The Politics    Monday, July 11, 2022

A demanding day

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Parliament House in Canberra, July 11, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Parliament House in Canberra, July 11, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The Albanese government faces up to both international and domestic demands

It was another complex day of diplomacy for the Albanese government, following the publication of China’s latest “demands”. Beijing has listed four actions the Australian government must take in order to get the relationship “back on the right track”. But, as foreign policy experts note, they are not all things Australia can do. The head of the National Security College at ANU, Rory Medcalf, labels points three and four (reject “manipulation by a third party”, meaning the US, and build “public support featuring positiveness and pragmatism”) unrealistic and nonsensical. Labor has this morning made it clear it will not be bending too far, with Minister for the Pacific Pat Conroy telling RN Breakfast that “our national interest has not changed, and our approach to China has not changed”. Asked today about Chinese reports claiming that Foreign Minister Penny Wong had agreed to remove obstacles to get the relationship back on track, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese echoed Conroy, adding that his government would “continue to be constructive”. Let’s hope the Coalition is also willing to be constructive here, rather than seeking to politicise the issue, with foreign affairs spokesperson Simon Birmingham clearly incensed to hear that the Coalition is copping Beijing’s blame.

Those were not the only international pressures faced by Labor today. Pacific leaders are making further demands of Australia (and New Zealand) ahead of this week’s Pacific Islands Forum, with Vanuatu’s special envoy on climate change calling on Australia to back his country’s bid to tie climate inaction to the International Court of Justice. Bakoa Kaltongga, who has led the campaign to make climate a human rights issue, said it was time for Australia to show its commitment, in what Nine labelled an “ultimatum”. “Vanuatu looks forward to the unanimous endorsement, including by our brothers and sisters from Australia and New Zealand, on the initiative to bring climate change to the International Court of Justice, to provide legal clarity on protecting the environment and human rights of present and future generations from worsening climate impacts,” he said. Conroy seemed a little more open to this one, as the ABC’s Stephen Dziedzic noted, telling RN that Australia will back the bid, although the exact wording is still to be worked out.

Vanuatu’s demand is not too dissimilar to one coming from inside the house. The Environment Council of Central Queensland has today written to Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, formally requesting that she reassess 19 coal and gas projects approved by the previous government, taking into account the potential climate impacts to species and environments. One expert says the matter, if it reaches the courts, could set a legal precedent. In order to force the environment minister to reassess the projects, the group’s request had to contain “substantial new information”. As such, the team has provided more than 3000 pages of documents establishing how climate change will impact 2121 species and places.

In similar news, climate activist group the Sunrise Project has found 13 greenfield coalmines and 14 extensions of mines have been referred to the federal government for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and has calculated that, were they all to go ahead, they could lead to the release of nearly 17 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide – that’s more than 35 times Australia’s annual emissions. Independent MPs, the Greens and Pacific leaders are all now calling for a moratorium on new coalmines.

That, however, is another demand that the Albanese government does not seem willing or able to meet. Pressed during this morning’s RN discussion as to whether Labor would increase its emissions-reduction targets, Conroy insisted that the “election commitment is what we’ll implement”, while emphasising that the government’s renewed interest in climate was being “welcomed” at the Pacific forum. Asked about preparations for the inevitable climate refugees on our doorstep, the Pacific minister admitted that “human movement around that” was something the government was going to have to deal with, as islands begin disappearing. Indeed, in failing to meet demands on climate, in failing to be a global leader in the region, Australia is only creating future headaches for itself. And make no mistake, those climate refugees are already here – many of them are Australian citizens.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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