CANBERRA, Australia (AP) By Dr Majid Khan- In a major development highlighting the growing tensions between Australia and Russia, the Australian parliament has moved legislation aimed at preventing Russia from building a second embassy near Parliament House. The move comes at a time when fears of espionage and political interference are growing amid Russia’s continued meddling in the Ukraine conflict.
Prime Minister Anthony Albany stressed that the legislation was based on clear security advice from relevant agencies, expressing the government’s determination to prevent a new Russian presence near Parliament House from becoming a formal diplomatic establishment. Additionally, Albany condemned Russia’s “illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine”, further underscoring Australia’s strong stance against such actions.
Australia has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine throughout the conflict, providing significant military hardware, training and aid. In response to the escalation of the war in February 2022, Australia also imposed tougher sanctions against Russia. The passage of the law further demonstrates Australia’s growing hostility towards Russia, particularly in relation to cybercrime.
Last year, Australian authorities called on Russia to arrest suspected cybercriminals responsible for hacking Medibank, the country’s largest health insurer, and subsequently exposing customers’ personal medical records on the dark web. Be responsible for Blaming a specific country for an unsolved cybercrime is a relatively rare occurrence in Australia.
The legislation moved quickly through both houses of Parliament, indicating bipartisan support. Opposition and non-government lawmakers were briefed on the legislation the night before and agreed to pass it through both houses. While the government has a majority in the House, it does not have the same majority in the Senate.
Within just three hours of Prime Minister Albany publicly announcing the bill, it was passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law. The law is expected to come into force later today when Governor-General David Hurley, representing Australia’s head of state King Charles III, gives formal assent.
Speaking in Parliament, Home Secretary Claire O’Neill provided more details about the threat posed by the Russian embassy site, highlighting concerns about espionage and foreign interference. O’Neil stressed the government’s commitment to Australia’s democracy and the protection of its citizens, saying it will not tolerate such actions and will take decisive action against them.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton expressed solidarity with the government’s stance against the Russian threat, saying foreign espionage and interference in Australia’s national interest would not be tolerated. Dutton specifically described interference in the electoral process as an unacceptable violation.
When asked about possible security concerns regarding the Chinese embassy across the street from the proposed Russian site, Prime Minister Albany addressed the specific nature of the construction projects, the location of the site and possible interference with parliamentary activities. He highlighted that the decision was made based on the site-specific advice and circumstances of the Russian Embassy.
The Russian embassy has not yet made an official comment on the legislation or Australia’s decision. The Australian government’s move follows a recent court case in which Russia successfully challenged the cancellation of its 99-year lease on the site. The lease was initially terminated due to a lack of construction progress since the lease was awarded to Russia in 2008 and plans for the embassy complex were approved in 2011.
The National Capital Authority, which is responsible for managing embassy leases, decided to terminate Russia’s lease on the grounds that ongoing unfinished construction detracts from the overall aesthetic and prestige of the area designated for diplomatic missions. . Currently, Russia occupies the former USSR embassy in the suburb of Griffith, further away from Parliament House. The proposed Yarallamala site would have provided Russia with an additional cluster of buildings near the seat of government.
Under the newly approved law, no embassies will be allowed at the disputed site, ensuring that both the Russian embassy in Griffith and the Australian embassy in Moscow remain in their respective locations.
For now, the legislation is expected to come into force once the formal approval process is complete, a key step in Australia’s response to security threats and foreign interference.