Government fast-tracks legislation in parliament amid national security concerns over location.
Published On 15 Jun 2023
Australia’s parliament will pass legislation to stop Russia from building a new embassy in Canberra because of concerns about national security.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the legislation would cancel Russia’s lease on the site in the capital, based on the advice of security agencies.
“The government has received very clear security advice as to the risk presented by a new Russian presence so close to Parliament House,” Albanese told reporters. “We are acting quickly to ensure the lease site does not become a formal diplomatic presence.”
The move follows long-running litigation over the site after Australia’s federal court ruled last month that an eviction order made by the National Capital Authority (NCA) – a government body tasked with the planning of the city – was invalid.
“To be clear, today’s decision is one taken in the national security interests of Australia, and I thank the coalition [opposition] and crossbenchers in the House and the Senate for their cooperation in this matter,” Albanese said.
Russia bought the lease in Canberra’s diplomatic quarter in 2008 and had plans for construction approved in 2011. Under the terms of the agreement, work was supposed to be completed within three years, but the embassy remains only partially built.
The NCA then decided to terminate the Russian lease, citing that “ongoing unfinished works detract from the overall aesthetic, importance and dignity of the area reserved for diplomatic missions”.
The termination of the lease has no impact on Russia’s existing embassy, which is in the former Soviet Union embassy in the suburb of Griffith, further away from Parliament House.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the “principal problem” with the proposed second Russian embassy was its location because the site sits directly adjacent to parliament. No embassy would be allowed to be built there, she said.
Albanese said his government anticipated a response from Russia over the decision and that they “will await what response occurs”.
“We don’t expect that Russia is in a position to talk about international law, given their rejection of it so consistently and so brazenly with their invasion of Ukraine,” he said.
Russia’s embassy has previously declared that it was committed to completing the construction, despite Australia’s objections.
Australia is one of the largest non-NATO supporters of Ukraine and has been supplying aid, ammunition and defence equipment to the country since the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022.
It has also banned exports of alumina and aluminium ores, including bauxite, to Russia, and sanctioned more than 1,000 Russian individuals and entities.
Australia’s opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said his party stood with the government on national security.
“Russia has not acted in good faith towards its neighbours in recent times. It continues its campaign [in Ukraine] trashing the principles of territorial and political sovereignty,” Hastie said.
“There is a trust deficit. There is a real risk to our national interest here, and the security advice is that this lease must be terminated.”