Thursday, April 22, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Australia vs the world
On deteriorating relations with China, New Zealand, the US and the UK

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) and Energy Minister Angus Taylor. Image via Facebook

Is there anyone Australia hasn’t pissed off this week? The Morrison government seems to be in the international sin bin, with Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne having her work cut out for her amid rising tensions on multiple fronts. We’ve pissed off China, furious over what it calls a “provocative” decision to tear up deals it had struck with the Victorian government. We’ve pissed off New Zealand with – among other things – our growing attempts to use the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance to exert pressure in ways they don’t feel comfortable (though they, in turn, have pissed us off, by publicly announcing that fact, rather than coming to us). We’ve pissed off the US, tired of our “insufficient” action on climate change, and the spin and bluster that goes along with it. Apparently we’ve even pissed off the UK with our “glacially slow” trade deal negotiations, amid reports their trade secretary Liz Truss plans to sit our trade minister Dan Tehan in the “uncomfortable chair” when he meets her for talks in London this week. Truss has reportedly now texted Tehan to apologise for the “sledging”, but we shan’t be expecting an apology from China, New Zealand or the US any time soon.

China is, unsurprisingly, not at all happy with Canberra’s “unreasonable and provocative” move to tear up its Belt and Road Initiative deals with Victoria, in the first use of the federal government’s new foreign veto powers. China today responded furiously to the news, warning, through both spokespeople and state-run media, of serious retaliation and worsening relations. “It is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself,” said a Chinese embassy official, while Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin suggested Australia “deserves stern admonition and punishment”. (All this, of course, comes just a day after China’s deputy ambassador used a National Press Club panel to accuse Australia of “unethical, illegal” conduct over its banning of telecommunications company Huawei.) Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton have each responded in their own unique styles to the extremely foreseeable reaction from China: Payne blithely insisted on AM that Australian producers don’t need to prepare themselves for further sanctions, saying the decision was “not intended to harm Australia’s relationships with any countries”, while on 2GB Dutton declared that Australia would not be bullied. Payne and Dutton can bluster all they like but, based on China’s previous record, it’s unlikely they will decide how the news is received.

Down in Wellington, Australia and New Zealand appear to have papered over some of their mounting differences, since reports the Australian government was caught out by New Zealand’s intention to back away from pressuring China through the Five Eyes network. While New Zealand has abstained from a few joint statements made by the US, the UK, Canada and Australia lately, Australian officials were reportedly unaware of the extent of their discomfort with the “expanding remit” of the alliance, and were rather ruffled by Monday’s announcement. (“Sorry to read the New Zealand FM has downgraded NZ role in 5 eyes arrangement,” tweeted a forlorn Alexander Downer yesterday. “Used to be our best mates. Not now.”)

Payne addressed the media in Wellington today following pre-arranged talks with her New Zealand counterpart, Nanaia Mahuta, saying they were conducted “in a positive spirit”. When asked whether she wanted NZ to take a stronger line on China, Payne said she would not seek to give advice to other countries, though reiterated the need to “adjust” to the changing nature of China, while Mahuta reiterated New Zealand’s position that the alliance shouldn’t be a “first port of call” for raising such issues. A joint statement released a few hours later appeared to reference concerns about China and “the shared challenges facing our region” (without referencing China by name), while also emphasising the importance of “broad coalitions on issues of common interest” (without referencing Five Eyes by name).

Our relationship with the US, however, remains to be settled, with the Biden administration displeased with the Morrison government’s lacklustre efforts ahead of the Earth Day summit – even with today’s pledge of a $566 million investment in “international technology partnerships” for low-emissions technology, which still doesn’t come with any increased emissions-reduction targets. “I think our colleagues in Australia recognise that there’s going to have to be a shift,” an anonymous Biden official told Guardian Australia today, calling for Australia to cut emissions sooner. “It’s insufficient to follow the existing trajectory and hope that they will be on a course to deep decarbonisation and getting to net-zero emissions by mid-century.” Australia is expected to be an international embarrassment at tonight’s climate summit.

Meanwhile, in London, the unfriendly welcome emanating from the UK’s foreign office may be a sign of its desperation to rush through a deal – Australia was, after all, supposed to be among the first to strike one post-Brexit, with Turnbull calling negotiations “already well advanced” way back in 2016. The US may be putting Australia in the hot seat tonight, but it’s the UK (which, for the record, is also bringing more ambitious targets to tonight’s summit) who will be putting us in the uncomfortable chair.

“The worst problem is that people were not informed, and so work was done in preparation to no avail.”

Former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innis criticises the lack of urgency to distribute vaccines in the sector, saying providers were caught out by the lack of information.

“If you listen these days to the noisy minorities, ‘the mob’, you’d be entitled to believe that every man should be branded with the scarlet letter ‘A’ to symbolise the sin of all men.”

Alan Jones rants about the persecution of men, on the day after reports emerged of a 27-year-old mother of three being set on fire by her estranged partner.

How Australia is blocking global climate action
World leaders are preparing to meet for a historic global climate change summit, to try to limit the catastrophic impacts of global warming. Today, Mike Seccombe on the global shift towards tackling climate change, and how Australia could hold everything back.

The number of school-aged children (one in seven) who experience a mental health disorder each year, as experts push for a national benchmark of one school-based psychologist for every 500 students.

“The government will use the May budget to try to create tens of thousands of jobs in the various care sectors, with the aim of driving the unemployment rate below pre-pandemic levels. Aged care, disabilities and mental health will be the three areas targeted by reform measures being formulated for the budget, to be handed down on May 11.”


The upcoming budget will seek to create more jobs in the care sectors, with a goal to drive the unemployment rate below the 5.1 per cent it was in January last year.

The list

“The Tasmanian government and the salmon industry love to talk of the benefits salmon farming brings. But they don’t talk about the many costs. When the contamination of Hobart’s drinking water, water restrictions and hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money being spent as a corrective are added up, Tasmanians might reasonably ask why they are paying hidden subsidies and what do they get out of the salmon industry in direct return. The short answer is almost nothing.”

“Steve Schultze looks exactly like the kind of cop you’d see jumping a fence with his gun drawn. A former homicide detective with Victoria Police, he is a picture of machismo – heavyset and brawny – and rides a big black motorcycle. I’m on the street when he pops his head out the front door to say hello; the place is decked out with security cameras, and he saw me approaching on the security screens before I even arrived. This security is essential: inside, Schultze and his team host women and children who are escaping domestic abuse, many of whom are being tracked by their perpetrators.”

“Swift has long been a staunch advocate for the rights of songwriters – most famously, she once threatened Apple with the removal of her music from its streaming service unless it paid royalties to all musicians during its launch period. Her response to this situation has been similar: she has decided to pursue an aggressive and labour-intensive strategy of devaluing the original songs through re-recordings such as Fearless (Taylor’s Version). In making perfect replicas of the original songs, she essentially asks any listeners – or potential licensees of a hit such as ‘Love Story’ – to take a side in this public battle.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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