Tuesday, 27 March 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann, regarding the recent nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom. The opposition fully supports this morning's announcement by the government. Can the minister please update the Senate on actions taken by the Australian government in response to this attack?
I thank Senator Farrell for expressing the opposition's support for the government's actions. Today Australia is taking action, together with our allies and partners, in response to the recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury in the United Kingdom. Two Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers will be expelled by the Australian government for actions inconsistent with their status, pursuant to the Vienna convention. The two officials will be directed to depart Australia within seven days.
Australia shares the UK assessment that the Russian Federation was responsible for the attack in Salisbury. There is no plausible alternative explanation for the attack, and Russia's failure to credibly respond to the legitimate UK demand for an explanation further underscores Russian culpability. The European Council has also agreed that there is no plausible alternative explanation, that the Russian Federation was responsible. We strongly support the United Kingdom, our close friend and ally, in taking this action. Our decision reflects the shocking nature of the attack, the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II, involving a highly lethal substance in a populated area, endangering countless other members of the community. It takes into account advice from the UK government that the substance used on 4 March was a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This attack cannot be tolerated by any sovereign nation. To do nothing would only encourage further efforts to undermine the international rules based order. We strongly support the call on Russia to disclose the full extent of its chemical weapons program, in accordance with international law. Australia remains committed to acting with its allies and partners to deter Russia's actions where they are a threat to international security.
The chemical weapon attack in the United Kingdom was a horrific criminal attack which threatens the lives of many innocent people. Can the minister advise the Senate how the government is working with Australia's allies and partners to hold those responsible to account?
I thank Senator Farrell. Australia has always stood up for the rules based order and opposed actions that violate international law. Australia's actions today have been mirrored by more than 20 countries around the world, including the United States and Canada. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs are working with their counterparts in the United Kingdom and other nations to ensure that we are protecting Australia's interests and those of our international friends and partners. British Prime Minister Theresa May has emphasised in the House of Commons the solidarity between the UK and its partners in the EU, North America, NATO and her other allies, such as Australia. She said:
If the Kremlin's goal is to divide and intimidate the western alliance, then their efforts have spectacularly backfired.
Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement strongly protesting the decision by other nations to expel diplomats, calling it unfriendly, confrontational and provocative. However, Australia remains committed to acting with its allies and partners to deter Russia's actions where they are a threat to international security.
Can the minister advise the Senate how the government is working with Australia's allies and partners to ensure all countries honour the letter and the spirit of the Chemical Weapons Convention?
I thank Senator Farrell for the question. The abhorrent use of chemical weapons in the UK highlights the need for more to be done to prevent or deter future use. Australia has consistently expressed its view that the use of toxic chemicals as weapons anywhere by anyone and under any circumstances is reprehensible and should not be tolerated. Australia has also consistently and vigorously supported the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations in confronting these challenges. As a current member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons executive council, we support it conducting its thorough and comprehensive investigations of alleged incidents. These efforts will be in addition to whatever other more immediate measures the government might yet decide are appropriate in responding to the outrageous nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom. Any power or any individuals using, enabling or authorising the use of chemical weapons must be brought to account. Australia supports the UN mandated international, impartial and independent mechanism that allows the OPCW to gather evidence of crimes that violate international humanitarian law with a view to prosecution.