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This Year in Australian Foreign Affairs: 2021

Published 11 Mar 2021
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke https://bit.ly/2ZsyTT3

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

15 January 

In a press conference on 7 January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the storming of the United States Capitol Building that day as “rather disturbing.” He stated that “we hope for a peaceful and stable transition of government to the new administration, elected by the American people.”

On 8 January, Morrison announced that international passenger caps in New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia will be temporarily halved from 15 January “to manage the flow of returning Australians and other travellers who have potentially been exposed to the new [COVID-19] variants.” Morrison also announced further measures, including that international travellers to Australia must return a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure and masks must be worn by passengers and air crew on flights and in airports.

On 10 January, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a joint statement with her counterparts from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, noting “serious concern at the mass arrests of 55 politicians and activists in Hong Kong for subversion under the National Security Law.” This statement followed one made by Payne on 6 January, where she stated that “Australia has consistently expressed concern that the National Security Law is eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy, democratic principles and rule of law.”

Payne noted on 5 January “the UK Court’s decision in relation to the application to extradite Mr Julian Assange to the United States, which the Court has made on the grounds of his mental health and consequent suicide risk.” Payne further stated that “Australia is not a party to the case and will continue to respect the ongoing legal process.”

On 11 January, Payne and Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds released a joint statement noting the progress of Australian Defence Force personnel working on Operation Fiji Assist following Tropical Cyclone Yasa. This followed the ministers jointly announcing on 23 December that the Australian government will provide $4.5 million in humanitarian relief to Fiji following the cyclone.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton issued a joint Five Country statement on 13 January calling on the European Parliament to “protect children around the world by addressing the unintended consequences of the new European Electronic Communications Code.”

On 1 January, Tehan announced that Australian farmers and businesses will benefit from more tariff cuts “delivered by our network of free trade agreements.” Tehan noted that “The proportion of Australian trade covered by free trade agreements is around 70 per cent, up from around 27 per cent in 2013.”

New Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke issued a joint statement with Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud on 5 January, announcing “more flexibility” to encourage student visa holders to “support Australian farmers struggling to find workers during COVID-19.” The increased flexibility means that student visa holders will be permitted to work more than the standard 40 hours per fortnight limit if they are working in the agriculture sector.

21 January 

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese delivered a major foreign policy speech at the Perth USAsia Centre on 20 January, where he spoke about US-Australia relations under a Biden administration. Albanese accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of “pandering to President Trump and those who follow him in Australia.” He also urged the new Biden administration to make a “greater, more strategic effort” in Southeast Asia.

In an interview with Jim Wilson of 2GB on 18 January, Morrison repeatedly referred to the violence in the United States as “distressing” and condemned those who stormed the Capitol building, however he did not directly criticise Trump’s actions. He also stated that he “[looks] forward to working very closely with President Biden and his whole team.”

On 16 January, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds, and Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced that the Australian government will support a further 20 facilitated commercial flights from locations around the world in order to help Australians overseas to return. The flights will run from January 31 to March 31 and will be targeted “to regions of most need and [those] not currently met by regular commercial operations.”

Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja noted on 19 January that HMAS Adelaide and its Australian Defence Force Contingent was to return the following day, following the completion of a three-week recovery operation in Fiji following Tropical Cyclone Yasa.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) published the 2019-20 Consular State of Play on 18 January to give “a snapshot of the consular assistance provided by the Department … to Australians overseas during the last financial year.” The period, marked by the COVID-19 crisis, has demanded “the largest and most complex consular responses Australia has undertaken.”

29 January 

On 27 January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison met virtually with Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and elevated the Australia-Malaysia bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). Morrison and Muhyiddin agreed that the CSP will be “underpinned by three streams of cooperation: economic prosperity, society and technology, and defence and national security.”

Morrison virtually held the first Annual Leaders’ Talks with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc under the Australia-Vietnam Strategic Partnership on 21 January. The prime ministers “agreed to increase efforts to become top ten trading partners and to double bilateral investment” and welcomed “the acceleration of progress on the Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy … [which] will be finalised this year.”

On 27 January, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Attorney-General Christian Porter “welcomed” the extradition of Malka Leifer from Israel to Australia. Payne thanked the Israeli government, acknowledging that their cooperation “allowed us to reach this point.”

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds noted on 27 January that she had her first virtual meeting with United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Reynolds referred to the meeting as “a warm and productive discussion between trusted allies.”

Reynolds announced on 25 January that the Morrison government will invest $1 billion to “commence the early development of advance guided weapons to enhance Australia’s maritime security.” She stated that “These new capabilities will provide a strong, credible deterrent that will ensure stability and security in the region.” The investment is part of the government’s $183 billion Naval Shipbuilding Plan.

On 21 January, Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong issued a joint statement congratulating United States President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on their inauguration. Albanese and Wong said that “Australia needs to lead by example to work with the US to secure the region we want – one that is stable, prosperous and respects sovereignty.”

Albanese and Wong also welcomed the entering into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 23 January, stating that “a Labor Government would work with our allies and partners [to rid the world of nuclear weapons] and would always act consistently with the US Alliance.”

5 February 

On 3 February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison attended the virtual Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat “to discuss the region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Morrison stated that “Australia is proud to be supporting our Pacific family to maintain a resilient, sustainable and secure region as we also manage the impacts of the pandemic at home.”

On 28 January, Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese announced a cabinet reshuffle, including Brendan O’Connor as the new Shadow Minister for Defence and Madeleine King as the new Shadow Minister for Trade.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne expressed on 1 February that “the Australian Government is deeply concerned at reports the Myanmar military is once again seeking to seize control of Myanmar”. Payne called on Myanmar’s military “to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders and others who have been detained unlawfully.”

On 2 February, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong called on the Government “to review Australia’s defence cooperation program with Myanmar” and to “work with allied and aligned countries to send a clear signal to Myanmar’s military leaders that their actions are a direct attack on Myanmar’s democratic transition and stability.”

Payne stated on 3 February that Australia is “deeply concerned by Russian authorities’ arrest and subsequent sentencing of Alexei Navalny.” She called on Navalny’s “immediate and unconditional release”, and also noted concern about “the approach of Russian authorities against peaceful protestors and journalists detained in recent weeks.”

On 2 February, Payne and Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds noted that more than 600 Australian Defence Force personnel who were deployed on Operation Fiji Assist in response to Tropical Cyclone Yasa returned to Australia.

19 February

On 15 February, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a press release on the launch of the Canadian-drafted Declaration Against the Use of Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations at the Human Rights Council. Payne noted that Australia “will continue to work with international partners against the practice of arbitrary detention” and commended Canada’s leadership of the initiative. She also stated that “Australia will hold countries to account for their international commitments and the obligation to comply with international laws and practices.” Payne also delivered a video message at the launch, in which she stated that “the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as a pretext for reducing or removing access to justice and consular assistance for people in detention.”

Payne issued a statement on 11 February about Professor Sean Turnell, who has been detained in Myanmar since 6 February. She said that Australia’s ambassador to Myanmar was able to speak with Turnell following “extensive Australian Government advocacy for consular access to him.”

On 16 February, Payne announced that the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations 2021-2022 competitive grants round is now open. The foundation is “an important demonstration of the Government’s commitment to a constructive relationship with China based on mutual respect.” Payne stated that the foundation “is committed to supporting connections and practical cooperation with China and engaging Australia’s diverse community as part of this endeavour.”

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds issued a statement on 13 February noting that five Australian fire trucks are travelling to Papua New Guinea on board HMAS Choules after being donated by the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services to assist with local firefighting efforts. Reynolds said that Australia “welcomed this opportunity to acknowledge and thank PNG for their support 12 months ago during the Black Summer Bushfires.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) published the Australian statement delivered at the 29th Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Myanmar on 12 February. The statement noted that “Australia has serious concerns about the military coup in Myanmar and for its democratic transition … We strongly urge the military to engage in dialogue to support a return to civilian rule, and the reconvening of the National Assembly the Myanmar people so clearly want.”

DFAT also acknowledged the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the Philippines on 12 February, noting that “our enduring friendship is based on shared interests and values, supported by strong people-to people links. The relationship has developed into a mature partnership that seeks to advance our mutual interests through cooperation in trade, development, defence and security.”

26 February

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne virtually attended the third Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 18 February, alongside her American, Japanese, and Indian counterparts. Payne referred to the Quad as a “key pillar of Australia’s international agenda,” noting that it “[brings] together four like-minded democracies committed to respecting and upholding international rules and obligations.” She stated that “Quad countries work with ASEAN and through ASEAN-led architecture, particularly the East Asia Summit, to advance a stable and prosperous region.”

On 19 February, Payne and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced that Australia will seek re-election to the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Council for the 2022-23 biennium, “to secure [our] voice at the world’s premier maritime forum.” Payne noted that “re-election will allow Australia to continue to build on decades of collaboration that has resulted in significant steps forward both environmentally and economically for our country and our regional partners.”

Payne released a statement on 18 February announcing the appointment of Roger Noble as Australia’s next ambassador for Counter-Terrorism. Noble was a major general and head of Military Strategic Commitments at Australian Defence Force Headquarters.

On 18 February, Payne announced the appointment of John Donnelly as Australia’s next high commissioner to Nigeria. Donnelly will also be accredited to Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Niger, and the Gambia.

Payne also announced the appointment of Nicholas Greiner as Australia’s next consul-general in New York on 18 February. Greiner was the federal president of the Liberal Party of Australia from 2017 to 2020 and premier of New South Wales from 1988 to 1992.

On 24 February as acting minister for Defence, Payne issued a statement announcing that Australia is deploying a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft “in support of the international community’s goal of the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea.” The aircraft will deploy on Operation ARGOS and will operate out of Kadena Airbase in Japan. Minister Payne said that “Australia is committed to the stability and security of our region and will continue to support sanctions on North Korea until it takes concrete steps towards denuclearisation.”

On 24 February, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan and Minister for Education Alan Tudge issued a joint media release announcing the five-year Study with Australia project, which will “showcase Australian education to new and existing learners worldwide.” Tudge stated that, “[of] course, we want international students back in Australia, but while international travel is limited, this initiative ensures students can stay connected to Australia and our world-leading education providers at a time when they need it most.”

Tehan also noted on 24 February that the UK and Australian Space Agencies have signed the Space Bridge Framework Agreement, which will “connect Australian and UK expertise in the space industry and showcase the strength of Australia’s space sector.”

5 March

On 26 February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement expressing Australia’s “deep condolences” to the Somare family and the people of Papua New Guinea following the passing of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare. Somare was prime minister of Papua New Guinea for 17 years across four separate terms. Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, and Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy also gave their condolences following Somare’s passing on 26 February, paying tribute to his “enormous contribution … to public life in Papua New Guinea and in the wider Pacific region.”

Morrison noted on 25 February that Brisbane is a “step closer” to hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2032 after entering into “exclusive negotiations” with the International Olympic Committee. He stated that, “We saw how Sydney 2000 brought our nation together and took Australian sport to a new level, and that’s what we’ll be aiming to do if we’re successful in hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games again in 2032.”

The inaugural Australia-Republic of Korea Senior Officials Policy Dialogue was held virtually on 25 February. The Australian delegation was led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Ridwaan Jadwat (First Assistant Secretary, Southeast Asia Division) and the Korean delegation was led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Park Jae-kyung (Director General ASEAN and Southeast Asian Affairs Bureau). The officials “discussed perspectives on regional developments, their priorities in Southeast Asia, engagement on ASEAN, the economic impact of COVID-19 on the region, regional health and economic recovery plans, maritime security and our engagement in the Mekong.”

On 24 February, the Australia-India-France Senior Officials’ Working Group virtually convened. Representatives from DFAT Gary Cowan (First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division) and John Geering (First Assistant Secretary, Europe and Latin America Division) met with Shri Sandeep Chakravorty (Joint Secretary, Europe West) from India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Bertrand Lortholary (Director, Asia and Oceania) of France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. The officials reviewed their progress following the Foreign Secretaries’ Dialogue on 9 September 2020 and “discussed next steps to advance practical cooperation in maritime safety and security; on marine and environmental issues …; and in multilateral fora.”

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong issued a press release on 1 March about the continued unrest in Myanmar following the 1 February coup. Wong argued that “the Australian government has still not made clear what it has done to oppose the recent actions of the Tatmadaw” and urged the Morrison government to “send a strong signal … that the bilateral relationship won’t return to business as usual until democracy is restored.”

On 28 February, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester marked the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Army’s 120 years of service. Chester noted that “since 1901, the men and women of the Navy and Army have served with distinction, through war and peace, and more recently as part of major domestic operations.”

On 26 February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement expressing Australia’s “deep condolences” to the Somare family and the people of Papua New Guinea following the passing of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare. Somare was prime minister of Papua New Guinea for 17 years across four separate terms. Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, and Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy also gave their condolences following Somare’s passing on 26 February, paying tribute to his “enormous contribution … to public life in Papua New Guinea and in the wider Pacific region.”

Morrison noted on 25 February that Brisbane is a “step closer” to hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2032 after entering into “exclusive negotiations” with the International Olympic Committee. He stated that, “We saw how Sydney 2000 brought our nation together and took Australian sport to a new level, and that’s what we’ll be aiming to do if we’re successful in hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games again in 2032.”

The inaugural Australia-Republic of Korea Senior Officials Policy Dialogue was held virtually on 25 February. The Australian delegation was led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Ridwaan Jadwat (First Assistant Secretary, Southeast Asia Division) and the Korean delegation was led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Park Jae-kyung (Director General ASEAN and Southeast Asian Affairs Bureau). The officials “discussed perspectives on regional developments, their priorities in Southeast Asia, engagement on ASEAN, the economic impact of COVID-19 on the region, regional health and economic recovery plans, maritime security and our engagement in the Mekong.”

On 24 February, the Australia-India-France Senior Officials’ Working Group virtually convened. Representatives from DFAT Gary Cowan (First Assistant Secretary, North and South Asia Division) and John Geering (First Assistant Secretary, Europe and Latin America Division) met with Shri Sandeep Chakravorty (Joint Secretary, Europe West) from India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Bertrand Lortholary (Director, Asia and Oceania) of France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. The officials reviewed their progress following the Foreign Secretaries’ Dialogue on 9 September 2020 and “discussed next steps to advance practical cooperation in maritime safety and security; on marine and environmental issues …; and in multilateral fora.”

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong issued a press release on 1 March about the continued unrest in Myanmar following the 1 February coup. Wong argued that “the Australian government has still not made clear what it has done to oppose the recent actions of the Tatmadaw” and urged the Morrison government to “send a strong signal … that the bilateral relationship won’t return to business as usual until democracy is restored.”

On 28 February, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester marked the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Army’s 120 years of service. Chester noted that “since 1901, the men and women of the Navy and Army have served with distinction, through war and peace, and more recently as part of major domestic operations.”

12 March 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke on 10 March about the upcoming Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’s (the “Quad”) first summit meeting, saying it is about “ensuring an open, independent, sovereign Indo-Pacific that enables all countries and nations within the Indo-Pacific to engage with each other, all of them, and to do that in a way which is good for their own citizens and good for the peace and prosperity of the region itself.” He also said, “[the Quad is] not a mini UN of four nations … This is about four like-minded countries coming together that have significant interests within the Indo-Pacific region, that has fantastic relationships with countries throughout the Indo-Pacific region to ensure that all of us can have the assurances about the peace and stability of the region.” The summit meeting will be held virtually on 12 March.

On 7 March, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a statement on Myanmar, following the military coup and “escalating violence and rising death toll.” Payne called for the “immediate release of [Australian] Professor Sean Turnell, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and others who have been arbitrarily detained since 1 February.” Payne also noted that “Australia has been renewing its Myanmar policy settings” and has “undertaken extensive consultations with our international partners, particularly our ASEAN neighbours, Japan and India.” Moreover, Payne announced that Australia’s limited bilateral Defence Cooperation Program with Myanmar’s military “will be suspended.” She also stated that “Australia’s development program is being re-directed to the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities” and that humanitarian engagement will be “with and through non-government organisations, not with government or government-related entities, as is currently the case in some parts of the program.” Finally, Payne noted that “Australia’s autonomous sanctions regime already includes an arms embargo that prohibits supplying weapons to Myanmar and targeted sanctions on a number of individuals … We continue to review our sanctions regime.”

Payne gave a speech on 5 March at UN Women Australia’s International Women’s Day event, where she noted that “[putting] women in our Indo-Pacific region and globally, front and centre, is a key to our economic recovery from COVID-19.” She also stated that “[over] the past 12 months, I’ve been honoured to engage – virtually – with Pacific women leaders in particular, with women foreign ministers from around the world to discuss our practical efforts to prioritise gender equality in the COVID-19 response … Women’s leadership and economic recovery go hand in hand.”

On 9 March, in her capacity as Acting Defence Minister, Payne issued a joint media release with Member for Leichhardt Warran Entsch on boosting maritime capacity in the Pacific. In the release, Payne and Entsch announced that TAFE Queensland has been awarded a $36 million contract to provide mariner training and support to the Navy crews of the Guardian-class Patrol Boats, as part of the Morrison government’s $2 billion Pacific Maritime Security Program. Under the program, Australia is replacing the existing Pacific patrol boats with 21 new Guardian-class patrol boats to 12 Pacific Island nations and Timor-Leste “to enhance regional maritime capability and capacity.” Payne said that the contract with TAFE Queensland is “designed to adapt and adjust, to meet the needs of our Pacific partners” and “will have significant strategic benefits in the Pacific.”

Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke announced on 8 March a new Ministerial Direction to guide decision-makers applying the character test to certain visa cancellation and refusal decisions. The direction “reinforces the Government’s intolerance for family violence by requiring decision-makers to consider family violence as a primary consideration when making visa determinations.” Hawke stated that “Being a member of the Australian community is a privilege and it comes with a responsibility to respect and abide by our laws … These changes align with the Australian community’s expectation that non-citizens who commit serious offences will not be permitted to enter or stay in Australia.”

19 March

On 12 March, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, comprised of the United States, Japan, India and Australia, held its first-ever leader-level summit. Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated in his opening remarks at the summit, that “[it] is the Indo-Pacific that will now shape the destiny of our world in the 21st Century.” The Quad leaders also issued a joint statement where they noted that they convened “to reaffirm our commitment to quadrilateral cooperation … and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific.” The leaders committed to, among other things, joining forces to expand “safe, affordable and effective vaccine production and equitable access,” working to “strengthen the climate actions of all nations,” prioritising the role of international law in the maritime domain, “the complete denuclearisation of North Korea,” and restoring democracy in Myanmar.

Morrison responded to Mathias Cormann’s selection as the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on 13 March, describing it as “the most senior appointment of an Australian candidate to an international body for decades.” He also referred to the OECD as “one of the world’s most important international economic institutions … [and] as the global economy recovers from COVID-19, the OECD’s role in shaping international economic, tax and climate change policy will be more critical than ever.”

On 17 March, Morrison, along with Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja, announced that Australia is supporting Papua New Guinea’s COVID-19 response following “a concerning spike in cases” in order to “help save lives and support our closest Pacific neighbour’s health system.” This includes providing 8,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from Australia’s stock, requesting 1 million of Australia’s contracted AstraZeneca vaccine doses to be gifted to Papua New Guinea, deploying a team of three AUSMAT health specialists to Port Moresby, and supplying PPE to the government, including 1 million surgical masks. Moreover, flights between Port Moresby and Cairns were suspended, and passenger capacity on flights between Port Moresby and Brisbane reduced by 25 percent. On 17 March, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong noted that Labor supports the announcement of these measures, following calls earlier in the week for the Morrison government to “speed up and step up the support it is providing to Papua New Guinea.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a joint statement with her New Zealand equivalent, Nanaia Mahuta, on 13 March about the electoral changes in Hong Kong passed on 11 March. The ministers stated that they are “deeply concerned that [these] changes … further undermine rights and freedoms and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed by China to Hong Kong until 2047 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.” The ministers noted that the changes “run contrary to the ultimate aim of a Hong Kong Chief Executive elected through universal suffrage, weaken Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, and erode freedom of speech and association … This is a significant step which will further undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy.” They called on the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to “uphold their commitments, allow genuine avenues for the people of Hong Kong to participate in their governance, and protect the role of the Legislative Council as a forum for the expression of diverse views and scrutiny of government.”

On 12 March, Payne and Seselja announced that the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine sharing initiative, has started rolling out the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia’s Pacific and Southeast Asian neighbours, with Fiji, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines receiving vaccines so far. Payne and Seselja stated that, “there is no higher priority for Australia and countries in our region than access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”

Payne issued a statement on 11 March marking ten years since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, and paid the Australian government’s respects to “the Government and people of Japan, the first responders, and those who lost loved ones in this disaster.”

On 15 March, in her capacity as acting defence minister, Payne announced that two Royal Australian Navy ships, HMA Ships Anzac (III) and Sirius are conducting a two-month deployment throughout the Northeast Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. The group “will conduct a number of bilateral and multilateral activities, including participating in Exercise La Perouse, a French-led multilateral maritime exercise in the Northeast Indian Ocean.”

Payne also noted as acting defence minister on 11 March, alongside Deputy Prime Minister of Vanuatu Ishmael Kalsakau, that construction has commenced in Port Vila under the Cook and Tiroas Barracks Redevelopment project “to support the Vanuatu Police Force’s growth and capability development.”

On 15 March, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan announced that Australia will request that the World Trade Organization “establish a dispute settlement panel in the next phase of the process to resolve anti-dumping and countervailing duties imposed on Australian barley by China.” Tehan stated that this next step follows dispute settlement consultations in late January between Australia and China and that, “while there was constructive engagement on both sides, these consultations did not resolve our concerns.”

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese issued a joint statement with Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong on 17 March, calling on the Morrison government to “work with Lebanon and the international community to deliver an independent, impartial and transparent investigation into the explosion at Beirut Port on the 4th of August, 2020.”

26 March

On 23 March, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a joint statement on human rights abuses in Xinjiang with her New Zealand counterpart Nanaia Mahuta. The Ministers “[reiterated] their grave concerns about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xingjiang.” Moreover, the Ministers welcomed the recent announcement of sanctions on senior Chinese officials by the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, noting that they “share these countries’ deep concerns, which are held across the Australian and New Zealand communities.”

Payne announced several diplomatic appointments on 19 March: Paul Wojciechowski as Australia’s next Ambassador to AfghanistanSarah Kirlew as Australia’s next Consul-General in ChennaiDavid Yardley as Australia’s next High Commissioner to Kiribati, and Felicity Volk as Australia’s next Ambassador to Nepal.

On 18 March, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan announced the release of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission’s (Austrade) Why Australia: Benchmark Report 2021. Tehan noted that the data contained in the report “demonstrates the resilience of the Australian economy and the strength of our economic and health response to COVID-19 that cements our position as a world-leading destination for investment.”

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton announced on 22 March that the United Kingdom-based far-right extremist group, Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD), has been listed for the first time as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code. Dutton noted that “members of SKD have already been convicted of terrorist offences in the United Kingdom” and that “SKD’s active promotion and encouragement of terrorism has the potential to inspire extremists across the world, and the availability of SKD propaganda online throughout the pandemic has provided fertile ground for radicalisation.”

2 April

On 29 March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a cabinet reshuffle, including Peter Dutton as the new Minister for Defence and Karen Andrews as the new Minister for Home Affairs. Previous Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds will be taking on the portfolio of Government Services and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Melissa Price, Minister for Defence Industry, will be returning to the Cabinet.

Morrison and Dutton issued a joint media release on 31 March announcing the acceleration of the creation of a $1 billion Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise. Dutton stated that, “This announcement builds on the agreement the Morrison Government achieved at AUSMIN last year to pursue options to encourage bilateral defence trade and to advance initiatives that diversify and harness our industry cooperation.”

On 30 March, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced that Australia has imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans “against a Russian individual and four Russian companies connected to the construction and operation of the Kerch Strait Railway Bridge linking Russia to the illegally annexed territories of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine.” Payne’s announcement was made in coordination with Canada, and in alignment with actions taken by the United Kingdom and European Union. The subjects of the sanctions are set out in the Autonomous Sanctions (Designated Persons and Entities and Declared Persons – Ukraine) Amendment (No. 1) Instrument 2021, registered on the Federal Register of Legislation.

Payne also stated on 30 March that “Australia welcomes the joint inquiry into the Tigray conflict announced by the UN Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.” She also noted that Australia will provide $3 million to the World Food Programme “to help meet the needs of those most vulnerable.”

On 25 March, Payne said she was “deeply saddened by the news of the devastating fire in the Kutupalong Balukali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.” She announced an additional $10 million in emergency assistance from the existing humanitarian budget to those affected by the fire, noting that this support will be provided through the United Nations High commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Programme, and the United Nations Population Fund.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester, Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price, and Assistant Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie jointly acknowledged on 31 March the 100th anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force. Price stated that, “[whether] it is defending Australia’s national interests or providing humanitarian and disaster relief here at home or around the globe, Air Force is so often a beacon of hope and living its motto: Per Ardua, Ad Astra – through struggle, to the stars.”

9 April 

On 6 April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, alongside Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan, and Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews, welcomed the two-way Trans-Tasman travel bubble. The statement followed the New Zealand Government’s announcement that it will join the Safe Travel Zone between Australia and New Zealand. The announcement “will enable quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand” and follows Australia’s opening of a one-way Safe Travel Zone from New Zealand to Australia six months ago. In a press conference on 6 April, Morrison stated that the announcement is “the first of many steps to come … as we get back to a more normal position.”

Minister for Defence Peter Dutton stated on 5 April that the Royal Australian Navy ships HMAS Anzac and HMAS Sirius will join vessels from France, India, Japan and the United States for the French-led maritime Exercise La Perouse, in the Bay of Bengal from 5-7 April. Dutton welcomed the exercise, saying “Australia’s participation highlights the importance of building and maintaining strong navy-to-navy relationships in the region.”

On 6 April, Tehan launched the Services Exports Action Plan to boost Australia’s services exports “beyond education and tourism”. The plan “supports the international competitiveness of Australia’s world-class services businesses and helps them find new export partners, grow their business, employ more people, and capitalise on the opportunities offered by international markets.”

Tehan also launched the Australia India Business Exchange (AIBX) on 6 April. The AIBX will “provide businesses in both nations with market insights and connections to foster commercial partnerships that will help generate jobs and business opportunities in Australia and India.” It delivers on commitments in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and the Government’s response to the India Economic Strategy. Tehan stated that, “AIBX presents opportunities to build on our close people-to-people ties and shared vision for a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

On 1 April Marise Payne, alongside Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck, announced that the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 will be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Australian host cities include Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth. Payne stated that “the competition will champion the further development of women’s football in both [Australia and New Zealand], the Asia-Pacific region and globally.”

16 April

On 10 April, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, alongside Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja, announced that Australia will “soon start sharing doses of our Australian manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine with our neighbours.” The vaccine doses will initially be made available to Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, and in the coming weeks will be available to Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. At least 10,000 vaccines will be shared per week, and Australia will “scale up as required.” The Ministers also noted that they are “working to procure vaccines through the global market for our neighbours in the wider Pacific and Southeast Asia … Our region’s health security and economic recovery is intertwined with our own.”

On 9 April, Payne and Seselja stated that “Australia is working closely with the Government of Papua New Guinea to support its COVID-19 response, deploying a second team of health and medical specialists.” Since 13 March, five Royal Australian Air Force flights and four commercial flights have delivered “8,480 vaccines and related consumables, PPE, temporary triaging facilities, rapid COVID tests, medical equipment, and an ambulance.”

On 11 April, Payne and Seselja noted that Australia is “working in partnership with our close friend and Timor-Leste to support its recovery from the devastating Easter weekend flooding and its impact on COVID-19 preparedness.” Following a request for assistance from the Government of Timor-Leste, the Morrison Government is providing emergency relief of $7 million to the estimated 100,000 people affected by the flooding. This relief will include the provision of personal protective equipment, temporary shelter, critical household items, financial assistance, and assistance through the World Food Programme. The Ministers issued an update on the situation in Timor-Leste on 14 April where they noted that an Australian Medical Assistance Team and 27 tonnes of emergency relief, “including hygiene, shelter and food preparation kits” had arrived in Timor-Leste.

Payne, joined by Minister for Defence Peter Dutton, and Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews, released the second Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2021-2031 on 12 April. In doing so they stated that they were “renewing [the Government’s] commitment to the full and equal participation of women and girls in peace and security arrangements.” The Plan identifies four outcomes that will guide Australia’s international peace and security efforts: “supporting women’s participation and needs in peace processes; reducing sexual and gender-based violence; supporting resilience, crisis, and security, law and justice efforts to meet the needs and rights of all women and girls; and demonstrating leadership and accountability for women, peace and security.”

Payne announced several diplomatic appointments on 14 April: Ms Penny Williams PSM as Australia’s next Ambassador to IndonesiaMs Rowan Ainsworth as Australia’s next Consul-General in Kolkata; and Mr Peter Truswell as Australia’s next Consul-General in Mumbai.

On 9 April, Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews reflected on her virtual attendance at the latest Five Country Ministerial Meeting on 8 April alongside her counterparts from the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada. The Ministers “covered a range of important issues, including migration and borders, addressing foreign interference, cybercrime and countering child sexual exploitation and abuse.” In the communique from the Meeting, the Ministers agreed to: share best practices on effective border and migration measures in response to COVID-19; collaborate with other likeminded countries to shape international processes and standards to support a resilient international travel system; share experiences to combat foreign interference; actively support the Budapest Convention as the best tool to combat cybercrime; and to undertake a feasibility study regarding the potential to develop a specific, combined dataset of child sexual abuse material to more efficiently identify and safeguard victims and pursue offenders.

Minister for Trade Dan Tehan noted on 14 April the commencement of new Austrade CEO Xavier Simonet. Tehan welcomed Simonet’s arrival and stated that “Austrade plays an important role in helping Australian businesses access international opportunities and securing investment to grow our industries.” Simonet “[acknowledged] the critical role Austrade is playing a world full of challenges … and opportunities.”

On 14 April, Tehan announced that he will travel to Europe and the United Kingdom for further Free Trade Agreement negotiations, to encourage investment in Australia, and to discuss vaccine supply. Tehan will discuss the Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement with European Commission Vice President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis and the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement with Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss. He will also meet with ministerial counterparts in Germany, France and Brussels “to discuss vaccine production and the EU export restriction regime.” Finally, Tehan will co-chair the second Australia-France Trade and Investment Dialogue with Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness Franck Riester. Tehan stated that, “our negotiations will uphold our commitment to rules-based trade and investment liberalisation while protecting our national interest.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement following His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh’s passing on 9 April. Morrison stated that, “Prince Philip was no stranger to Australia, having visited our country on more than 20 occasions … Australians send our love and deepest condolences to Her Majesty and all the Royal Family. The Commonwealth family joins together in sorrow and thanksgiving for the loss and live of Prince Philip.” He issued a further statement on 10 April where he addressed Queen Elizabeth II, saying, “we … say to you as a Commonwealth, let us also now be your strength and stay, as you continue to endure, as you continue to serve so loyally and so faithfully, as you have done over so many generations.”

 

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