Australia’s highest court has been asked to consider whether federal parliament has the power to tear up Russia’s lease on a prime block of Canberra real estate where it had begun constructing a new embassy.
The Albanese government last week rushed through legislation terminating Moscow’s tenancy on land adjacent to Parliament House, citing a possible national security risk.
In August last year the National Capital Authority (NCA) issued an eviction order to the Russian embassy to leave the site in Yarralumla where construction work on a new diplomatic complex was underway.
Russia then successfully challenged the NCA’s decision in the federal court, prompting the Albanese government to enact new laws to permanently stop the construction of a new embassy building.
Lawyers acting on behalf of Russian Ambassador Dr Alexey Pavlovsky have now launched a High Court challenge to the Albanese government’s legislation and are trying to prevent the Commonwealth (defendant) from entering the disputed land in the meantime.
Documents submitted to the High Court state the Russians are seeking an order that “the defendant, by itself and its servants and agents be restrained, until further order of the Court from [a] re-entering the Land and [b] taking any steps to re-lease the Land”.
According to the High Court application, the Russian Federation claims to have already spent $8.2 million on construction works and associated activities since entering a lease on the disputed block of land in December 2008.
“The Plaintiff will not carry out any further work on the Land or its improvements (including works to erect, construct or modify any buildings or other improvements on the Land), other than carrying out general maintenance,” the documents add.
A spokesperson for the Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the latest legal challenge was not a surprise.
“The Russian Federation has informed the Commonwealth of its intention to commence legal proceedings in the High Court, in which they will challenge the validity of the legislation on constitutional grounds.
“Russia’s challenge to the validity of the law is not unexpected. This is part of the Russian playbook,” the spokesperson told the ABC.
On Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese played down concerns over a Russian diplomat’s refusal to leave the block of land which is now subject to the High Court challenge.
“Australia will stand up for our values and we will stand up for our national security, and a bloke standing in the cold on a bit of grass in Canberra is not a threat to our national security,” Mr Albanese said.