Australia’s parliament passed legislation on Thursday to prevent Russia from building a new embassy near Parliament House.
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese said the legislation would extinguish Russia’s lease on the site 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,” Mr Albanese told reporters. “We are acting quickly to ensure the lease site does not become a formal diplomatic presence.”
Mr Albanese said Australia’s government condemns Russia’s “illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.”
Australia is one of the most generous providers of military hardware, training and aid to Ukraine of any country outside Nato and has escalated sanctions against Russia since the war began in February 2022.
Mr Albanese said opposition and other politicians that are not aligned with the government were briefed on the legislation on Wednesday night and had agreed to pass it through both chambers on Thursday. The government holds a majority in the House but not the Senate.
Mr Albanese did not directly answer when asked if there were also security concerns about the Chinese Embassy across a street from the Russian site.
“We’re dealing with this very specifically, and it’s based upon very specific advice as well about the nature of the construction that’s proposed for this site, about the location of this site, and about the capability that would present in terms of potential interference with activity that occurs in this Parliament House,” Mr Albanese said.
The government decided to act after Russia won a Federal Court case last month that prevented its eviction from the site now under construction.
The lease was cancelled by local Canberra authorities on the basis of a lack of building activity since Russia was given the lease in the diplomatic precinct of Yarralumla in 2008 and plans for the complex of buildings were approved in 2011.
Under the lease conditions, Russia had agreed to complete construction within three years, but the embassy remains partially built.
The National Capital Authority, which administers embassy leases, 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”.
Russia currently occupies the former USSR embassy in the suburb of Griffith, further from Parliament House than the new site.
The Russian Embassy would remain in Griffith and Australia’s Embassy would remain in Moscow, Mr Albanese said.