Statement to the Senate on Ukraine

  • Speech, check against delivery

Mr President, the Australian Government condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of its smaller, democratic neighbour Ukraine.

This invasion is a gross violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations.

We have called and continue to call on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory, consistent with the legally binding decision of the International Court of Justice passed on 16 March.

Australia has been proud to stand with over 140 countries in condemning this invasion in the UN General Assembly on two occasions in the last month.

There is a strong sense of unity around the world about standing up to protect the rules-based global order built on the UN Charter, on international law and institutions, and on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Australia is part of this strong, unified coalition against Russia's illegal war. We are working with partners to impose a high cost on Russia and to provide support to Ukraine.

Mr President, on Monday, I spoke again with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. I strongly reiterated Australia’s continuing support to his country and its people, and our firm commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

I conveyed our outrage at Russia’s escalation of indiscriminate attacks, which are exacting a catastrophic humanitarian toll and creating the fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The reports of atrocities are appalling:

  • The bombing of a school in Mariupol where a reported 400 civilians were sheltering.
  • Reports of forced deportations of Mariupol residents to Russia.
  • An air strike on a theatre in Mariupol where civilians were again sheltering.
  • The bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol.
  • Over 10 million people forced to flee their homes – at least 3.9 million of those to neighbouring countries. More than half of whom are children.
  • Civilian casualties continue to rise. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has confirmed 1,179 killed and 1,860 injured. Though we fear these numbers are much higher.
  • Humanitarian convoys have been unable to reach key cities to support those civilians so dreadfully impacted by Russia’s illegal invasion. That is completely unacceptable.

As I have said, both in this chamber and publicly elsewhere, the targeting of innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure are war crimes – and the President of Russia must be held to account.

Let me clear: there is one reason and one reason alone why there is a humanitarian disaster in Ukraine. It is the direct result of the unprovoked, unjustified and illegal invasion by Russia.

Russia must uphold its obligations under international law, including the protection of civilians, and permit humanitarian access inside Ukraine and safe passage for civilians trying to flee the violence.

To support the Ukrainian people, Australia is so far providing $65 million in humanitarian funding, working with trusted humanitarian partners including with a focus on the most vulnerable people - children, women, the elderly and people with disabilities.

This week we also announced our cooperation with the United Kingdom to deliver humanitarian relief including blankets, hygiene kits and kitchen sets, and lighting to displaced Ukrainians.

We are also supporting Ukraine's energy security by donating at least 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal.

To further assist Ukrainians who have been forced to flee, we have issued over 5,000 visas to Ukrainian citizens, with more underway. In excess of 1000 Ukrainians have already arrived in Australia. I know they have arrived to the warmth and the support of the embrace of the Australian people who stand with them and with their country at this time. And I thank and acknowledge the Australia people for that.

However, a resolution to this humanitarian disaster can only come from the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.

It has been both profound and sobering to see the tremendous courage and determination with which the Ukrainians are fighting. Australia pays tribute to their strength and resilience – and in this motion so will the Senate.

The capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the sheer will of the Ukrainian people, as well as the determination of the international community to uphold the rules-based order, were self-evidently not understood by President Putin.

The world is working to supply and provide critical military assistance to Ukraine. Australia alone is providing $91 million in defensive military assistance.

At the same time, Australia and our partners are imposing a high economic toll on Russia – with a focus on the elites and those who are responsible for this invasion or hold the levers of power in Russia and also in Belarus.

Australia has listed more than 500 individuals and entities to date. They include President Putin and his circle of oligarchs and propagandists.

This is the largest ever imposition of sanctions by Australia against a single country.

Our listings include 80 percent of Russia’s banking sector and all government entities that handle Russia’s sovereign debt.

Our co-ordinated action with partners significantly undermines Russia’s ability to continue financing President Putin’s war.

Also recognising the importance of the strategic contest over information, those sanctioned also include propagandists and purveyors of disinformation who have peddled such false narratives about this invasion.

We have sanctioned military commanders and members of Parliament, as well as those who facilitated the invasion from outside Russia, including as I said the leadership of neighbouring Belarus. We also condemn actions by third party countries that would enable and facilitate Russia’s invasion, including through economic, military and political support.

We have prohibited exports of alumina, impacting a key Russian industry, and also the import of Russian oil, refined petroleum products, gas and coal.

A significant portion of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves has been frozen and the Russian economy is increasingly cut off from Western markets.

Major international firms have suspended their operations in or with Russia. Many other businesses are reluctant to trade with Russia.

While this invasion is an unparalleled breach of international law and the UN Charter, it is also an escalation of the pattern of repressive and aggressive behaviour by Russia under this President.

President Putin’s Russia has for years silenced political opposition and critics.

Sergei Magnitsky, the Ukrainian-born Russian lawyer who exposed massive fraud committed by Russian government officials, was one those silenced.

Mr Magnitsky was arrested, imprisoned, subjected to degrading treatment and tortured. He died in custody in 2009 having been denied medical treatment.

Under laws this Parliament passed in December, we will hold the perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and corruption to account.

Yesterday, the Government listed 14 Russian individuals responsible for the corruption that Sergei Magnitsky uncovered and his subsequent imprisonment, and a further 25 individuals complicit in his torture and death.

Those individuals will be subject to targeted financial sanctions and travel bans.

In doing so, we honour Mr Magnitsky and all who defend the rule of law. We also acknowledge former Senator Kimberley Kitching, such a strong supporter of these laws and who worked closely with the Government to ensure their passage.

This is the first of what will be ongoing sanctions using the Magnitsky-style thematic frameworks, which enable us to impose costs on, and deter those responsible for, the most egregious human rights violations and abuses, and serious corruption.

Russia must stop its invasion. Russia must get out of Ukraine.

Until that happens, Australia and our partners will continue to impose cost on Russia and support Ukraine. We look forward to welcoming by virtual means President Zelenskyy when he addresses our Parliament and does us the honour of speaking to our Parliament tomorrow.

Thank you, Mr President.

Media enquiries