Albo resists Keating on China

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has implicitly distanced himself from former prime minister Paul Keating’s stance on Beijing, as the Coalition baselessly accuses the opposition leader of “siding with China”.

What we know:

  • Albanese says China has become “far more forward-leaning” in issues such as penalising Australian imports, and this was driving changes in foreign policy and the need for Australia to “speak up for our own values” (The Guardian); 
  • Keating had criticised the Coalition and Labor over their backing of the AUKUS military pact with the US and UK, designed to counter China’s growing influence;
  • Defence minister Peter Dutton labelled the former prime minister as “Grand Appeaser Comrade Keating” while Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued that Keating reflected the views of “a lot of people in the Labor Party”;
  • Morrison also claimed “Anthony Albanese backed in the Chinese government”, in an apparent reference to the Labor Party supporting an inquiry over the decision to buy US submarines (news.com.au); 
  • White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan declared that the US had taken a “big bet” by promising to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia (ABC); 
  • Rolls-Royce meanwhile pitched the nuclear submarine deal as reason for Australia to embrace its small modular nuclear reactors for energy (SMH); 
  • It comes as the Chinese Communist Party passes a “historical resolution” cementing President Xi Jinping’s hold on power (BBC).
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Call to cut Medicare for unvaccinated

Singapore’s decision to deny free Covid-19 health treatment to vaccine-hesitant people has sparked debate about whether the same rules should apply in Australia.

What we know:

  • Singapore will from next month stop paying coronavirus medical bills of those who are unvaccinated by choice, as rising case numbers put the city-state’s health system under strain (MedicalXpress); 
  • Former NSW premier Bob Carr praised the move, and called for the vaccine hesitant to be stripped of their Medicare, given most patients in ICU wards are unvaccinated;
  • Health economist Luke Slawomirski argued that a healthcare surcharge should instead be applied to those without a valid exemption, similar to the one charged to people who do not have private hospital cover (Crikey); 
  • Grattan Institute health expert Stephen Duckett warned denying Medicare to the unvaccinated could lead to a slippery slope of refusing free healthcare to smokers and drinkers (The Conversation);  
  • Duckett added such a ban would shift “responsibility on to individuals for government failures” in communication of vaccine benefits.
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Climate targets on ‘life support’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C is “on life support”, as the COP26 climate approaches its conclusion.

Guterres added that promises to reduce emissions are meaningless while governments continue to invest in fossil fuels, and called for an end to “trillions in subsidies” (BBC). 

Negotiators in Glasgow are haggling over measures to force countries to come back by the end of next year with stronger emissions plans, climate finance for poorer nations, an international standard on carbon trading, and a call to phase out coal (Bloomberg Green).

China and the US struck a deal to upgrade their 2030 pledges and come back in 2025 with fresh commitments for 2035.

The summit is scheduled to end today, but negotiations could be extended into the weekend.

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Spike in seasonal worker deaths

Sixteen people on Australia’s seasonal workers program have died since the beginning of the pandemic, as the scheme faces a potential class action over “inhumane conditions”.

The 16 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic follow no deaths between 2018 and 2019 and three in 2017-18 (The Guardian). 

The federal government refuses to provide details on many of the deaths, but it is understood at least seven of the 16 deaths were linked to road accidents, and at least one was a suicide.

The family of deceased seasonal worker Silas Ufiau called for more program regulations and better education about Australian culture, working conditions and road rules.

Workers were transported to farms in buses driven by a seasonal worker, who then did a 12-hour shift in the field before driving everyone home.

Employees were charged $40-80 a week for their transport costs, but the driver had this fee waived.

A class action against the federal government is being planned over the program subjecting workers to “substandard and inhumane conditions” and huge deductions to wages by employers.

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Mega Hong Kong gallery treads fine line

Asia’s largest art gallery opens today in Hong Kong, under the shadow of draconian security laws that restrict freedom of expression.

Australian art director Suhanya Raffel is overseeing the launch of Hong Kong’s 90m-tall M+ museum, Asia’s first institution dedicated to contemporary visual culture (SMH). 

Raffel pledged the museum would try to respect the “freedom of artistic expression” but “we are not going to break the law”.

The museum will feature work from Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, and the 2009 installation Paddling Home by Kacey Wong, who left Hong Kong amid the political crackdown in the city (ArtNet). 

New laws passed to stymie protests in Hong Kong control free speech, including the power to ban screenings of films deemed a danger to “national security”.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam told galleries to be on “full alert” against artworks that could endanger national security.

The museum has already removed images of some artworks from its website, while Hong Kong artists are exercising self-censorship by finding more abstract ways to express political views (South China Morning Post). 

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Meaning … I, too, am haunted by it.

Ocean Vuong solemnly responds after Australian year 12 students flooded the Vietnamese American poet’s social media accounts with complaints about his “confusing” text in their English exam (The Guardian).

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Postscript: UN Projects ‘Go Away’ Onto Side of Its Own Building in Fight With Activists

The Gastivists set up a projector across the River Clyde from the SEC campus to project their messages. They successfully got some phrases up on the side of the SEC Armadillo, including “GLOBAL FRACKING BAN,” “CLEAN GAS IS A DIRTY LIE,” “BAN FRACKING NOW” … the UN projector operators tried a new tactic: projecting “GO AWAY” over the activists’ messages—and onto their own venue (Gizmodo).

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Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.