9 June 2021
The Morrison government has closed Australia’s embassy in Kabul, declaring it cannot guarantee security to diplomats “in light of the imminent international military withdrawal from Afghanistan”.
Despite being involved in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban for twenty years, Australia began a hasty withdrawal from the country when the United States announced its departure in April.
Scott Morrison says the closure of the embassy is temporary and the government will use fly-in fly-out diplomats until it reopens – a practice he says “is common ... around the world” and “does not alter our commitment to Afghanistan or its people”.
However, the closure raises doubts about how the government – without a diplomatic presence – can continue its promised investigation of alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
It also raises questions about how the government will assist Afghans who have worked for Australia’s military and other agencies over the last twenty years, many of whom want to be evacuated as refugees. A retired Australian officer says about 300 Afghan staff and their families may want to leave the country.
The United States and United Kingdom have already announced plans for large-scale evacuations of locals who have supported their military missions. Advocacy group No One Left Behind estimates more than 300 Afghan interpreters employed by the United States have been killed since 2016.
Australia’s swift departure from Afghanistan has revived memories of its abandonment of local staff at the end of similar deployments in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975.
The government should avoid adding to past ignominies by ensuring it assists the Afghans who worked for Australian forces.
Climate stress tests
Banks and other businesses are coming under growing pressure from international regulators to be more open about the impact of climate change on their operations.
Finance ministers from the Group of Seven met at a summit over the weekend and backed a proposal to make it mandatory for corporations to disclose their exposure to climate-related risks.
They also expressed support for the recently launched Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures, which will report not just on climate but also on biodiversity. The ministers’ announcement came as they agreed on a 15 per cent minimum global tax on multinationals, as previewed in the last issue of AFA Weekly.
At an earlier conference last week – hosted by the Bank for International Settlements, owned by the central banks – finance regulators called for financial institutions to be climate change “stress-tested”, and for systems assessing climate risk to be better coordinated.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority have started to warn local companies that they need to prepare for stricter disclosure requirements.
The Morrison government, however, has provided little clarity on where it stands on these new regulatory pressures and is instead focusing on fending off carbon tariffs on Australian exports.
But even if the government is successful on this score, it seems likely that a mandatory disclosure regime will have an impact on internationally oriented Australian businesses.
Trade ministers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group met over the weekend and agreed to work towards speeding up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies.
They also said they would support World Trade Organization negotiations to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines, which would allow them to be produced more freely.
New Zealand is hosting this year’s APEC meetings entirely online, but it is seeking to renew the group’s credibility by positioning it at the vanguard of broader global efforts to reduce tariffs on pandemic-related goods.
But real progress is still some way off: so far, the ministers have only agreed to “consider voluntary actions to reduce the cost of these products for our people”, pushing further action to a leaders’ summit later in the year.
Last Friday, in a lecture to the Australian APEC Study Centre, federal trade minister Dan Tehan said APEC was the “pre-eminent forum for regional economic cooperation” and an “important stepping stone to global economic reform”. But this may reflect APEC’s past ambition rather than its current reality.
The last three APEC leaders’ summits were disrupted by political, diplomatic and pandemic-related turmoil. The Ardern government faces a big challenge if it wants to revive APEC’s role as a significant and influential free-trade forum.