Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Australia/Oceania

Newsline: Australia warns China’s diplomats

Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, has issued a warning to foreign diplomatic representatives residing in Australia that the nation will not tolerate interference in the exercise of free speech. It came after a Chinese diplomat backed the “patriotic behaviour” of Chinese students who clashed with pro-Hong Kong protesters at the University of Queensland this week. Payne said the right to free speech and to peaceful and lawful protest was protected in Australia, even on contentious and sensitive issues. “The Australian government expects all foreign diplomatic representatives to respect these rights,” she said. “The government would be particularly concerned if any foreign diplomatic mission were to act in ways that could undermine such rights, including by encouraging disruptive or potentially violent behaviour.” (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jul/27/australia-warns-diplomats-after-china-praises-patriotic-clashes-with-pro-hong-kong-protesters) News Corp reported the Chinese consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, praised Chinese students for confronting what he said were “anti-China separatist” protesters with “ulterior motives’. “The consulate general attaches great importance to the safety of Chinese students, affirms the spontaneous patriotic behaviour of Chinese students, resolutely opposes the words and deeds of any separatist countries, and opposes the use of these events to create the opposition between Chinese and Hong Kong students and incite anti-China sentiment,” he said. Hundreds of pro-Hong Kong students gathered at the university on Wednesday, backing demonstrations in the former British territory against Beijing’s influence before it was gatecrashed by pro-Chinese students. Punches were exchanged between the two groups.

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Newsline: Death in Australia’s embassy in Iraq investigated

Queensland coroner Terry Ryan is to hold a full inquest into the death of Christopher Betts, 34, the elite former soldier shot dead in mysterious circumstances in Australia’s embassy in Iraq more than three years ago. At a pre-inquest conference held in the presence of Betts’s ­family in Brisbane Magistrate’s Court this week, the coroner also announced he will examine whether Betts’s employer, private security firm Unity Resources Group, had appropriate safety and weapons-handling procedures in place in Baghdad and whether the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had adequate oversight of the company. (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/at-last-inquest-into-embassy-death/news-story/d0acf1af4038ebe89ee7629355b6313c) More than a dozen witnesses, including those flown in from overseas, will be called to give ­evidence and the Betts family lawyer, Patrick McCafferty QC, has been granted leave to question them on the stand. hris Betts had been working as a highly trained private security guard in the Baghdad embassy when he died in the early hours of May 12, 2016, after a gun was fired in a room in the compound. Reports from work colleagues in the hours that followed suggested that Betts and his colleague, a former commando, Sun Mackay, had been drinking and playing video games about 2.30am when the firearm discharged and killed Betts. Mackay has not spoken publicly about what occurred and it is not known what he told investigators. Some colleagues who spoke to The Australian at the time reported he had described it as a terrible ­accident while others said he claimed Betts had committed ­suicide. Betts’s parents, Rae and Colin, did not just lose their only son that night: Chris’s young wife, Angela, devastated by her grief, took her own life just a few weeks later.

Newsline: Venezuela called to appear in Canberra court over missed embassy rent payments

The Republic of Venezuela has been taken to court by a Canberra family who alleges the country owes them thousands in unpaid rent money. The Rosa family claimed the South American nation had missed more than $50,000 in rent payments for two properties in O’Malley it had previously used as an embassy. (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-28/venezuela-called-to-appear-in-canberra-court-over-missed-rent/11151010) In documents seeking a hearing in the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the family claimed that from 2017 the republic began to fall behind in payments, and eventually vacated under contentious circumstances. In October of that year, the embassy made headlines when its landlord blockaded the entrance using a construction vehicle. Things boiled over when top Venezuelan skier Cesar Augusto Baena Sierraalta struck the landlord, claiming the man had showed disrespect for his country. Mr Sierraalta pleaded guilty and was released on a good behaviour order, with no conviction recorded.

Newsline: Canberra Moroccan embassy employee claims underpayment

The Moroccan embassy is locked in a dispute with an employee who claims to have been underpaid and overworked while in Canberra. Khalid Nassih said he was not paid in the the first six months he worked for the embassy, was forced to sleep in a laundry at the embassy residence, and regularly worked excessively long shifts. Mr Nassih said the embassy threatened to revoke his visa after his Australian-born wife challenged it to repay money owed to her husband. (https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6063130/moroccan-embassy-staffer-claims-he-has-been-underpaid-overworked/?src=rss) The embassy rejected the allegations in a statement to The Canberra Times. However, embassy employees have since met with Mr Nassih’s wife, and agreed to increase his pay, cover some recent medical expenses and specify working hours as part of a new employment contract.

Newsline: New Zealand Diplomat Found Guilty of Planting Camera in Embassy Toilet

A former top-tanking New Zealand official has been found guilty of planting a secret camera in a unisex bathroom at the country’s U.S. embassy. Alfred Keating was the highest ranking official at New Zealand’s embassy in Washington D.C. when the camera was discovered in 2017. Auckland District Court heard earlier this month that the camera was hidden in a heating duct and was only found by a staff member when the device fell onto the floor and they spotted a tiny camera lens. (https://www.thedailybeast.com/alfred-keating-new-zealand-diplomat-found-guilty-of-planting-camera-in-unisex-us-embassy-toilet) It was covered in a layer of dust which suggested it had been there for some time. New Zealand police found over 700 deleted files and 20 existing files on the memory card, including 19 images of people using the bathroom. Keating’s DNA matched traces found on the memory card in the camera. He now faces up to 18 months in prison and will be sentenced on 25 June.

Newsline: New Zealand naval officer on trial over secret camera in embassy bathroom

One of New Zealand’s former top-ranked military officials is on trial in Auckland charged with planting a secret camera in a unisex bathroom at the country’s embassy in Washington. Alfred Keating, 59, was a commodore in the New Zealand navy and was one of the country’s most senior naval officers before he resigned in 2018 following the allegations. He denies all charges. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/09/top-new-zealand-naval-officer-on-trial-over-secret-camera-in-embassy-bathroom) Keating was serving as a defence attache at New Zealand’s embassy in Washington when a small, covert camera was discovered in a unisex bathroom after it fell out of a hiding spot in a heating duct on 27 July, 2017. The crown alleges the motion-activated camera was positioned to capture intimate video recordings of anyone using the toilet, and the case was not one of espionage or spy activity. Crown prosecutor Henry Steele told the court that investigators began to suspect Keating after examining the buildings swipe card records, the New Zealand Herald reported. In November 2017 police searched Keating’s home in New Zealand and found searches on his laptop for the security company BrickHouse Security, whose logo was found on the hidden camera, and also searches for how to “set up” a secret camera, the New Zealand Herald reported. Keating’s Fitbit watch was also seized, Steele said, and “extremely strong scientific support” suggested male DNA found on the memory card inside the camera matched Keating’s. Ron Mansfield, Keating’s lawyer, said despite the salacious nature of the case the allegations were weak and would disappoint jurors, who had been warned to keep some matters of “national security” secret during the trial, such as the detailed lay-out of the embassy in Washington. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Newsline: New Zealand’s new embassy in China a ‘significant diplomatic’ space

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand’s new $50 million embassy in Beijing, China is “one of our most significant diplomatic spaces”. The compound features a whare replete with tukutuku panels carved by a Māori carver, but have done away with the tennis courts. It was a project which began under former Prime Minister John Key, but has been formally opened by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/111675940/new-zealands-new-embassy-in-china) “This is a significant event for New Zealand, you’ll see from this building that this is one our most significant diplomatic spaces we have abroad,” she said. “It demonstrates the importance of the relationship and the strength of the relationship going forward.”