Why questions have been raised about this image of Anthony Albanese sporting a Rio Tinto shirt?

He’s not the first prime minister to do it, so why has there been controversy about Anthony Albanese wearing a mining giant’s shirt with his name on it?

On Sunday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese toured the iron ore operations of Rio Tinto with Minister for Resources Madeleine King in Karratha, Western Australia.

As he walked around the operations, Albanese, along with Rio Tinto executives Richard Cohen and Simon Trott, wore a hi-vis shirt with the company’s name emblazoned in red on one side, and his first name on the other.

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King was not wearing the same shirt, but a hi-vis vest.

In a press conference following the tour, Albanese praised the company’s iron ore operations for its contribution to the nation’s economy.

“As I was standing in the cabin there today watching the iron ore go into the hull of that ship, what I was also watching was funding for schools, funding for hospitals, funding to keep our national economy going that comes from this sector and comes from the hard work that’s done by people here in the Pilbara, that is so vital,” he said.

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“I think often in the eastern states they take this work for granted, take the economic activity, the revenue for granted as well. I’m here to say that we shouldn’t do that.”

Some on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, have criticised the prime minister’s bespoke shirt because they say it’s advertising for the company.

It’s usually standard practice for most leaders to don some kind of uniform, often provided by the company that’s being visited, during press calls like Albanese’s Rio Tinto tour.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison wore a hi-vis shirt during a visit to Fortescue Metals’ Christmas Creek mine site in the Pilbara in April 2021. The words “Scott” and the company’s name were on his shirt.
But Geoffrey Watson, a director at the Centre for Public Integrity, says Albanese could have declined to wear the shirt.

“Surely the Australian government could afford to buy a high-vis jacket for the prime minister if he wishes to go to the sites, which doesn’t endorse (the company),” he told SBS News.

Watson said he was “disappointed and troubled” by the prime minister donning the shirt.

“In the current world, with global warming, disputes about the loss of our non-renewable resources through mining; the particular recent difficulties Rio Tinto has had regarding preservation of Aboriginal sacred sites, I think it’s just awful to think that the prime minister would wear a shirt which had the effect of advertising it,” he said.

“I felt that when Scott Morrison did it; I think it now when Anthony Albanese did it.”

Polly Hemming, a director of the Australia Institute’s climate and energy program, said it was “inappropriate” for members of parliament to be wearing the branding of particularly influential companies.

“When he goes to visit a school, does he put on the school uniform?” she told SBS News.

“Whether it’s a joke or not, or whether someone just chucked him a T-shirt that said ‘Anthony’, the symbolism of our prime minister presenting himself as an employee of a major resources company is incredibly alarming.”

Not everyone is critical, pointing out that the shirt was provided by the site operator for safety purposes.

Albanese was asked about the shirt on Perth radio on Monday, with 94.5 FM host Pete Curulli joking about the number of shirts the prime minister would receive in his tenure.

“Where do you keep all those shirts? Because you’d get a lot of merch. You’d have merch thrown at you all over the place. So, do you just get a freshie every time something like that happens? Or do you have a giant wing back at, you know, back at the home in Canberra?” Curulli asked.

Albanese replied: “I think we gave it back so they can scrub off the ‘Anthony’, take off the embroidering and put on ‘John’ or ‘Pete’”.

Radio co-host Kymba said: “Or they’re about to hire an ‘Anthony’. ‘Anthony’ cannot believe his luck.”

SBS has contacted the Prime Minister’s office for comment.

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