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This Year in Australian Foreign Affairs: 2023

Published 01 Feb 2023
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. This Year 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. 

6 January

On 28 December, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed the Woodford Folk Festival, where he reflected on the Labor Government’s achievements in 2022, including in the foreign affairs space. He noted that “we have repaired our international relations and got Australia out of the naughty corner”, continuing by stating that “we’ve gone from a government that treated both climate change and the fate of our Pacific neighbours as a punchline to a bad joke.”Albanese also discussed the bilateral relationship with China, saying that “we’ve gone from a government that chose to not have a single conversation with China – our major trading partner – for the entire last term they were in power, to one that understands that dialogue is always a good thing. Australia and China are talking again … it doesn’t mean we agree with China on everything. It doesn’t mean we won’t raise our concerns and our significant points of difference. We will co-operate with China where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in Australia’s national interest.”

Minister for Health Mark Butler announced on 1 January that the Australian Government will “introduce pre-departure testing for COVID-19 for people travelling to Australia from the People’s Republic of China including the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.” Butler noted that the measure “is in response to the significant wave of COVID-19 infections in China and the potential for emerging viral variants in that country”, and that the requirements “are precautionary and temporary and will remain under review based on the health advice and available information.” He continued, stating that he has “been briefed extensively by the Chief Medical Officer” and that the decision “has been made to safeguard Australia from the risk of potential new emerging variants, and in recognition of the rapidly evolving situation in China and uncertainty about emerging viral variants.” He further noted that “Australia now joins other countries across the world including France, India, Japan, Malaysia, Spain, the Republic of Korea, England and the United States of America in implementing similar measures.” On 3 January, Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton and Shadow Minister for Health Anne Ruston issued a joint press release in response to the COVID-19 testing requirement for travellers from China. Dutton and Ruston stated that the Government “must explain to the Australian people why they have ignored the advice of the Chief Medical Officer – particularly given the Health Minister and Acting Secretary of the Health Department have advised there is no new variant of concern coming out of China” and that “the Prime Minister must justify why he has deviated from what has been previously agreed.” They further noted that “the most relevant health advice for Australians is our Chief Medical Officer’s advice, as it considers all factors in the context of our nation’s health and economic position.”

13 January

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese travelled to Papua New Guinea on 12 January to attend the Annual Leaders’ Dialogue alongside his counterpart, Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape. Albanese noted that he is “looking forward to starting the New Year with a visit to Papua New Guinea to reinforce the strong bond between our two countries” and thanked Prime Minister Marape for the invitation. He further stated that “Australia and Papua New Guinea are close not just geographically, but also because of our long history and shared vision for the future.”

On 5 January, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, alongside Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy, announced that the Government is investing over $1 billion to acquire the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) to be employed on the Hobart class destroyers and Anzac Class frigates from 2024, as well as the “land-based, long-range, surface-to-surface High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS)”, which will be in use “by 2026-7.” Marles stated that “in the current strategic environment, it’s important the Australian Defence Force is equipped with high-end, targeted military capabilities” and that “the Albanese Government is taking a proactive approach to keeping Australia safe – and the Naval Strike Missile and HIMARS launchers will give our Defence Force the ability to deter conflict and protect our interests.” Conroy noted that the Government “is getting on with delivering the Australian Defence Force the capability it needs for the 21st century.”

20 January

On 12 January, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape held the fourth Papua New Guinea-Australia Annual Leaders’ Dialogue in Port Moresby. The Prime Ministers announced the development of a “Bilateral Security Treaty” (BST), and committed to “concluding substantive negotiations for the BST by 30 April 2023”. They described the BST as “a natural progression in our security partnership, reflecting our longstanding cooperation, shared history, geographical proximity, common regional strategic outlook, and close people-to-people links.” They further stated that the BST “will further enhance our security partnership by providing a legally binding framework for security cooperation across our many areas of mutual interest and contribute to bilateral and regional security, trust, and stability.” Moreover, it “will provide an enabling framework for our current and future traditional and non-traditional security cooperation.”

Following the Dialogue, the Prime Ministers also issued a joint statement noting that they had “reaffirmed the vital partnership between Papua New Guinea and Australia and their shared interests in the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific and an environment conducive to our mutual economic prosperity” and further underlined their joint commitment to the Papua New Guinea-Australia Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership and agreed on “the importance of continued close cooperation and dialogue.” Moreover, they “recognised the deep cultural and historical bonds between [the two nations] as special sovereign partners.”

Albanese also addressed the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea at a state dinner on 12 January. He began by noting that “to be the first foreign Head of Government invited to address your Parliament was a great honour”. He traces the history of Australia and Papua New Guinea “through thousands of years of connection and culture between our peoples” and refers to the Australian flag “not [being] torn down, but respectfully lowered” and that “the vibrant colours of your proud and independent nation rose to fly in its place.” He noted that the BST incorporates the “principle of regionalism and that sense of deep trust” that comes with both nations being “Pacific Ocean states determined to preserve peace and security in our region, [and] recognising the value and the importance of a family-first approach.” Albanese also discusses future cooperation on education, healthcare, and “unlock[ing] new areas of investment in [renewable energy resources] as well as agriculture and infrastructure.”

On 18 January, Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres announced that he will travel to Switzerland and Italy this week, to “strengthen Australia’s trade partnerships and advance Australia’s trade and investment interests.” While in Switzerland, Ayres will attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting and will use the opportunity “to promote Australia as an attractive investment destination” and will discuss “action required to address a range of economic, geopolitical, and environmental challenges.” Ayres will also “advance Australia’s priorities” at the World Trade Organization (WTO), including “progressing reforms to ensure the multilateral trading system is relevant, active and effective.” He noted that reforming the WTO is “a key priority” and that he “look[s] forward to joining Ottawa Group Ministers to discuss these critical reforms.” In Italy, Ayres will meet with the newly-elected Meloni Government to discuss “the strengthening of [the] bilateral trade relationship” and will also advocate for the conclusion of negotiations for “an ambitious and comprehensive” Australia-EU trade agreement. Finally, Ayres will engage with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome “to discuss rising levels of food insecurity and the importance of international trade and reforms to the agricultural sector.” Ayres also noted that the visit “will reinforce the Australian Government’s support to friends and partners in Europe as they continue to face challenges associated with Russia’s illegal, immoral, and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, along with Minister for Defence Personnel and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh, issued a joint statement on 18 January announcing that “a contingent of up to 70 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel will deploy as part of ADF Operation KUDU [to the United Kingdom]” to provide “critical training to Ukrainian recruits to support their national defence in response to Russia’s illegal invasion.” Marles stated that The training will focus on “basic infantry tactics for urban and wooded environments”. Marles and Keogh also noted that the ADF personnel will not enter Ukraine as part of the program, but that the operation “demonstrates Australia’s ongoing commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine, and continued support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The statement also mentions that Australia has provided Ukraine with approximately $655 million in support to date, including $475 million in military assistance.

On 16 January, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Birmingham announced that he will travel to Papua New Guinea for five days “to understand the impact of development work, particularly in the health sphere, and undertake local meetings.” He will visit Port Moresby, as well as Kuriva, Kerea, Pari, Goroka and Asaro and will undertake discussions “with PNG officials, Australian officials, regional leaders, development partners, delivery agencies, and local communities.” Birmingham thanked the Pacific Friends of Global Health and Save the Children “for their support in undertaking this visit” and he welcomed “the opportunity to focus on important matters such as maternal health, family and sexual violence, water safety and the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, malaria and HIV.”

27 January

On 19 January, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong issued a media release acknowledging the fourth anniversary of Dr Yang Jun’s detention in China. She noted that the Australian Government “is deeply troubled by the ongoing delays in his case” and that Dr Yang “still awaits a verdict.” Wong also stated that “Since Dr Yang was detained, the Australian Government has called for basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be afforded to Dr Yang, in accordance with international norms and China’s legal obligations.” The Australian Government “will continue to advocate for Dr Yang’s interests and wellbeing at the highest levels and provide consular assistance to Dr Yang and his family.” Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Birmingham similarly expressed the Opposition’s “deep concern for Dr Yang’s welfare as well as his limitations on access to legal representation” and “urge[d] the Albanese Government to use all available diplomatic means to secure the release of Dr Yang as well as Ms Cheng Lei who was detained August 2020.”

Wong celebrated the 50th anniversary of Australia’s ratification of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on 23 January. She referred to the NPT as “central to the Australian Government’s ambition of a world without nuclear weapons” and that it “has been critical to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and has been fundamental to global security over the past five decades.” She further stated that “as we face a deteriorating international security environment, including Russia’s desperate and reckless nuclear threats, Iran’s refusal to comply with its non-proliferation obligations, North Korea’s provocative violations of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions, and the opaque nuclear arsenal build-up occurring in our region, the work of the NPT is critical.” Also on 23 January, Wong wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian which noted the importance of the NPT and that the AUKUS partnership does not breach Australia’s NPT obligations, because “the submarines we propose to acquire are nuclear-powered, not nuclear armed … [and] naval nuclear propulsion is not prohibited – but is in fact contemplated – by the NPT.” Wong concluded, stating that “in both our endeavours, to enhance Australia’s defence capability, and to support practical action on non-proliferation and disarmament, we seek the same goal – a peaceful, stable and prosperous region.”

On 21 January, Wong noted that Australia and the Republic of Serbia have signed a new social security agreement which “will improve access to retirement benefits for eligible people who have moved between the two countries.” The agreement was signed in Belgrade by Australian Ambassador to Serbia, Daniel Emery, and Serbian Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, Nikola Selakovic. Wong referred to the agreement as “an important milestone in Australia’s longstanding relationship with Serbia” and noted that it “strengthens our bilateral relationship and incentivises further trade and investment between Australia and Serbia.”

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts announced his travels to Vienna this week on 25 January, where he will “reaffirm Australia’s long-standing support of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and deepen bilateral ties with Austria.” Watts will meet with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi to discuss “Australia’s support for the Agency’s crucial role promoting the safe and secure use of nuclear technology around the world.” He also noted that “Australia is committed to our obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” and that “we will continue to work transparently with the IAEA to set the highest possible non-proliferation standards, including for our proposed acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines under AUKUS.” While in Vienna, Watts will also meet with Austrian Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, to celebrate 70 years of bilateral diplomatic relations. Watts and Launsky-Tieffenthal will discuss “how we can expand our trade and investment ties, including through concluding our trade agreement negotiations with the EU, as well as opportunities for further engagement and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.”

On 23 January, Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil issued a statement noting the commencement of operations of the International Counter Ransomware Task Force, chaired by Australia. O’Neil said that the Task Force “will enable sustained and impactful international collaboration, designed to disrupt, combat and defend against the increasing ransomware threat and called on other countries to join the collective effort.” She further noted that “ransomware represents a significant global threat, and Australia will continue to play a leading role working with international partners, industry and the community to develop effective responses to combat cyber criminals and protect our people and institutions.” The other members of the Counter Ransomware Initiative are Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Ukraine, and the EU.