The Politics    Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Dig up, prime minister

By Nick Feik

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Image via ABC News

Morrison is in a hole, and making things worse

In response to the comments that French President Emmanuel Macron aimed at Scott Morrison yesterday (“Do you think he lied to you?” a journalist asked Macron. “I don’t think, I know,” Macron replied), Morrison has proceeded to dig himself in deeper. First the PM’s staff leaked a text message from Macron to the Coalition’s favourite propaganda outlet, The Daily Telegraph, which dutifully ran a story around it. (Funnily enough, the Tele was one of the few mastheads that hadn’t run a major story on the fact that the French president had accused the Australian PM of lying.) The Tele proposed that the text message from Macron (“Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarines ambitions?”) somehow proved that he had been told that Australia was cancelling its submarine contract – and that the Frenchman “just didn’t want to hear it”. It proved nothing of the sort, and there was no evidence to support this contention other than the single text message and the assertions of “sources familiar with talks between the two men”. (Gee, who could they be?)

Not content with the diplomatically disastrous ploy of leaking private messages and backgrounding against foreign leaders to the press, Morrison then took a public shot at Macron, accusing him of attacking Australia’s integrity. What’s more, Morrison added, “I’m not going to cop sledging of Australia, I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians.”   

To be clear: Macron had not sledged Australians generally. He had sledged Morrison personally. (“I have a lot of respect for your country,” Macron said. “I have a lot of respect – and a lot of friendship – for your people.”)

It is typical of Morrison to turn a legitimate criticism into a platform to patriotically beat his own chest, but it’s certainly not going to help Australian foreign relations, which he continues to undermine on a daily basis.

Morrison’s staff also alerted The Australian to “a confidential 15-page document” of correspondence between the Morrison government and the White House that apparently “raises serious doubts about the president’s claim he believed France knew ahead of time that its $90bn contract with Australia would be terminated”.

The article asks rhetorically, “Did the ageing president simply misunderstand the situation? Or is Mr Biden playing politics by throwing Australia under the bus in a measured way, to help repair America’s relationship with France.” 

Again, for clarity’s sake: quite apart from the leaking of confidential materials, the implication being put around by Morrison’s office is that both the “ageing” US president and the “sledging” French president messed up, while Morrison was pure as the driven snow. No wonder world leaders keep ignoring him at public events. 

All of these shenanigans are an indictment of Morrison’s government, and they serve as a distraction (which I have admittedly indulged) from the main game this week, which is the COP26 summit happening in Glasgow. But such sideshows are still worth delving into because they speak to serious issues for Australia. They are also indicative of how Morrison plays politics, and are representative of the traits that are turning Australia into an international embarrassment. 

Australia’s approach to the Glasgow climate talks is similarly inept and dishonest (I wrote more about the Coalition’s climate policy in the latest issue of The Monthly). It is designed to get good headlines in the Murdoch media rather than to address the substantive issue (the very future of the planet). 

In both cases, Morrison is simply kicking the can down the road – to 2050, or in the case of the submarines later still. The target of the government’s climate policy is domestic and political: Morrison’s approval rating. As with the national vaccine rollout and the bushfire response, the incompetence is staggering. In Senate estimates last week it was revealed that, of the $4 billion allocated to the Emergency Response Fund for disaster recovery, $0 has been spent. Morrison runs a do-nothing government. 

World leaders have shown themselves to be far less indulgent of Morrison’s intransigence, and far less impressed by his “net-zero by 2050” announcement than large parts of the Australian media and political class. They know it is just a bunch of slogans, and a promise to leave the heavy lifting to everyone else. If the submarines debacle tempts international leaders to make an example of Morrison’s government, who could blame them? Not that he’s easily shamed.


* Correction: This article has been amended to reflect that it was not the National Bushfire Recovery Fund but the larger Emergency Response Fund that has yet to disburse any funds.

“I made it clear that I didn’t want him to nominate at the next election and that I didn’t believe he should nominate for the seat of Kew.”

Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy has told former shadow attorney-general Tim Smith he should not recontest his seat next year, after Smith crashed his car while more than twice the legal blood-alcohol limit.

“Might it be possible for Australia to acquire a retiring LA-class boat or two, to put it under an Australian flag, to run it, if you like, as an operational training boat?”

Former prime minister Tony Abbott believes Australia should consider buying retired nuclear-powered submarines from either America or Britain as insurance in the event of a regional conflict in coming years, as Australia’s existing submarines age.

How the government silences charities
Frontline charity workers say that the sector’s dependency on government funding means that the people they’re supposed to be helping are instead sidelined and betrayed. Today, Russell Marks on how charities are becoming complicit in their own silencing.

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Victoria overnight – marking the first time since September that the state has recorded fewer than 1000 daily cases.

“Everybody has done an incredible job to ensure NSW can ease restrictions in a safe and considered way earlier than we planned.”

Premier Dominic Perrottet announces that the NSW government is bringing forward new freedoms for fully vaccinated people and delaying privileges for the unvaccinated.

The list

“Collapsing and unprotected ecosystems, massive underspending on threatened species in peril, new coalmines and coal-fired power stations, a gas-fired recovery, and a government that has appealed against the very idea that it owes a duty of care to future generations – little wonder that the government wants to tell a different story.”

“It’s been a dismal decade, or more. When did it start, this sense that Australia has lost direction? In 1996, when Pauline Hanson brought her mean-spirited grievances into the national parliament? In 2001, when John Howard refused to let the captain of the Tampa land 433 desperate refugees rescued from drowning? In 2008 and 2009, when Kevin Rudd was so intent on wedging Malcolm Turnbull that he destroyed the possibility of a bipartisan energy policy? Or was it the next year, when the ALP’s bovver boys convinced Julia Gillard to challenge Rudd for the leadership; or 2013, when Tony Abbot was elected on a series of lies about his plans for the budget, and became Australia’s worst prime minister ever?”

“The police officer charged with murdering Bernadette’s sister was found not guilty. Yamatji woman JC, as the family wish her to be identified for cultural reasons, was shot dead on a quiet suburban street in Geraldton in the early evening of September 17, 2019. The police officer who shot her became the first serving officer to be charged with murder in Western Australia since the Forrest River massacre in 1926.” 

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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