Recent Developments in Ukraine

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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development 

Recent developments in Ukraine

3 MARCH 2014

CANBERRA

The Labor Opposition is deeply concerned by recent developments in Ukraine.

We support the UN Secretary General’s call for the preservation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and sovereignty.  Any threat to that is completely unacceptable.

Labor urges all parties to exercise restraint and to seek to resolve the situation peacefully.

Australia must work together with the international community, including as a member of the UN Security Council, to urge a peaceful resolution through dialogue.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade upgraded its travel warnings for parts of Ukraine on March 1.  We strongly encourage Australians to take that advice.

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Australia's Relationship with China

The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development 

Australia’s relationship with China

27 FEBRUARY 2014

CANBERRA

Today, a Senate committee hearing revealed just how poorly the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is managing Australia’s relationship with China.

When Julie Bishop visited Beijing last year, she earned a scathing public rebuke from the Chinese Government about her actions as Foreign Minister. Chinese Foreign Minister Mr Wang Yi went so far as to state that Julie Bishop had ''jeopardised bilateral mutual trust and affected the sound growth of bilateral relations.''

Under questioning at the hearing today, the foreign affairs department’s North Asia division chief admitted the public rebuke of Julie Bishop was like nothing he’d ever seen in his 30 years as a diplomat.

This extraordinary evidence from one of Australia’s most senior diplomats shows Julie Bishop’s diplomatic missteps are damaging our significant international relationships.

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Uganda’s Anti-Gay Laws

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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development

Uganda’s anti-gay laws

26 FEBRUARY 2014

CANBERRA

Labor unequivocally condemns Uganda’s new anti-gay laws that reportedly include life sentences for gay sex and same-sex marriage.

We are also alarmed by news that following the President’s assent to the laws, a Ugandan newspaper published ‘the names of 200 homosexuals…outing some Ugandans who previously had not identified themselves as gay’.

The new laws deny the LGBTI people of Uganda some of the most basic human rights.

We call on the Abbott Government to register Australia’s protest in the strongest terms.

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Bill to Legislate for Marriage Equality

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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition 

Bill to legislate for marriage equality

25 FEBRUARY 2014

CANBERRA

Today, Labor’s federal partyroom endorsed my proposal to bring a Bill to the Parliament to legislate for marriage equality.

As I said last year, I will seek to bring the Bill forward in early 2014.

Marriage equality’s time has well and truly come.  This issue should be above party politics.

That’s why the introduction of the Bill will be contingent on Tony Abbott allowing his MPs a conscience vote.

Liberal MPs pride themselves on being able to cross the floor on issues.  Tony Abbott needs to confirm that includes marriage equality.

Ideally, I am looking for a Liberal MP to co-sponsor the Bill.

The text of the Bill is similar to legislation introduced by Labor MP Stephen Jones, voted on in 2012.

The proposal for this Bill follows the High Court’s confirmation that ‘marriage’ in the Australian Constitution includes a marriage between persons of the same sex.  This clears the way for the federal Parliament to legislate for marriage equality.

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Meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird

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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development  

Readout of meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird

24 FEBRUARY 2014

CANBERRA

Today, Ms Plibersek was very pleased to meet with the Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird, as part of his visit to Australia.

The Minister and Ms Plibersek discussed the importance of continuing a strong relationship between Australia and Canada.

Both the Minister and Ms Plibersek highlighted that our countries enjoy significant cultural, historical, and economic ties.

Foreign policy priorities we raised, including in relation to the Asia-Pacific where both countries play a major role.

On the subject of foreign aid, the Minister and Ms Plibersek agreed that a focus on gender based international development is critical to reducing poverty and improving opportunity across the globe.

 

 

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Cambodia

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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development

Cambodia

20 FEBRUARY 2014

SYDNEY

The Labor Opposition calls on the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, to register Australia’s concern about the civil unrest in Cambodia, including following its disputed 2013 general election.

It is understood the Foreign Minister begins a visit to Cambodia later today.

Reports say five people were killed by Cambodian security forces earlier this year while demonstrating in Phnom Penh.  And more than 20 people were detained for participating in protests to secure better wages for garment workers.

Violence against peaceful protestors cannot be tolerated.

Ms Bishop must ask Cambodian authorities to release those detained for their social and political activism.

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Events in Ukraine

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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development

Events in Ukraine

19 FEBRUARY 2014

SYDNEY

The Labor Opposition expresses deep concern about the violence in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.

Reports indicate Kiev has experienced its worst day of violence since demonstrations began around 12 weeks ago.

We condemn any use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

Labor wants all Ukrainians to be able to exercise their democratic rights and have a say in the future of their country.

We strongly encourage all parties to resolve their concerns peacefully through dialogue, without further bloodshed.

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Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEDIA RELEASE

Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom

TUESDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2014

The Abbott Government must immediately respond to reports saying it has decided to recall Mike Rann as Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in favour of former Liberal leader, Alexander Downer.

It is understood Mr Rann's term is not due to expire for around 18 months. If the reports are accurate, the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, needs to explain why she would so abruptly install Alexander Downer as High Commissioner - other than the fact he is a member of the Liberal party.

In a clear sign of how controversial such a blatantly political move would be, it is reported the Abbott Government is seeking to keep its decision secret until after the March 2014 state election in South Australia.

The previous Labor Government inherited Liberal appointments like Amanda Vanstone as Ambassador to Italy, who were given the opportunity to finish their terms. Labor also appointed former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson as Ambassador to NATO and Tim Fischer as Ambassador to the Holy See.

Today's reports follow the Abbott Government's decision to cancel former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks' appointment as New York Consul-General, in favour of Howard Government minister, Nick Minchin. Cancelling Bracks' appointment was the Abbott Government's first decision after the election of September 7, 2013.

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Abbott Government’s Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

 

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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development

Abbott Government’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria

12 FEBRUARY 2014

CANBERRA

The Abbott Government’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria has been woefully inadequate.

Despite the record $6.5 billion United Nations’ appeal for help, the Abbott Government has contributed only $12 million.

I have written to the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, urging her to provide more assistance from Australia as a matter of priority.

On my visit to Syria earlier this year, I saw first-hand the great extent of the suffering in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

The UN says about half of Syria’s population, some 9.3 million people, are in urgent need of assistance.  Around 2.3 million people have left the country and 6.5 million are internally displaced.  More than half of those who have fled are children.

The Abbott Government’s $12 million contribution pales in comparison to other countries.  During the last round of pledges to the UN appeal, Britain gave an extra $164 million, Norway gave $75 million, and Kuwait gave $500 million.

The Howard Government gave $1 billion to Indonesia after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.

The $12 million pledged by the Abbott Government to UN relief efforts does not reflect the scale of the humanitarian disaster facing Syrians or Australia’s generous tradition.  As a member of the UN Security Council, Australia has a responsibility to show global leadership.

The fact a UN convoy was recently attacked in the Syrian city of Homs also underscores the desperate need for protected humanitarian corridors to safely deliver aid - as championed by former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr.

From 2011, the former Labor Government delivered around $100 million in assistance for Syria.

Syrian peace talks have recently resumed in Geneva.

 

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Opinion piece – The Schoolyard Diplomacy Must End

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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development 

Opinion piece – The schoolyard diplomacy must end 

Originally published in The Australian Financial Review - 11 February 2014 

In 1971, Gough Whitlam visited China as part of a Labor Party delegation.  That was one month before US President Richard Nixon made a similar visit that would change the course of global politics.  Prime Minister Whitlam’s foresight on the importance of China was again witnessed in 1973 when he returned to the country, this time as the first Australian Prime Minister to do so.

China’s ascendance is just one of the seismic shifts occurring in today’s geopolitical landscape.  The realignment of economic and strategic weight toward Asia in recent decades is something new to Australian foreign policy.  Engaging in this new environment is a delicate business, requiring both skilful diplomacy, and a nuanced understanding of Australia’s international relationships (longstanding and new).  Sadly the current government is struggling on both fronts.

Even before the election, experts including the Australian National University’s Professor Hugh White, observed that Beijing was wary of Tony Abbott.  It wasn’t a good start, and the Government’s actions since have done nothing to dispel China’s misgivings.

Last year, the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, admonished China when she summoned the Chinese Ambassador to her department demanding an explanation about his country’s behaviour – then issued a media release about it.  This was a major diplomatic misstep that earned Ms Bishop an unprecedented public rebuke from the Chinese Foreign Minister when she was in Beijing.

The Abbott Government’s pivot to the US has seen a change in language too.  Ms Bishop has made a point of ignoring the fact that China is our biggest two way trading partner to award the US the title of 'most important economic partner’.  While the US-Australia direct investment relationship is also significant, what is China to make of the Government’s determination to rank and grade our friends?  It’s the kind of rhetorical inelegance which reminds us of Mr Abbott’s simplistic “baddies versus baddies” assessment of the Syrian conflict.

Basic factual errors on the Prime Minister’s part have also raised eyebrows in our region, like calling Japan our ‘ally’.  Our relationship with Japan is one of longest, strongest, and closest in our region, but not formally an alliance.  That was a significant misuse of a word with a very specific diplomatic meaning.  This came on top of Ms Bishop’s insistence that Japan was our ‘best friend’ in Asia.  Not one of our best friends, but decidedly top of the rankings.

The Government’s bungling, ham-fisted diplomacy has arguably led Australia’s relationship with China to its lowest ebb since before Whitlam’s historic visit.

So why would the Government allow ties to be damaged with our largest trading partner, merchandise export market, and a nation that is set to become the world’s biggest economy by 2025?  What would drive the Coalition to risk our near-term economic interests and long-term security interests so recklessly?  The answer is a deep misunderstanding of the world of diplomacy.  The Coalition sees our relations with the US and China as a zero-sum game – that is, becoming closer to one must move us away from the other.

This type of Cold War thinking has no place in a world with growing multi-polarity.  US Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently advised against zero-sum thinking in relation to the Ukraine.  And the US and China continue to work to strengthen their own relationship, with US Vice-President, Joe Biden, recently warmly welcomed in China.  Labor’s achievements in government completely invalidate the zero-sum approach too.  Then Prime Minister Gillard had President Obama visit and we agreed on stronger defence ties with the US.  During the same term, Gillard made a historic visit to China and established a high level strategic partnership.

The US-China relationship will shape the future of our region like no other factor.  It is in Australia’s interests to ensure this relationship is characterised by dialogue, and underpinned by trust and an understanding of the importance of cooperation.  This cannot be achieved by unthinkingly taking sides or clumsily ranking relationships.  While both China and the US already engage with each other on their own, Australia has something unique to offer.  Australia has an obvious cultural bond to the US, underpinned by a shared anglosphere heritage.  That combined with our growing ties and economic complementarity to China, as well as our large Chinese diaspora, allows us to play a role no other country can.

Beyond our bilateral relationships, we can help facilitate a good China-US relationship through multilateral engagement.  Having a rules-based international system which engages and adapts to rising powers like China is the best way to ensure long-term peace and stability.  As a middle power, our strength lies in our ability to influence and build like-minded coalitions with others.  Working alongside neighbours like Indonesia, we can help magnify our voice.  Multilateralism effectively acts as a force multiplier.

For all this we need policymakers who are adaptable, seek out new opportunities and avoid emerging threats.  At such a phenomenal time in global history, pursuit of our national interests and values will not be furthered by a schoolyard style ranking of friends.  It is inexcusable for Mr Abbott and Ms Bishop, with an entire government bureaucracy at their fingertips, to be blind to something Whitlam and Nixon saw so clearly 40 years ago.

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