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Can Albanese win over world leaders?

Chris Wallace on Albanese’s attempts at a reset.
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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is in Europe and he’s there because of the war in Ukraine.

Four Asia-Pacific nations, including Australia, have been given a seat at the table at the latest NATO summit because NATO is keen to engage partners around the world.

But it’s also an opportunity for Albanese – to reset relationships with NATO members like the United States, France, Spain and the UK.

So has he been successful?

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Chris Wallace on Albanese’s attempts at a reset.

 

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Chris Wallace.

 
Read Transcript

[THEME MUSIC STARTS]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is in Europe, and he’s there because of the war in Ukraine.

Four Asia-Pacific nations, including Australia, have been given a seat at the table at the latest NATO summit, because NATO is keen to engage partners around the world.

But it’s also an opportunity for Albanese – to reset relationships with NATO members like the United States, France, Spain and the UK.

So has he been successful?

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper, Chris Wallace, on Albanese’s attempts at a reset.

It’s Friday July 1.

[THEME MUSIC ENDS]

RUBY:
Hello again and thank you so much for joining us for filling in for the regular wrap of the week in politics. 

CHRIS WALLACE:
Pleasure, Ruby.

RUBY:
So this week Anthony Albanese is once again overseas. He's meeting with world leaders and there's been a lot of international visits that the Prime Minister has made, in his first five weeks in the role. So could you tell me a bit about this latest trip and what it's about? 

CHRIS
Yes, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is in Europe. First stop was Madrid for the really significant NATO summit meeting, a pretty big deal meeting internationally. He met with the Spanish president ahead of that. 

ARCHIVAL TAPE -- Reporter:
“Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has landed in Spain overnight to attend a NATO meeting with world leaders.”

ARCHIVAL TAPE -- Reporter:
“Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is meeting with his Spanish counterpart. The first of many high-level talks on a European tour dominated by the war in Ukraine.”

CHRIS:
Now Australian-Spanish relations might not seem central to Australia's concerns at the moment, but it makes sense for Albanese to strengthen those ties because Australia of course hopes to revive the idea of a trade deal with the EU, something that was blocked under Scott Morrison's prime ministership by French President Emmanuel Macron because of the appalling manner in which Australia pulled out of its contract with the French Naval Group to build submarines over the next 20 years to boost our defence capability. 

So the way the AUKUS deal was done, the brutal manner in which the Morrison government dumped that French submarine contract really dented Australia's international reputation. So Prime Minister Albanese had to, as a matter of deep urgency for Australia, reset perceptions about us. You know, you can't get the benefits of good international citizenship if you're not a good international citizen.

RUBY:
Okay. Well, let's talk a bit more about NATO's summit meeting, because that is really the big purpose of this trip, isn't it? Can you tell me what Anthony Albanese is doing visiting what is essentially traditionally a US-European military alliance? 

CHRIS:
That's right. It's a really significant new initiative by NATO, which invited the four Asia-Pacific countries, as they call them; Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea to attend. 

ARCHIVAL TAPE -- Anthony Albanese:
“The presence of Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Australia, who have all been invited to this summit, signifying that this is not just an issue for Europe…”

ARCHIVAL TAPE -- Anthony Albanese:

“What Vladimir Putin has done with this invasion is to unify NATO and to unify democratic nations against this action.”

CHRIS:

Now that's a first because NATO, of course, is seeking international support and visible support to help show Russian President Vladimir Putin that the world is backing it against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. So that might be expected. 

ARCHIVAL TAPE --  Boris Johnson:

“Vladimir Putin was hoping that he would get less NATO on his western front as a result of his unprovoked, illegal invasion of Ukraine, he’s been proved completely wrong, he’s getting more NATO, this is a historic summit in many ways.”

CHRIS:
But it's also a recognition by NATO that its challenges aren't now just in the North Atlantic area. It's really worried about the no-limits relationship between Russia and China and the implications of that for their own hemisphere. But also about Chinese moves in the Pacific that really mark a convergence of eastern and western hemisphere security challenges. So this is a really significant development. 

So, Anthony Albanese presented on security relations in the Pacific and in the wider region and also had many significant side meetings with world leaders. It was a terrific opportunity for him to accelerate the international relations reset. Which Labor feels is really critical to get respect back for Australia and have us seen as good international players - not just in international security politics but also policy including on climate change. 

RUBY:
And can you tell me a bit more then about what this reset of Australia's international relations means? What is it that Anthony Albanese thinks needs to change exactly?

CHRIS:
Good question, because Australia historically has been seen as a really good international citizen, both in security and policy generally. But what happened under successive Coalition governments, sadly, is that Australia slumped in the eyes of the world as a serious player. We haven't had it together on our defence material and defence strategy meshing which has led to this capability decline, that's not just bad for us it's bad for people generally who care about democratic values. So other countries would look at our declining practical defence capability and think, you know, what the hell is going on in Australia? And of course on critically important global issues like climate change - Australia was seen as a real laggard. And as each successive Coalition government served its term in office, that perception became worse and worse until under the most recent one, the Morrison government, Australia was considered such a handbrake on global progress in policy addressing climate change that really we were seen as beyond the pale.

So on top of this briefing with kind of a very appealing, easy confidence, Albanese has really made great strides in just five weeks of government, to get an international perception reset for Australia in those three trips. 

But of course there are political dividends too, Ruby, and this is kind of the area that the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton would have considered that he personally owned and that the Coalition owned. And to the extent that Labor's kind of overperformed early in this area and has kind of got him surrounded by these good ministers kicking obvious goals internationally, it's not a good start for Peter Dutton's opposition leadership.

RUBY:
Right. So at the domestic level this is really about trying to sort of preemptively get ahead of any Dutton talking points on national security and defence.

CHRIS:
Well, it's really cut the ground, the political ground, out from under Dutton and the Coalition opposition's feet.

I think probably the Opposition is pretty stunned at the speed with which this has become, you know, a really core part of Labor's high performing return to government. It's been done with breathtaking speed and real, real substance.

RUBY:
We’ll be back in a moment 

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ARCHIVAL TAPE -- Reporter:
“Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is taking off for the NATO summit in Europe tomorrow, leaving some angry MPs and senators in his wake…”

ARCHIVAL TAPE -- Reporter:
“The newly elected crossbenchers will have less support than they are expecting. The Prime Minister informing them in this letter that he proposed to allocate one full time staff member at the adviser classification, an effective cut of three compared to the last Parliament…”

ARCHIVAL TAPE -- Reporter:
“Several teal and Senate independents have reportedly made it known the decision would directly influence their willingness to pass legislation introduced by Labor…” 

RUBY:
Chris. We've been talking about how Anthony Albanese is trying to reset Australia's image on the world stage as he meets with other leaders. But back here in Australia, Labor's relations with its crossbench employees have hit a bit of a snag and that's over parliamentary staffing. So can you unpack for me what it is that's actually happened here? It sounds like the Labor Government wants to reduce the number of staff that the independents have.

CHRIS:
Yes, this staffing issue has really domestically consumed Australian politics for the last week. It's been the other big story apart from Albanese's trip overseas.

So to explain, the previous government, the Morrison government, came to office with a very slim majority and during that term of office slid effectively into minority government. As that happened, Scott Morrison, as a sweetener to crossbenchers, added four staff members to each of the community, independent’s offices, a phenomenal number of extra staff. Just to put that in context, a standard MP's staff entitlement is four people. And for the Labor shadow minister, for example, to get even an additional staffer, let alone four, is a big deal. And what hasn't really broken through into the public gaze particularly is the white-hot anger felt behind the scenes by many really exhausted Labor ex-shadow ministers and their staffers, who kind of slogged on under incredibly difficult conditions for a long time, often with just one extra staffer. And you've got to remember, Ruby at times in a Senate estimates, you know, these tiny offices would be trying to match the work of an entire department in trying to get to the bottom of what was going on. So the fact that the independents expected the same level of staffing when they came in, to automatically roll over and be renewed, wasn't met. It was a terrible shock to them when they got a letter from Anthony Albanese just before he left for overseas saying, look, we've thought about it and we're going to give you one extra staffer.

ARCHIVAL TAPE - Monique Ryan:
“Essentially I think what Mr. Albanese is trying to do is to hobble the crossbench and to render us less effective…” 

ARCHIVAL TAPE - David Pocock:
“I'm pretty surprised. Disappointed. Not the start I was hoping for. And you know, this is not me being dudded, this is the people that I'm in there to represent. The ACT has two senators, we've got almost the same population as Tassie who have 12…”

CHRIS:
So Zali Steggall led the charge in a really public campaign castigating the government and alienating a lot of people. When she, rather foolishly, I think, said that Anthony Albanese was no better than Scott Morrison. 

ARCHIVAL TAPE -- Zali Steggall:
“It's very incredibly short-sighted of the Prime Minister and I think it really doesn't bode well because it's basically saying I don't respect the work the crossbench has done in the last Parliament or can do in this coming parliament…”

CHRIS:
And probably overegged her argument and looked pretty entitled as she was making that argument. 

Meantime, Labor's Finance Minister Katy Gallagher and Treasurer Jim Chalmers were trying to explain that this was just a recalibration back to the staffing norm and really it wasn't such a drastic hit against the independents at all. 

ARCHIVAL TAPE -- Katy Gallagher:
“Just because Mr. Morrison, when he was Prime Minister, needed to secure confidence and supply from crossbenchers that he gave them extra staff. Doesn't mean that's right or fair to continue in this Parliament in that way.” 

RUBY:
Right - and whatever the Independents should or should not have reasonably expected, the result of the decision is clear -  it’s done quite a lot of damage to Labor's relationship with these crossbenchers. So given that, do you think that it was a mistake for Labor to slash funding in this way? And should they reconsider?

CHRIS:
It did do terrible damage right at the beginning of the Parliament to that relationship between Labor and the Teals and that is really, really unfortunate. Labor's only in government with a majority of two seats, that can easily change over time. They might not need the teals and the other community independents now, but they may well in the future. And this kind of nasty fight at the beginning of the Parliament is something they likely won't forget. I think in contrast to the way the government is generally behaving, which is with a lot of consultation and care to structure expectations and do the necessary talking for people to get into decent collaborative positions. This is the case that stands out as an area where the government didn't do that and then suffered a lot of political blowback. So I think when Anthony Albanese returns to Australia, that'll be a reset - he wants to thinking about making. I think probably the teals expectation of four extra staff is probably completely unrealistic, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of negotiation to maybe have them end up with two. And I think the Government will want to rebuild that relationship early on rather than have so many disgruntled crossbenchers roaming around bagging Labor.

RUBY:
Hmm. Yeah. It certainly seems to, I guess, fly in the face of the messaging that we heard very early on from Anthony Albanese and other frontbenchers that they wanted to be collaborative, they wanted to set a new standard for working together in Parliament and that kind of thing. It seems to have gone up in flames probably a lot faster than I would have thought. 

CHRIS:
Yes. Well, it's a great reminder that jaw-jaw, not war-war, as the diplomats say, is always the best way. Who knows what the underlying story is. It could well be that in the rush to achieve the international reset a small but very crucial part of domestic political relations was forgotten in the rush. But on return, Anthony Albanese has an opportunity to repair that relationship and it will be interesting to watch that happen.

RUBY:
Hmm. Chris, thank you so much for speaking to me today. It's been a pleasure. 

CHRIS:
Pleasure, Ruby.

[Advertisement]

RUBY:
Also in the news today,

In a historic joint strike, tens of thousands of teachers from public and Catholic schools across NSW protested working conditions on Thursday.

The NSW Teachers Federation said the government's offer of a 3 per cent pay increase was "an insult" that is below inflation, and that ‘crippling’ workloads were driving teachers away from the profession. 

And in a US federal court, former star R Kelly has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking.

The singer was accused of using his entourage of managers and aides to systemically sexually abuse women and girls. 

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, and Alex Gow.

Our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Scott Mitchell. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

And today is the final day for our Associate Product Manager, Jade Byers-Pointer.

Jade has been with the show since the very first episode, and we can’t thank her enough for her dedication and hard work over the last three years. 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See you next week.

 

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