence, and development assistance policy. It is the Australian official word we will be concerned with, rather than the views of foreign governments or commentators.

The Current Events segment will not analyse those statements. We have the rest of Australian Outlook and the Australian Journal of International Affairs to do that when necessary. But in a context in which the traditional media has fewer resources to devote to the reporting of government statements, and information on social media becomes easily scattered, this weekly section will provide interested readers with an authoritative link to the core statements of Australian foreign policy and a better foundation for the wider debate we need about Australia’s external engagement at a time of unparalleled change.

For the historians among you, we want to echo for a new age the tradition of earlier publications like Current Notes on International Affairs, and the Australian Foreign Affairs Record.

We hope you find it useful.

Allan Gyngell

National President, Australian Institute of International Affairs

3 July

On 1 July, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds released the 2020 Defence Strategic Update to the 2016 Defence White Paper. Three new strategic objectives were outlined: to shape Australia’s strategic environment, to deter actions against Australia’s interests, and to respond with credible military force when required. The 2020 Force Structure Plan was also released, detailing the government’s intentions for new and adjusted Australian Defence Force capability investments, to implement these new strategic objectives. A joint media release by Morrison and Reynolds on the Strategic Update and Structure Plan stated that the government will invest $270 billion over the next 10 years to upgrade the capability of the Australian Defence Force. 

On 30 June, a joint media release from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, announced a $1.35 billion investment in cyber security over the next decade. This investment, they said, will “mean we can identify more cyber threats, disrupt more foreign cybercriminals, build more partnerships with industry and government, and protect more Australians.” 

On 1 July, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne published a statement expressing “deep concern about Beijing’s imposition of a National Security Law on Hong Kong.” 

On 30 June, Payne issued a media release following a special ASEAN-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on COVID-19, which was held “to discuss Australia and Southeast Asia’s cooperation to combat COVID-19 and to chart a course to economic recovery in the Indo-Pacific region.” Payne made a $23 million commitment to “help ASEAN bolster health security, economic recovery, and stability in our region.” 

On 30 June, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Defence Richard Marles and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong issued a joint press release declaring the Australian Labor Party’s opposition of the annexation of land in the West Bank by the Israeli government. The minister for foreign affairs noted Australia’s continuing support for a two-state solution in a statement on 1 July. 

On 26 June, the Minister for Trade, Simon Birmingham, and the Foreign Minister announced the appointment of new consuls-general to Austrade posts in Milan and Houston. 

Birmingham and the British Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, announced on 17 June the launch of negotiations for the Australia-UK free trade agreement to “take our bilateral trade and investment relationship to the next level.” Birmingham said, “this agreement will underpin the future economic relationship between our two countries and send a strong signal of our mutual support for free trade, which will be vital in a post COVID-19 world.”

10 July

On 1 July, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds delivered a speech at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan. She noted that “[our] region is now facing the most consequential strategic realignment since the end of World War Two.” 

On 7 July, Reynolds and Assistant Defence Minister Alex Hawke issued a joint media release reflecting on a special South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting. The meeting was held to discuss the regional security impacts of COVID-19 in the Pacific region. They had previously announced on 3 July the delivery of “the first of more than 30 planned virtual conferencing systems to our partner security agencies across the Pacific, beginning with Vanuatu and Fiji.” The systems will enable regional security leaders to participate in the virtual Joint Heads of Pacific Security (JHoPS) event in late 2020, as well as ongoing training, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. 

Reynolds also delivered a speech to the Perth USAsia Pacific Centre on 6 July addressing Australia’s security challenges across the Indo-Pacific. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) updated its travel advice on China, stating that Australians could face “arbitrary detention” if they go to the country. 

DFAT announced on 1 July the establishment of the Emerging Markets Impact Investment Fund (EMIIF), a $40 million initiative to “enhance DFAT’s bilateral investment capability, enabling the use of non-grant finance to crowd in private capital, and improve access to finance for small and medium enterprises in the Indo-Pacific.” 

Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced on 3 July a $240 million funding injection to keep international freight routes and flights operating. On 5 July, Birmingham issued a media release recognising the beginning of the Indo-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership (IA-CEPA). 

The Australian ambassador to the United Nations, Mitch Fifield, delivered a speech to the Asia Society Australia on 1 July, acknowledging the UN’s 75th birthday and discussing the future of UN-led international cooperation. He stated that “the UN system still works. We still need it. We need to invest in it. We don’t have an alternative to it.” 

17 July

Following a virtual summit on 9 July, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a joint statement reflecting “their commitment to leadership in combating COVID-19 and building a prosperous, open and stable post-COVID-19 world, with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region.” In particular, they shared concerns about China’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong, called on North Korea to commit to dialogue towards complete denuclearisation, and expressed serious concern about recent developments in the South China Sea. 

On 9 July, the prime minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, and Attorney-General Christian Porter expressed the Australian government’s “deep concern” about China’s imposition of a new national security law on Hong Kong and announced steps to suspend Australia’s extradition agreement with Hong Kong. The prime minister also announced new visa arrangements enabling Hong Kong passport holders to remain in Australia and providing additional pathways to permanent residency. 

The minister for foreign affairs and the minister for health, Greg Hunt, welcomed the World Health Organization director-general’s announcement that, following a resolution of the World Health Assembly, an Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response will evaluate the world’s response to COVID-19. The panel will be co-chaired by the former prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark. 

The prime minister also announced further caps on international arrivals into Australia in response to the pandemic on 9 July. 

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong criticised the reported decision to cut a further 60 staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, arguing that it “raises serious questions about [the] Government’s ability to deliver for Australia’s interests in an increasingly complex world.” Wong contrasted these cuts with the announcement on 1 July that the government would invest $270 billion over the next 10 years to upgrade the Australian Defence Force in its 2020 Defence Strategic Update.

24 July

On July 17, Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke at a press conference about a “very good discussion” he had with United States President Donald Trump earlier that morning. Morrison referred to Australia’s “very respectful and very mutual partnership with the United States,” and mentioned that the leaders discussed “global economic issues” stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On 22 July, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Home Affairs, Australian Signals Directorate, and the Australian Cyber Security Centre released a joint statement expressing the Australian government’s concern “over reports of global malicious cyber intrusions,” as detailed in the unsealing of indictments that day by the US Department of Justice. This followed a joint statement by the same group on 17 July declaring Australia’s support for the release of the Joint Cyber Security Advisory by the US, UK, and Canada, which “details malicious cyber activity by Russian actors targeting organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine development.” 

Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudgeannounced on 20 July changes to student visa arrangements “to ensure Australia remains a priority destination for international students as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.”  These changes include recommencing granting international student visas and allowing current international students to count online study while overseas towards the Australian study requirement for a post-study work visa. 

On 21 July, the Department of Defence announced that an Australian Defence Force Joint Task Group is currently conducting a trilateral exercise with Japan and the US in the Philippine Sea, on the way to participate in “Exercise Rim of the Pacific” in Hawaii. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced on 17 July that Australia has launched “a new international research program to help address the growing rate of zoonotic diseases across South-East Asia and the Pacific.” The Research for One Health Systems Strengthening Program will consist of a $10.2 million investment in research into zoonotic diseases over the next three years. 

Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price announced on 17 July that Australia is leading the way in the Asia-Pacific for maintenance of the Royal Australian Air Force’s new F-35 fighter jets, the first F-35 undergoing routine maintenance in Queensland. Price described this as a “world first” as this maintenance is the first of its type to ever be completed outside the United States. 

31 July

On 28 July, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds issued a joint statement on the 30th Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN). Payne and Reynolds met with United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper in Washington DC. They discussed the future of the Australia-US alliance, including the path to support regional recovery from COVID-19 and to “build a secure, prosperous future for the Indo-Pacific.” The ministers and secretaries signed a classified Statement of Principles on Alliance Defence Cooperation and Force Posture Priorities in the Indo-Pacific, which “establishes a bilateral Force Posture Working Group to develop recommendations that will advance force-posture cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.” 

The discussions at AUSMIN reiterated the importance of the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin, which is a key element of the Force Posture Initiatives. The secretaries and ministers also expressed “serious concerns over recent coercive and destabilising actions across the Indo-Pacific,” particularly around the China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. 

The statement on AUSMIN also mentions that a new working group will be created between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of State to “monitor and respond to disinformation efforts” that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong responded to Payne and Reynolds’ statement on AUSMIN, welcoming the “pursuit of opportunities for cooperation in coordination with other likeminded and regional partners.” 

Reynolds also announced on 24 July that Royal Australian Airforce (RAAF) aircraft and more than 150 RAAF personnel have been deployed in Guam to join exercises with the Royal Australian Navy and the United States. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted in a press conference at Parliament House on 24 July that he “had the opportunity to speak with [Canadian] Prime Minister Trudeau .. [French] President Macron, and [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu” over the past week. Morrison referred to the importance of a “collegiate approach,” of working with other countries, to tackle COVID-19. 

On 23 July, Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment Simon Birmingham announced that he had met virtually with New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker to conduct the annual Closer Economic Relations discussions. The ministers resolved to “identify concrete action to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on essential supplies” and committed to “strengthening bilateral cooperation to reinforce the rules-based global trading system.” They reaffirmed that the two countries are committed to introducing a trans-Tasman “safe travel zone as soon as it is safe to do so.” 

Birmingham, Minister for Health Greg Hunt, and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke jointly announced on 28 July that Australia is sending an Australian medical assistance team to Papua New Guinea “to support our friend and neighbour as it manages a concerning rise in COVID-19 cases in recent days.” The ministers also noted that “the Government is planning for a further deployment in consultation with the Government of Papua New Guinea.” 

7 August

On 5 August, Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined the Prime Minister of PNG, James Marape, for a Virtual Summit. Morrison announced a new Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership (CSEP) with PNG. The CSEP “provides an enduring and overarching framework for deepening bilateral cooperation across security, trade and investment, governance, development cooperation, health, education, gender equality, climate change, people-to-people and institutional links.” Progress in these areas will be “reviewed periodically, with a comprehensive review in 2030.” 

Morrison also addressed the Aspen Security Forum in the US on 5 August, where he discussed China and the United States’ “special responsibility to uphold … ‘the common set of rules that build an international society’.” He also warned that “the sense of unity necessary among like-minded partners can be undermined if positive political and security relationships are accompanied by abrasive or confrontational trade relationships.” 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne released a statement on 5 August on the explosion in Beirut. She announced that Australia will direct $2 million in humanitarian support to Lebanon “to help with the recovery from the devastating explosions,” to be drawn from the existing aid budget. Payne also noted that the Australian Embassy in Beirut has been damaged “significantly” by the explosions, with some Embassy staff injured, but all “safe and accounted for.” 

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong also released a statement about the Beirut explosion, calling on the Morrison government “to offer direct help to Lebanese authorities,” and stated that “Labor is seeking an urgent briefing on the situation.” 

On 4 August, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham announced that Australia recorded its largest financial year trade surplus in 2019-20 of $77.4 billion, despite “severe global economic shocks from COVID-19.” 

A joint statement was released on 4 August by Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke regarding a trial resumption of the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Programme in the Northern Territory. This trial will involve up to 170 workers coming to Australia from Vanuatu to support the Territory’s mango industry. The workers will have to spend in 14 days in quarantine prior to beginning work. 

Payne and Hawke also released a statement celebrating Vanuatu’s 40th independence anniversary on 30 July, acknowledging the two nations’ “close and long-standing relationship founded on history, common values and a shared home in the Pacific.” 

14 August

On 10 August, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne released a joint statement on Hong Kong with her Five Eyes counterparts. The Foreign Ministers stated that they are “gravely concerned by the Hong Kong government’s unjust disqualification of candidates and disproportionate postponement of Legislative Council elections.” 

Payne also participated in the biannual Australia-New Zealand Foreign Minister Consultations on 6 August with New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters. The Ministers noted that their cooperation during COVID-19 has “reinforced the closeness of the ties” between Australia and New Zealand. 

Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Defence Richard Marles gave an address to the National Press Club on 4 August. He accused the Morrison government of mishandling Australia’s relationship with China, stating that “right now, the adults – such as they exist in the government – are asleep and they are leaving the field vacant to fringe dwellers on the government side who …  are doing significant damage to what is a critical relationship for this country.” 

On 6 August, Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham and Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sung digitally signed the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA). The DEA upgrades the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement with a new Digital Economy chapter and will “further enhance digital trade opportunities for businesses and consumers” in both nations. 

On 10 August, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds announced that more than 1,000 US Marines have completed quarantine in the Northern Territory, “with training now well underway as part of this year’s Marine Rotational Force – Darwin.” 

On 5 August, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong responded to the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership with Papua New Guinea. Wong referred to the agreement as “overdue” and said that “more needs to be done to ensure we are the partner of choice in the Pacific and to strengthen our region’s stability.” 

21 August

On 19 August, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australians “will be among the first in the world to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, if it proves successful” following an agreement between the Australian government and UK-based company AstraZeneca. Moreover, Morrison stated that the government “remains committed to ensuring early access to the vaccine for countries in our Pacific family, as well as regional partners in Southeast Asia.” 

Alongside Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds, Morrison issued a statement on 15 August announcing that Australia is delivering humanitarian supplies to Beirut following the explosion earlier in the month. 

Reynolds announced on 18 August that four Royal Australian Navy vessels and nearly 700 Australian Defence Force personnel have arrived in Hawaii ahead of two weeks of training for the Exercise Rim of the Pacific 2020 (RIMPAC) involving 10 other nations. She stated that, “Australia’s participation in this year’s RIMPAC exercise reflects our close alliance with the United States and the strength of Australia’s military relationships with its regional defence partners.” 

On 13 August, Payne issued a statement on the second virtual meeting of Pacific women leaders. The meeting was convened by Payne and Samoan Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Namoi Mata’afa and discussed “the significant impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in our region.” 

Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke participated in the 2020 Pacific Islands Forum Economic Ministers Meeting on 13 August, and noted that “Australia is committed to working with the Pacific family to build resilience and support communities in need.” 

On 11 August, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong stated that “Labour strongly objects to a man who killed three Australian soldiers being included in a list of 400 Taliban prisoners to be released under a decree from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.” Wong urged the Morrison Government to continue to “push for justice” for the families of these Australian soldiers. 

28 August

On 20 August, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced that Australia will support the Gavi COVAX Facility Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC) “to improve access for Pacific and Southeast Asian countries to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines.” Australia has contributed $80 million to COVAX AMC to help secure COVID-19 vaccines for Pacific Island and Southeast Asian countries. 

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong welcomed the Government’s support for the COVAX Facility Advance Market Commitment, but also said that Labor “calls on Scott Morrison to make clear what existing lifesaving programs he plans to cut in order to fund the $80 million investment.” 

On 21 August, Payne announced a new agreement which will enable Australian farmers and regional businesses to recruit workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste through the resumption of the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme. 

On 26 August, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Defence Melissa Price announced a $1 billion investment package to boost Australia’s defence industry. 

On 21 August, Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudgeannounced that the new visa arrangements for Hong Kong students, temporary graduates and skilled workers had come into effect. 

4 September

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on 27 August that the government will introduce “new legislation to ensure the arrangements states, territories, councils and universities have with foreign governments are consistent with Australian foreign policy.” He stated that these reforms will give the foreign minister “the power to review any existing and prospective arrangements between state and territory governments, and all foreign governments.” 

Morrison thanked outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for “his enduring commitment to Australia-Japan relations over his long and successful career” in a statement on 28 August. He also referred to Abe as “Australia’s true friend.” 

On 27 August, Morrison responded to the sentencing of Brenton Harrison Tarrant, perpetrator of the Christchurch mosque shooting last year. Morrison paid tribute to the Muslim communities in both Australia and New Zealand and referred to New Zealand as “family to us in Australia.” 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne released a statement on 31 August regarding the detainment of Australian citizen and journalist Cheng Lei in China. She stated that Australian officials have had “an initial consular visit” and “will continue to provide assistance and support to her and her family.” Payne also noted that “further comment will not be provided owing to the Government’s privacy obligations.” 

Payne announced on 31 August four appointments to the Board of the Australia-India Council, with Ashok Jacob being reappointed as chair and joined by three new board members, the Hon Lisa Singh, the Hon Ted Baillieu AO, and Matthew Hayden AM. 

Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke announced on 27 August that Morrison and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had spoken that day to discuss “key regional issues including the impact of COVID-19, and our joint efforts to combat its spread in the Pacific region.” 

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds announced on 29 August that Australia is providing a package of up to $2 million of medical personal protective equipment to the Indonesian military as part of the existing Defence Cooperation Program and Funding. 

On 28 August, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong criticised the Morrison government’s “lack of a plan to help [Australian residents stranded overseas] get to safety.” Wong “[urged] the Government to offer financial support to Australians who need it, and to engage with airlines to stop the price gouging.”

11 September

On 8 September, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a statement on the provision of consular support to two Australian journalists in China, Bill Birtles and Michael Smith, “to assist their return to Australia.” She stated that “[the Australian] Embassy in Beijing and Consulate-General in Shanghai engaged with Chinese Government officials to ensure [Birtles’ and Smith’s] wellbeing and return to Australia.” Payne also noted that consular support is continuing to be provided to “Australian citizens detained in China, including Ms Cheng Lei,” but that she is “unable to provide further comment [on Ms Lei’s detention] owing to privacy obligations.” 

Payne also announced the appointment of several diplomatic postings on 4 September: Ms Jennifer Cartmill as the new High Commissioner to Malta; Mr Michael Cutts as the new Ambassador to Morocco; Ms Chiara Porro as the new Ambassador to The Holy See; Dr Kate O’Shaughnessy as the new High Commissioner to Mauritius; Ms Susan Allen as the first resident High Commissioner to Niue; and Ms Jane Duke as the new Consul-General in Los Angeles. 

Payne noted on 2 September that the Australian government “will provide additional support to the most vulnerable Australian citizens whose return to Australia has been impacted by the restrictions arising from COVID-19.” A Hardship Program has been made available to provide loans which “are intended to cover temporary accommodation and daily living expenses” and “must be repaid upon return to Australia.” 

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong characterised this announcement as “an attempt to get a headline without actually helping people … [the] 23,000 Australians stranded overseas need more than empty announcements – they need a plan to get home.” She further stated that “Labor is calling on the Morrison Government to take urgent action to stop airlines price gouging, increase quarantine capacity and put all options on the table to repatriate stranded Australians.” 

Wong also issued a media release objecting to the United States’ decision to sanction International Criminal Court officials. She urged Payne to express to her United States counterpart that this decision does not maintain “norms that underpin universal human rights, gender equality, and the rule of law.” Payne has not issued a statement on the United States’ decision. 

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds issued a statement on 4 September noting the farewell of “more than 85 Australian Defence Force personnel … ahead of their upcoming deployment to the Middle East Region.” 

On 4 September, Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced the launch of the second round of public consultations on a possible future Geographical Indications framework “as negotiations progress with the European Union to secure an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement.” 

Birmingham also released a statement on 4 September revealing the new Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce which will bring together “experts from across the Commonwealth, States and Territories” in order to encourage international businesses to Australia to support post-COVID recovery and boost local jobs. 

18 September

On 9 September, the first Trilateral Dialogue between Australia, India, and France was held via videoconference at the head of foreign ministry level. The dialogue “focused on addressing regional and global challenges, including those posed by COVID-19.” The three countries agreed to hold the dialogue on an annual basis. 

Last week, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne participated via videoconference in the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the ASEAN-Australia Post Ministerial Conference, and the ASEAN Regional Forum. Payne also delivered a keynote address at the ASEAN Ministerial Dialogue on Strengthening Women’s Role for Sustainable Peace and Security. 

Payne noted on 15 September that “Australia warmly welcomes the announcement of normalised relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, and Bahrain and Israel,” stating that “these announcements set an example of the power of negotiated outcomes.” 

On 13 September, Payne announced a new $60 million package of initiatives to support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ COVID-19 recovery, under the Partnerships for Recovery program. 

Payne acknowledged the second anniversary of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s detention in Iran on 11 September, stating that “the Government’s efforts to secure Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release are an absolute priority and continue without pause.” 

Payne and Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds released a joint statement on 11 September on the transfer of Afghan Army deserter Hekmatullah to a detention facility in Qatar by the government of Afghanistan. Hekmatullah murdered three off-duty Australian soldiers in 2012 in what Payne and Reynolds described as a “cold-blooded crime of betrayal.” 

On 12 September, Reynolds noted that the Royal Australian Navy has joined an eight-ship fleet with Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States for Exercise Pacific Vanguard in Guam. 

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton announced on 14 September that the Australian government has re-listed Islamic State East Asia as a terrorist organisation under the criminal code, reflecting “the Government’s continued commitment to strong laws for the protection of Australians, both here and overseas.” 

On 10 September, Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced proposed reforms to improve the Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) scheme. The EMDG scheme is “a key Government financial assistance program to help aspiring and current exporters increase their marketing and promotional activities in international markets.” 

Birmingham also noted on 11 September that Australia and Germany have signed a new agreement “to promote two-way trade and investment in hydrogen produced from renewable energy.” 

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong acknowledged the fourth anniversary of the government’s announcement of its Pacific Step Up policy, stating that this announcement “has failed to deliver anything but cuts and mismanagement.” Wong also criticised “the Morrison Government’s inaction on climate change” and its recent announcement of plans to cut two positions from Australia’s High Commission in Papua New Guinea.

25 September

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was interviewed by David Speers on Insiders on 20 September and remarked on Australia’s relationship with China, stating that, “Our plan is to always be consistent about Australia’s national interests … Our trading relationship [with China] is a mutual one … we both benefit from it and I believe the Chinese Government understands that well.” Morrison further remarked on regional stability, and said, “The way I think we come through this is by drawing together a region that is focused on stability, and I think that will improve relations within the region more broadly.” 

On 23 September, Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne released a statement announcing that the Australian Government has officially joined the COVAX facility, which will enable the purchase of COVID-19 vaccine doses as they become available. Payne noted that this is “a collaborative effort to provide doses to developing countries, enabling more countries to protect their most vulnerable groups.” 

Payne also noted on 18 September that the Australian Government is nominating Dr Robert Floyd as Australia’s candidate for executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive-Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBTO). Floyd is currently the Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office. CTBTO “is playing a critical role in achieving an end to nuclear weapons testing worldwide, and a global ban on all nuclear explosions.” 

On 19 September, Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced that the Morrison government “has reinforced its commitment to improving the global investment environment with the ratification of the United Nations Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration.” The Convention enhances the transparency of international investment treaties and will enter into force for Australia on 17 March 2021. 

Reynolds also announced the handover of a new Guardian-class patrol boat to the Republic of Palau on 18 September. Reynolds said that this “demonstrates Australia’s enduring partnership with Palau and our shared commitment to regional maritime security.” The vessel is the seventh Guardian-class patrol boat that has been delivered by Australia to its Pacific partners under the Pacific Maritime Security Program. 

On 17 September, Australian Citizenship Day, Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudgerevealed that from 15 November, “there will be an updated Australian Citizenship Test with a clear focus on Australian values.” This marks the first update to the citizenship test in more than a decade, which will include “a dedicated section on Australian values … like freedom of speech, mutual respect, equality of opportunity, the importance of democracy and the rule of law.” The new citizenship test will not include any changes to the English language or residency requirements for citizenship. 

2 October

On 26 September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the UN General Assembly by video link. Morrison said there was a “moral responsibility for a [COVID-19] vaccine to be shared far and wide.” He also discussed the dangers of disinformation, stating that it “costs lives and creates a climate of fear and division.” He further touched on trade rules and the need to peacefully resolve disputes through dialogue, stating that “we won’t retreat into the downward spiral of protectionism in Australia.” 

Morrison also sent a message to the United Nations’ 75th anniversary commemorative event on 21 September, paying tribute to “all who have served as a peacemaker, delivered aid, tended the sick, and contributed to the cause of peace anywhere in the world.” 

Senior officials from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade met via videoconference with representatives from the foreign ministries of India, Japan, and the United States on 25 September for Quad consultations on the Indo-Pacific. The officials “agreed that their governments would remain committed to supporting Indo-Pacific countries in managing the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, [and] work together to chart a pathway toward economic recovery that helps all countries in the region enforce their own sovereignty and resilience.” 

On 28 September, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds stated that a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft is being deployed on Operation ARGOS for the second time this year to enforce United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea. The Poseidon aircraft will operate out of Kadena Air Base in Japan and will conduct airborne surveillance to monitor and deter illegal shipments of sanctioned goods. 

Reynolds noted on 29 September that the Royal Australian Navy and Republic of Singapore Navy completed their bilateral Exercise SINGAROO in Southeast Asia, marking the exercise’s 25th year. 

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services, and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge delivered a speech to the Australian Chinese community on 25 September, noting that “while we value the relationship with China, the Australian Government will always act in the best interests of Australia – just as China acts in its interests.” 

On 30 September, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong released a statement on the British government’s passage of its Internal Market Bill in the House of Commons. Wong noted that “the Australian Labor Party expects the UK to honour the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and uphold its commitments to its citizens and the people of Ireland.” 

9 October

From 5-7 October, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne visited Japan for the second foreign ministers’ meeting of the Quad. The Quad consists of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to working together and with regional countries to support COVID-19 recovery and “promote a stable, resilient and inclusive Indo-Pacific.” 

Payne also visited Singapore from 8-9 October, meeting with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to affirm Australia’s “strong friendship” with Singapore, as underpinned by the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. 

Payne congratulated the people of New Caledonia on their second act of self-determination under the Noumea Accord on 4 October, recognising the choice made by New Caledonians to remain a part of France. 

The 2020-21 Federal Budget was brought down on 6 October, along with the portfolio budget statements for the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence. 

On 6 October, Payne commented on the 2020-21 budget, noting that the government will establish a $304.7 million COVID-19 Recovery Fund over two years as part of the Pacific Step-up, to help address the economic and social costs of the pandemic in the Pacific and Timor-Leste. Australia’s diplomatic network will also receive a further investment of $55.5 million for security upgrades, which will include security upgrades to embassies and residences. 

On 6 October, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds reflected on the 2020-21 budget, noting that it “sees sustained strong investment in Australia’s national security, with a focus on regional security, building defence capability and creating jobs, boosting Australia’s cyber resilience, and supporting Australia’s sovereign defence industry.” Reynolds also noted that the budget delivers on the Morrison government’s commitment to grow the defence budget to two percent of GDP in the 2020-21 financial year. 

Reynolds announced on 6 October that the Australian government is partnering with Vanuatu to “repair and upgrade the national government emergency radio network across Vanuatu.” The project will “significantly increase Vanuatu’s disaster preparedness and response capability.” 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on 2 October that the Australian government is establishing a Safe Travel Zone with New Zealand. Passengers from New Zealand will be able to travel to Australia without quarantining from Friday 16 October, provided they have not been in an area designated as a COVID-19 hotspot in New Zealand in the preceding 14 days. There are currently no COVID-19 hotspots in New Zealand. The first stage of the Safe Travel Zone will apply to New South Wales and the Northern Territory. 

This week, Payne also announced several appointments: Mr Philip Chronican to the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations Advisory Board; Mr Paul Griffiths as Australia’s next ambassador to Israel; Mr Will Nankervis as Australia’s next ambassador to the Association of South East Asian Nations; Ms Tiffany McDonald as Australia’s next high commissioner to Brunei Darussalam; Ms Elizabeth Ward as Australia’s next consul-general in Hong Kong; and Mr Bruce Edwards as Australia’s next ambassador to Ukraine. 

Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge released a statement on 7 October about Australia’s permanent migration program for 2020-21, which will focus on “supporting our economic recovery, growing Australian businesses, and creating jobs for Australians.” Tudge stated that the permanent migration program will remain at a cap of 160,000 places for 2020-21. This cap will be comprised of 79,600 places in the Skill stream, 77,300 in the Family stream, and 3,100 in the Child and Special Eligibility stream. Tudge estimated that two-thirds of permanent visas are expected to go to people already in Australia. 

16 October

On 8 October, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the nomination of Minister for Finance Senator Mathias Cormann as Australia’s candidate for secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Morrison referred to this as the “most important Australian nomination for a major international body in decades.” 

Morrison also released a joint media statement on 10 October alongside Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke celebrating the 50th anniversary of Fiji’s independence, noting that “[Australia has] been proud to support Fiji’s response to COVID-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold.” 

On 10 October, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued a statement on Australian citizen Dr Yang Hengjun, noting that Australia has been informed that Chinese authorities have decided to prosecute Dr Yang “on charges yet to be announced.” DFAT stated that the Australian government “has had recent consular access to Dr Yang in detention” and “will continue to provide consular support to him and his family, and to advocate for his issues.” 

Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham and Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudgeannounced on 12 October the introduction of refunds or waivers of visa application charges for “tourists, working holiday makers, seasonal and pacific workers, prospective partners and temporary skilled workers whose travel has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

On 8 October, Tudge also introduced a new requirement for partner visa applicants and their permanent resident sponsors “to make reasonable efforts to learn English.” The requirement will come into effect from late 2021, and applicants and sponsors will be able to “access as many hours of free English language classes as they need … through the Adult Migration English Program.” Tudge stated that “these new measures will provide further opportunity for migrants and new citizens to maximise their opportunities in Australia.” 

Tudge further announced on 14 October that the Morrison government is “strengthening the partner visa program to protect vulnerable migrants from people who commit violent crimes against women and children.” To do so, partner visa applicants will require an Australian citizen or permanent resident sponsor to be assessed “against character and sponsorship obligations and approved before a visa application can be made.” 

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds noted on 13 October that the Australian Defence Force has completed its training of thousands of Afghan National Army officers in Qargha. She said this work “will have a lasting impact on the security of Afghanistan.” 

Reynolds also released a statement on the return of the Royal Australian Navy Task Group following three months of “engagement with regional partners across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.” She noted that, “The Australian Defence Force conducts regular military-to-military engagements throughout the Indo-Pacific, to demonstrate that our commitment to our regional partners remains solid, and our desire for a stable and secure region is a priority.”

23 October

On 19 October, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced that, following an invitation from India, Australia will participate in naval exercise MALABAR 2020 in November. The exercise, Payne said, “will bolster the ability of India, Australia, Japan and the United States to work together to uphold peace and stability across our region.” 

On 16 October, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Payne announced the Australian government’s facilitation of additional commercial flights from the United Kingdom, India, and South Africa “to help more Australians return home amid the unprecedented travel disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Payne revealed on 19 October that the Pacific Fusion Centre will be established permanently in Vanuatu. The Pacific Fusion Centre has been operating in Canberra since September 2019, hosting 21 analysts from 14 Pacific Island Forum countries on short-term secondments. It was established “to provide practical support and expertise to equip Pacific decision-makers with timely, accurate information to respond to security challenges common to the region.” 

Payne released a statement on 14 October about Dr Yang Hengjun, noting that Chinese authorities have decided to charge Dr Yang with espionage. The Australian government “has seen no evidence to support this charge” and “has repeatedly expressed concerns for [Yang’s] treatment and welfare.” 

On 16 October, Payne noted that the Australian government is “deeply disappointed”  by Russia’s decision to withdraw from trilateral talks with the Netherlands regarding its role in the downing of MH17 in 2014. 

Payne acknowledged the conclusion of the 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 15 October. This marked Australia’s final session as a member of the Human Rights Council, with France and the United Kingdom being elected for 2021 from Australia’s regional grouping. 

Payne also addressed the Human Rights Council on 14 October, noting that “in 2021 and beyond, Australia will continue to play an active role in the Council.” 

On 14 October, Payne also met virtually with regional counterparts for the annual Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers’ Meeting “to discuss our work together on priority issues including regional health and economic security, our shared natural environment, and the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in the Pacific.” 

Payne announced on 14 October that Cook Islands has ratified the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus). Cook Islands is the final ratification required to trigger the entry into force of PACER Plus, which Payne says will deliver “new export opportunities for our Pacific partners.” 

On 15 October, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade published the Performance of Australian Aid report for 2018-19. This is the sixth and final report under the 2014 performance framework for the development program. 

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds announced on 16 October that she would be travelling to Japan, Singapore, Brunei, and the Philippines “to advance bilateral defence engagement and to discuss regional security challenges.” Reynolds met with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 20 October and met His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam on 21 October. 

Reynolds also revealed on 16 October that Australia “is providing four polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines to support the Sri Lanka Navy in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Alongside United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace, Reynolds announced on 20 October that the two countries have “further strengthened their enduring defence relationship by signing a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate on building and delivering the next generation of cutting-edge frigates.” 

30 October

On 26 October, Foreign Minister Marise Payne gave a press conference about the allegations that Australian women at Doha Airport were subjected to invasive physical examinations. Payne described the events as “grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive [and] concerning,” and said that the Australian Government had reported the matter to the Australian Federal Police and made its views “very clear to the Qatari authorities.” 

Payne announced several diplomatic appointments on 22 October: Ms Gillian Bird as Australia’s new Ambassador to France, Ms Jan Adams as Australia’s new Ambassador to Japan, Mr Philip Green as Australia’s new Ambassador to Germany, Ms Erika Thompson as Australia’s new Ambassador to Colombia, and Mr Luke Williams as Australia’s new High Commissioner to Kenya. 

On 23 October, Payne, along with Minister for International Development Alex Hawke announced the creation of 27 country-specific COVID-19 Development Response Plans for Australia’s Southeast Asia and Pacific neighbours. Hawke stated, “The COVID-19 crisis is still unfolding, and its impacts are highly uncertain. Our plans are flexible enough to adjust as these impacts become clearer.” 

Payne and Hawke also released a joint statement on 23 October about Australia’s support for Fiji through the Nadi Flood Alleviation Project, which will provide up to $5 million in financing to help reduce the effects of regular flooding on the town. 

On 25 October, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds visited Philippines and met with her counterpart, Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana, where they noted that their respective Defence organisations “had found innovative ways to continue to deepen our defence cooperation during COVID-19.” 

Reynolds also announced on 23 October that Australia will cease to deploy a navy ship to the Middle East and will not extend its time-bound commitment to the International Maritime Security Construct beyond December 2020. She noted that, “We now face an increasingly challenging strategic environment which is placing greater demands on ADF resources closer to home. As a result, the Australian Defence Force will reduce its naval presence in the Middle East to enable more resources to be deployed in our region.” 

On 27 October, Payne, along with Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham and Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher, announced that the National Museum of Australia’s Songlines exhibition will tour in the United Kingdom in 2021. The exhibition is “a unique cultural asset and the first of its kind, using Indigenous techniques of passing on knowledge, in an exhibition space.” 

Birmingham stated on 27 October that Australia hosted a virtual meeting of 22 World Trade Organisation ministers that evening, to “drive negotiations of global rules on fisheries subsidies and discuss the role of the WTO in contributing to the global economic recovery from COVID-19.” Birmingham chaired the meeting and noted that maintaining open trade settings would continue to support “the quickest possible recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Payne and Birmingham also acknowledged the commencement of Mr George Mina’s appointment as Australia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva on 27 October. 

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese released a joint statement welcoming the 50th nation ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, meaning the treaty will now come into force. 

Wong also acknowledged the 75th anniversary of the ratification of the United Nations Charter, and called on the Morrison Government “to make support for multilateralism a bipartisan principle.” 

6 November

On 31 October, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani delivered a joint statement on the Hamad International Airport incident. Minister Al Thani expressed his “deepest sympathies” with the women impacted and stated that the incident “is considered a violation of Qatar’s laws and values.” Minister Payne thanked Minister Al Thani and expressed Australia’s “satisfaction” with these initial steps taken. She also expressed her “confidence that the Qatari government will hold the officials involved accountable in a fair, just and proportionate manner.” 

Payne also announced on 31 October an additional $500 million in funding over the next three years, on top of the $23.2 million committed in the budget, will be directed towards providing COVID-19 vaccine access in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. 

On 28 October, Payne stated that Australia is partnering with Japan and the United States to finance an undersea fibre optic cable to the Republic of Palau. The project is valued at approximately US$30 million and will ensure reliable, secure digital connectivity in Palau. It is the first project to take place under the Trilateral Partnership for Infrastructure Investment in the Indo-Pacific between Australia, Japan, and the United States. 

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds noted on 3 November that Australia had joined “key regional defence partners” India, Japan, and the United States for Exercise MALABAR 2020. Payne described Exercise MALABAR as “an important opportunity to work in concert with like-minded nations to support a secure, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.” 

Reynolds also acknowledged the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR1325) – Women, Peace and Security. Reynolds noted that “the Government will continue to champion the agenda across multinational forums and within bilateral partnerships, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.” 

On 29 October, Reynolds noted that HMAS Arunta had arrived in Sasebo, Japan, for a “short logistics visit” prior to participating in Operation ARGOS on 31 October 2020. Operation ARGOS is Australia’s contribution to the enforcement of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his intention to recommend to the Governor General Andrew Shearer as the new director-general of the Office of National Intelligence for a five-year term on 30 October. Morrison thanked the outgoing director-general, Nick Warner, for his service. 

Minister for Immigration Alan Tudgenoted that from 30 October, new applicants for most visas “will be required to sign or accept an updated Australian Values Statement, with a greater focus on values like freedom, respect, equality and the rule of law.” The new Australian citizenship test, which similarly has “a stronger focus on Australian values,” will come into effect on 15 November. 

On 29 October, Tudgestated that he had introduced legislation to reform the Adult Migrant English Program in order to allow “more migrants to access more free English language classes.” The reforms will remove the 510-hour limit on classes, allowing people to continue with the program “until they reach a vocational level of English.” 

Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced on 31 October a major bid to bring the 2027 Rugby World Cup to Australia, with an $8.8 million funding injection to support the bid. It is estimated that hosting the 2027 Rugby World Cup will bring over 200,000 international visitors to Australia, generate an estimated $2.2 billion in economic activity, and create 12,000 jobs. 

On 28 October, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong criticised the Morrison government’s “refusal to commit to net zero emissions by 2050” and stated that this decision is “leaving Australians increasingly isolated [as] the UK and 73 other countries have committed to this target.” Wong argued that “Morrison’s refusal to take climate change seriously poses a threat to the security and prosperity of all Australians, and to Australia’s international standing.” 

13 November

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Morrison congratulates Biden, two more COVID-19 vaccines secured for Australia, more flights between New Zealand and Hobart, and more. 

On 8 November, Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated United States President-elect Joe Biden on his election as the 46th president of the United States. Morrison also acknowledged and thanked President Donald Trump and stated that “Australia has enjoyed a strong working relationship with the current administration.” 

Morrison stated that two more COVID-19 vaccines have been secured for the Australian population under new agreements on 5 November. The new agreements with Novavax and Pfizer will provide 40 million and 10 million doses respectively if the vaccines are proven to be safe and effective. These developments mean that the government has now secured access to four COVID-19 vaccines and over 134 million doses. 

On 7 November, Morrison and Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton announced that more than 130 direct flights from New Zealand to Hobart “packed with tourists” are being organised under a new deal struck with Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein. Hobart’s airport will now take around 30,000 international travellers each year. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Minister for International Development Alex Hawke noted on 9 November that 151 Tongan workers have arrived in Queensland to support horticultural producers under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme. 

Payne announced on 6 November that Australia and Samoa are teaming up to launch a new Regional Sports Hub in the Pacific that “will help foster new generations of sports talent across our region.” The Hub will deliver activities funded by PacificAus Sports from 2020 to 2023, “including supporting training and competition for Pacific athletes, teams and sports administrators.” 

On 10 November, Payne congratulated Ms Natasha Scott Despoja on her election to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Ms Scott Despoja is the first Australian to serve on the committee in almost thirty years, and her candidacy was supported by the Australian government. 

On 5 November, prior to the confirmation of the United States election results, Payne stated in an interview on ABC News Breakfast that she was “confident that the US systems and processes that have stood the test of time will deliver and outcome, and it is important that we wait for that.” Payne further said that “It’s important that we respect that process, that every vote is counted, and I’m sure that they will be.” 

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong expressed “deep concern” on 6 November about reports that Chinese authorities are planning to “halt imports of Australian wine, lobsters, sugar, coal, copper, barley and timber.” Wong called on Morrison to stand up for Australian exporters and argued that the relationship with China “must be managed in the national interest and not for partisan political interests.” 

20 November

On 12 November, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds, and Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton issued a joint media release announcing the establishment of an Office of the Special Investigator to “assess and examine the findings of the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) Afghanistan Inquiry.” An Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight panel was also announced, and its Terms of Reference were released. 

Morrison virtually attended the ASEAN-Australia Summit on 14 November. At the summit, he announced that Australia will invest in “a new package of economic, development and security measures to support the region’s recovery from COVID-19.” This package includes $21 million for the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies, $232 million to support economic integration and development in the Mekong, $104 million towards the region’s security needs, and $70 million for infrastructure development. 

On 17 November, Morrison met with Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and announced the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement, noting that Australia and Japan “have reached in principle agreement on a landmark defence treaty that will further deepen the countries’ strategic and security relationship.” The arrangement will facilitate cooperative activities, such as joint exercises and disaster relief operations, between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Defence Force. 

On 13 November, Morrison met virtually with his Thai counterpart, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, and elevated their relationship to that of a Strategic Partnership. The announcement delivers on a joint commitment that the prime ministers made at the East Asia Summit last year. 

On 15 November, Morrison and Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement between Australia and 14 other Indo-Pacific countries. Birmingham said that RCEP will be the world’s largest free trade agreement and is the result of eight years of negotiation. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne expressed concern about recent developments in Hong Kong, stating on 12 November that “Beijing’s disqualification of duty elected Legislative Council lawmakers seriously undermines Hong Kong’s democratic processes and institutions.” 

Payne responded to Myanmar’s election on 12 November, calling it an “important milestone in the country’s democratic transition.” She said that Australia will “continue to support Myanmar’s progress towards full democracy.” 

On 16 November, Payne issued a statement on the continuation of the partnership between Australia and the Pacific Community (SPC). Australia will provide $42.5 million in “core funding” to the SPC over the next 3 years, to support the renewed 10-year strategic partnership (2014-2023) between Australia and SPC. 

Minister for Immigration Alan Tudgenoted on 18 November that citizenship appointments have now resumed in all states and territories following COVID-19 shutdowns. 

27 November

In a major speech, delivered virtually to British think tank Policy Exchange on 23 November, Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke about the role of nation states in supporting the international order. He said that a “new era of geopolitical competition” was underway. In this era, he said, Australia’s preference was “not to be forced into binary choices” in the global competition between China and the United States. Morrison was accepting the inaugural Grotius Prize for his work in support of the rules-based order.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a joint statement on 19 November reiterating concern “regarding China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong” with the Foreign Ministers of Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and the United States Secretary of State.

Payne also acknowledged the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, noting that “it is important that all Australians consider how they can each drive real and lasting change to improve the safety of women and their children.”

On 19 November, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds issued a statement about the Afghanistan Inquiry, stating that “accountability will be the cornerstone of Defence’s response to the Inquiry report.” Reynolds also said she “remain[s] proud of the men and women who have served our nation … with distinction.”

Reynolds met virtually with the Honourable Inia Seruiratu, Fijian minister of defence, on 24 November for the second annual Defence Ministers’ Meeting. The ministers announced the commencement of negotiations for a reciprocal Status of Force Agreement which will “facilitate Fijian and Australian defence personnel to undertake exchanges, deployments, and exercises in each other’s jurisdiction.”

On 24 November, Reynolds also marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Rifle Company Butterworth as a milestone in Australia-Malaysia defence relation.

Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced on 19 November that a consortium led by the University of New South Wales, Deloitte, and Baringa Partners would deliver the “German-Australian Supply Chain Feasibility Study of Hydrogen produced from Renewables.” This announcement follows the signing of an agreement between Australia and Germany in September to explore the “potential for closer collaboration on hydrogen supply.”

On 25 November, secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, spoke at the Australian National University Security College’s 10th Anniversary Lecture Series, discussing past, present, and future security challenges for Australia. Adamson noted the significance of pursuing Australia’s own interests and acting with “agency and purpose,” having a “flexible and competitive economy” post-COVID-19, and “credibly [fusing] our interests and values.”

4 December

On 30 November, Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a press conference where he referred to a post of “a falsified image of an Australian soldier threatening a young child with a knife,” made on an official Chinese Government Twitter account and posted by the Deputy Director of the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, as “truly repugnant” and “deeply offensive to every Australian.” Morrison stated that Australia is “seeking an apology” from the Chinese Government for the post, and that Twitter has been contacted with a request to take down the falsified image.

Morrison announced on 26 November that Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert will be returning to Australia from Iran. Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne noted that Moore-Gilbert’s release “was achieved through diplomatic engagement with the Iranian Government” and the outcome “demonstrates the value of professional and determined work … to resolve complex and sensitive consular cases.”

On 26 November, Morrison attended a virtual meeting with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. The leaders “reaffirmed the shared values that underpin the bilateral relationship as enshrined in the EU-Australia Framework Agreement.”

Payne announced on 29 November the appointment of the Honourable William Hodgman, former Tasmanian Premier, as Australia’s next High Commissioner to Singapore, and Bernard Lynch as Australia’s next Ambassador to Jordan.

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds launched on 27 November a new framework called “Lead the Way: Defence Transformation Strategy.” The aim of the framework is “to evolve Defence’s strategic purpose, performance and accountability.”

On 2 December, Reynolds and Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton issued a joint statement on a new operation being led by the Australian Signals Directorate to “strike back against offshore cybercriminals who are conducting COVID-19 related malicious activities.”

Reynolds announced on 1 December that “last week, Australia and the United States signed a new collaborative agreement to develop and test hypersonic cruise missile prototypes.” The agreement will take place under the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment to cooperatively flight test full-size prototype hypersonic cruise missiles.

11 December

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a media release on 8 December about the passage of the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020  by the Australian Parliament that day. Payne stated that this legislation will “ensure that arrangements entered by States and Territories, local governments and Australian public universities with foreign governments are consistent with Australia’s foreign policy.” The Act will mean that the minister for foreign affairs will have the power to prevent prospective foreign arrangements from proceeding, or to cancel existing arrangements, “where that arrangement is not consistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adversely affects Australia’s foreign relations.”

Payne delivered a speech at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 4 December on “building a cohesive Indo-Pacific”. Payne stated that “Australia will be true to our values and respectful of the fundamental rules and norms that have stood the test of time. The order based on these rules and norms has served all countries in the region well. These are not necessarily static, but their reform should be pursued through negotiation, not through the exercise of power.”

Payne virtually attended the 3rd Malaysia-Australia Annual Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 4 December with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, the Honourable Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. The ministers discussed post-COVID-19 recovery, collaboration in defence and security, and consolidating regional links. Moreover, “in line with the commitment in 2019 to work towards elevating the Strategic Partnership, [the ministers] agreed to recommend a Plan of Action to the Leaders of both countries for their consideration.”

On 9 December, Payne acknowledged the one-year anniversary of the Whakaari/White Island Volcano Disaster in New Zealand and stated that she was “immensely proud of the interoperability that [she] saw between the New Zealand and Australian responders [following the eruption].”

Attorney-General Christian Porter responded to the release of the Comprehensive Review into Intelligence Legislation (Richardson Review) on 4 December. Richardson found that “the key principles underpinning Australia’s intelligence and security legislation are sound and enduring.” Porter stated that “The Review shows not only do our agencies work tirelessly to keep Australia safe, they are just as focused on making sure they do so within the limits of the law.” The government has agreed in full, part or principle to 186 of the 190 unclassified recommendations, with Porter saying that the government’s response “lays out a pathway for the evolution, rather than revolution” of intelligence and security agencies.

On 9 December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison virtually attended a Leaders’ Meeting with Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands. The leaders committed to establishing a General Security Agreement between their countries, which will “enable greater collaboration … and reflects the commitment of both countries to work in partnership to uphold international law and address common strategic security challenges.” They also expressed their “disappointment in the Russian Federation’s decision to withdraw from the trilateral meetings with Australia and the Netherlands regarding the Russian Federation’s role in the downing of Flight MH17 … [and] agreed to continue to urge the Russian Federation to reconsider its decision.”

In a press conference on 3 December, when asked about the Australia-China relationship, Morrison stated that, “We’ve been very consistent. We’ve sought to be very respectful. We will continue to do that and we will seek opportunities for constructive engagement.”

Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham announced that the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement came into force on 9 December, saying the Agreement “[sets] a new global benchmark for digital trade rules and [provides] more digital trade opportunities for businesses and consumers in both countries.”

On 4 December, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds noted that The Royal Australian Navy and the Indonesian Armed Forces completed a “coordinated maritime patrol to improve security along our shared maritime border,” in the tenth iteration of the Australian and Indonesian coordinated maritime security patrol, known as AUSINDO CORPAT.

Minister for International Development Alex Hawke released a statement alongside Payne to acknowledge the arrival of Tongan workers to support Queensland’s horticultural producers. Hawke described their arrival as “another significant step towards restarting Australia’s highly valued Pacific labour mobility programs and supporting our Pacific family.”

18 December

On 16 December, Minister for Trade and Finance Simon Birmingham stated that the Australian government will engage in formal World Trade Organization (WTO) consultations with China “to defend the interests of [Australia’s] barley producers and exporters … over China’s imposition of anti-dumping and countervailing duties.” Birmingham stated that “Australia’s decision to take this step is consistent with our previous use of WTO processes. We have continued to raise our concerns with China on numerous occasions both bilaterally and through the relevant WTO Committees.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the Pacific Islands Forum on 11 December, announcing that Australia is “very confident that we will now achieve our 2030 [emissions] target without the need to draw on our carry over credits that Australians earned from overachieving on our Kyoto-era commitments.”

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton announced on 16 December the appointment of Chris Moraitis, current secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, as director-general of the Office of the Special Investigator and Mark Weinberg AO QC as special investigator to examine the findings of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry Report. Dutton stated that “the task for these eminent appointees will be challenging and as the Prime Minister has noted, difficult for Australia.” Shadow Minister for Defence Richard Marles and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally welcomed the appointments, calling them “a significant step forward in the assessment of the serious allegations in the Brereton report.”

Birmingham issued a statement on 16 December noting that Tasmanian produce, including fruit and seafood, had been “loaded onto the first regular international flight out of Hobart for more than 20 years, bound for holiday feast tables across Asia.” Birmingham said that “this is an historic day for Hobart and a great day for Tasmanian agriculture and seafood exporters who have done it extremely tough this year.”

On 14 December, Birmingham announced appointments to the Export Finance Australia (EFA) Board. Chair James M Millar AM has been appointed for a further three-year term, whilst Chair of Carbon Revolution Ltd James Douglas and CBH Group Chief Executive officer Jimmy Wilson have both been appointed to the EFA Board for three-year terms.

Birmingham noted on 11 December that reforms to the Export Market Development Grants scheme passed through Parliament, stating that “the reforms that passed Parliament following an independent review into the administration of the EMDG scheme centre on cutting red tape, increasing awareness of the scheme and giving exporters more funding certainty.” The new scheme will commence on 1 July 2021.

On 10 December, Birmingham revealed the launch of a new Tourism Australia campaign “to urge young Kiwis to take a working holiday this summer” and to “enjoy opportunities in our agricultural, tourism and hospitality sectors, particularly those in regional areas, which offer real job opportunities as a result of COVID-19.”

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds issued a statement on 10 December reflecting on the virtual ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus). Reynolds noted that “The ADMM-Plus has strengthened practical cooperation and dialogue over the past decade and helped to shape responses to shared security challenges … It will become even more important as we confront the emerging challenges outlined in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update.”

Birmingham and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a media release on 13 December, recognising that the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus) had come into force. Birmingham stated that, “This trade deal ensures greater market access and lower tariffs across a range of products that will benefit communities, farmers, fishers, businesses and investors in our region.” Australia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and New Zealand are Parties to the Agreement. The remaining signatories that are yet to ratify are Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Payne virtually attended the Australia-Indonesia-Timor-Leste Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 15 December with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, Retno L.P. Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women of the Commonwealth of Australia and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Adaljiza Magno. The Ministers discussed strengthening trilateral cooperation, the impact of COVID-19 on the region, the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and their commitment to promoting gender equality.

On 16 December, Payne reflected on the third meeting of Pacific women leaders she co-convened that day “to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls in our region.” Payne referred to the three meetings as “a highlight of this year for me” and reinforced the leaders’ “shared commitment to women’s resilience and leadership at all levels across the region.”

Payne announced several diplomatic appointments on 16 December: Mark Foxe as Australia’s next Consul-General in Lae, Papua New GuineaPaula Ganly as Australia’s next Ambassador to IraqCatherine Raper as Australia’s next Ambassador to the Republic of Korea; and Paul Kelly as Australia’s next Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

On 16 December, Payne noted the launch of the Australia-India Water Security Initiative at the World Water Summit in New Delhi. The Australian Government announced its contribution of $10 million “to support cooperation between Australia and India on urban water security.”

Payne acknowledged International Human Rights Day and the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December. She stated that “Australia will continue to defend longstanding human rights principles and norms, protect hard won gains and raise serious concerns about human rights situations around the world.”

Payne and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg issued a joint statement on 14 December welcoming the appointment of Bruce Gosper to the position of Vice-President, Administration and Corporate Management at the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The Ministers acknowledged the ADB as “one of Australia’s key development partners and a major source of development finance in our region.”

Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge noted that the Government passed legislation on 10 December “to give more migrants access to more free English language classes, so they can have the best chance to succeed in Australia.” Tudge referred to the Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020 as “one of the most significant reforms to the Adult Migrant English Program in the program’s history.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement on 10 December acknowledging the commencement of Australia’s new Foreign Arrangements Scheme, following entry into force of the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020.

31 December 

On 22 December, Payne announced the appointments of Poh Ling Yeow and Professor Nicholas Farrelly to the Board of the Australian-ASEAN Council, noting that the role of the Council “is to support stronger networks between people and institutions in Australia and the region.”

Payne virtually met with her New Zealand counterpart, Nanaia Mahuta, on 17 December for the biannual Australia-New Zealand Foreign Minister Consultations. She stated that “the trans-Tasman relationship has never been stronger, as the alignment of our efforts to tackle the challenges of the past year have shown.”

On 23 December, Payne announced the establishment of the Sydney Dialogue, “the world’s premier summit on emerging, critical and cyber technologies.” The summit will be hosted in Sydney in 2021 by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, with the Australian government contributing $1.5 million in support.

Morrison announced a cabinet reshuffle on 18 December, including appointing Dan Tehan as Minister for Trade, Alex Hawke as Minister for Immigration, Zed Seselja as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and Andrew Hastie as Assistant Minister for Defence. Reynolds welcomed Morrison’s appointment of Andrew Hastie to Assistant Minister for Defence on 18 December.

New Minister for Trade Dan Tehan thanked Morrison for his appointment on 22 December, stating “Trade is a mutually beneficial relationship between nations that enhances friendships, understanding, respect and co-operation. I will engage, listen and work tirelessly to advance Australia’s trade interests.”

On 23 December, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong urged the Morrison government to guarantee a $200 million deal between China and Papua New Guinea to build a “comprehensive multi-functional fishery industrial park” does not “threaten Australia’s security interests or fisheries.” Wong noted that “growing concerns [about the initiative] among security experts and Torres Strait and Far North Queensland communities have not been addressed by the Morrison Government.”

These notes were compiled by Isabella Keith, an weekly columnist for Australian Outlook at the AIIA National Office. Isabella is an undergraduate student at the Australian National University studying Law and Politics, Philosophy and Economics.