The Politics    Thursday, June 16, 2022

Picture imperfect

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen pose for photographs after signing the nationally determined contribution to a 43 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 at Parliament House in Canberra. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen pose for photographs after signing the nationally determined contribution to a 43 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 at Parliament House in Canberra. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Two recent Labor achievements are also reminders of the party’s progressive shortcomings

The Labor government today disappointed many by summoning industry stakeholders to Canberra for a ceremony in which it “formally pledged” its insufficient emissions-reduction target of 43 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has maintained for weeks now that it would not be budging on the target it took to the election, and it would not be negotiating with the Greens or teal independents despite their impressive results. Today’s “presidential-style” signing ceremony saw the government commit to an updated nationally determined contribution (NDC), which mercifully rules out the use of Kyoto-era “carry over” credits, before the new parliament had even sat. Even though the event was overshadowed by the ongoing energy crisis, which Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Energy Minister Chris Bowen made clear they blame (quite rightly) on the previous government and its reliance on coal-fired power, it seems not even this wake-up call is enough to shake Labor from its lacklustre target or its commitment to coal in the medium term, with Resources Minister Madeleine King continuing to beat her fossil fuel–powered drum.

The NDC ceremony wasn’t the only celebratory photo op of the past 24 hours that had a weird feeling about it, while still managing to be a step in the right direction. Albanese yesterday afternoon paid a visit to the Nadesalingam family in Biloela, with heart-warming photos of the PM and the family appearing across social media. The family’s return is a great relief to many Australians. But the happy photos belie a feeling that all is now well within Australia’s immigration regime, that the cruelty has come to an end, when it has merely come to an end for this high-profile family. As New Delhi–based ABC correspondent Avani Dias noted, more than 300 Sri Lankan asylum seekers like them have been turned back at sea in the time since Labor granted the Nadesalingams bridging visas, with Labor still firmly committed to our exceptionally callous Operation Sovereign Borders.

Speaking to Guardian Australia today, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles implied the Nadesalingam family would be allowed to remain in Biloela “with certainty”, adding that Labor wouldn’t be pursuing the previous government’s plan to lower the bar for visa cancellations. But he also made clear that the kindness shown to this one Tamil family would not set a precedent, with cases still to be assessed “on their merits”. Little is likely to change, meanwhile, in Australia’s immigration detention system, in which a 32-year-old Turkish man died overnight. The Refugee Action Coalition is now calling for an inquiry that almost certainly won’t come.

And while there was plenty for Labor to celebrate in yesterday’s much-needed minimum wage increase, concerns are creeping in that the government won’t be doing anything to pause the introduction of a new “points-based” mutual obligations system that is being compared to robodebt. Welfare advocates and the Greens are urging Employment Minister Tony Burke to delay its July 1 introduction, with an Unemployed Workers’ Union survey finding that many are fearful of it (respondents to the survey used words such as “harm, hurt, terror, fear, punishment” to describe the system, and suicide was explicitly mentioned in nine responses). Burke has so far declined to comment on the new system, which the previous Coalition government passed through parliament earlier this year with Labor’s support. But many are now seeing it as a test for Labor, a chance to take an important stand against a harsh new system.

Still, there has been much to celebrate in the past few days: a needlessly traumatised family has finally returned home (and will hopefully be left alone now) and Australia has finally signed up to a 2030 emissions-reduction target that doesn’t make us a complete international laughing stock. Anthony Albanese’s photo ops are not the same as Scott Morrison’s demeaning occupational dress-ups; Albanese has been photographed doing his job. But let us also not mistake a photo for the real thing. Preventing catastrophic warming is going to take far greater ambition than that contained in the documents Labor signed today, and undoing the damage our immigration policies have done is going to require far more than being photographed beside two little girls.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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