This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese’s comments on China at the Woodford Folk Festival and the COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers coming from China.
On 28 December, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed the Woodford Folk Festival, where he reflected on the Labor Government’s achievements in 2022, including in the foreign affairs space. He noted that “we have repaired our international relations and got Australia out of the naughty corner”, continuing by stating that “we’ve gone from a government that treated both climate change and the fate of our Pacific neighbours as a punchline to a bad joke.”Albanese also discussed the bilateral relationship with China, saying that “we’ve gone from a government that chose to not have a single conversation with China – our major trading partner – for the entire last term they were in power, to one that understands that dialogue is always a good thing. Australia and China are talking again … it doesn’t mean we agree with China on everything. It doesn’t mean we won’t raise our concerns and our significant points of difference. We will co-operate with China where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in Australia’s national interest.”
Minister for Health Mark Butler announced on 1 January that the Australian Government will “introduce pre-departure testing for COVID-19 for people travelling to Australia from the People’s Republic of China including the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.” Butler noted that the measure “is in response to the significant wave of COVID-19 infections in China and the potential for emerging viral variants in that country”, and that the requirements “are precautionary and temporary and will remain under review based on the health advice and available information.” He continued, stating that he has “been briefed extensively by the Chief Medical Officer” and that the decision “has been made to safeguard Australia from the risk of potential new emerging variants, and in recognition of the rapidly evolving situation in China and uncertainty about emerging viral variants.” He further noted that “Australia now joins other countries across the world including France, India, Japan, Malaysia, Spain, the Republic of Korea, England and the United States of America in implementing similar measures.” On 3 January, Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton and Shadow Minister for Health Anne Ruston issued a joint press release in response to the COVID-19 testing requirement for travellers from China. Dutton and Ruston stated that the Government “must explain to the Australian people why they have ignored the advice of the Chief Medical Officer – particularly given the Health Minister and Acting Secretary of the Health Department have advised there is no new variant of concern coming out of China” and that “the Prime Minister must justify why he has deviated from what has been previously agreed.” They further noted that “the most relevant health advice for Australians is our Chief Medical Officer’s advice, as it considers all factors in the context of our nation’s health and economic position.”
Isabella Keith is a weekly columnist for Australian Outlook. She is also an undergraduate student at the Australian National University studying Law and Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Isabella’s research interests include international law and comparative constitutional law.
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