The Politics    Thursday, September 23, 2021

Plus ça change

By Nick Feik

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s trip overseas was presumably intended to burnish his credentials as an international statesman and defender of Australian interests, but so far it’s looked like a disaster. The fallout from the submarines about-face continues, and the situation is not improving.

Overnight, US President Joe Biden was compelled to deliver a personal apology to President Emmanuel Macron for keeping France in the dark over its plans to help Australia acquire nuclear-fuelled submarines. Biden claimed responsibility for this error of judgement, but it’s clear his team realised that its true mistake was leaving the earlier communications about the whole affair up to Australia. Did they not realise that Morrison has a tendency towards extreme secrecy? Did they not realise that Australia had, until the very day that the deal was scuppered, been communicating to France’s Naval Group company that their original deal was still proceeding as normal?

Following the Macron–Biden discussion, France has returned its ambassador to Washington, but Macron is pointedly not talking to Morrison and not returning the French ambassador to Canberra. Australia will be in the hurt locker for a while longer yet, and France joins China in refusing to even speak to Australian leaders.

Morrison also met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson overnight, but Johnson’s subsequent comments on the new AUKUS pact would not have helped improve any diplomatic relations. France should “prenez un grip about this and donnez-moi un break”, Johnson said – get a grip and give me a break. Ah yes, because there’s nothing the French appreciate more than an Englishman with a terrible accent using a badly translated anglicism to tell them to calm down after having insulted them.

The leader of our mother country is not exactly reading the room. “Make no mistake,” wrote Sylvie Kauffmann, independent French commentator and editorial director of Le Monde. “This is a crisis, not a spat … The fallout is about much more than a scrapped business deal, Gallic pride and bruised egos. This diplomatic bombshell has crudely exposed the unwritten rules of great-power competition, in which France cannot be a player unless it carries the weight of the European Union behind it. The past week has been about 21st-century geopolitics and the brutal adjustment of old alliances to new realities.

“France has been cast aside.”

Throughout all of this, it has been little remarked that while Australia has blown up the French submarine deal, and damaged broader relations with Europe and China, Morrison hasn’t yet locked in the replacement US submarine deal. Not only do we not know the cost or timeline, or even the number of submarines to be provided, we aren’t even certain that the US will approve the deal. Biden is clearly a supporter of the pact, but for the US to share nuclear technology with another country, congressional approval is required and bipartisan support is necessary. Morrison will meet with key congressional leaders today, including the Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. Can you imagine the impact if Morrison cannot convince them to approve the deal?

It’s no wonder former and current leaders back home are looking on in horror.

“At Morrison’s instigation,” Paul Keating wrote this week, “Australia turns its back on the 21st century, the century of Asia, for the jaded and faded Anglosphere – the domain of the Atlantic – a world away.” He continued, “It takes a monster level of incompetence to forfeit military control of one’s own state, but this is what Scott Morrison and his government have managed to do.”

Kevin Rudd called the events of the past week a “rolling amateur-hour” and a foreign policy debacle. And current shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong, while offering Labor’s conditional support, warned that the Morrison government must not sacrifice Australia’s independence as it pushes ahead with the new submarines plan.

Morrison’s handling of recent developments still seems to have News Corp’s support though. “Subs deal puts us on centre stage,” wrote The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan, who claimed it was “an enormous historic opportunity for Australia” and “a brilliant achievement by the Morrison government”. He and chief political correspondent Geoff Chambers seemed intent on criticising French for having a tantrum over it. “Australia, the US and Britain want France in the Indo-Pacific tent. Now is not the time to let emotion override shared interests in the region,” wrote Chambers, as if it was France is being churlish for not embracing the fact they were cut out of a critical defence relationship and a $90 billion deal.

Then again, neither News Corp nor its owners have ever shown a serious regard for Australia’s national interest. Flag-waving aside, their game is more to divide and conquer, in pursuit of their own foreign interests.

“When aged-care workers were told they must be vaccinated to keep their jobs, they didn’t hurl rocks at police.”

David Speers notes that teachers, paramedics, and airport and hotel quarantine staff are all required to be vaccinated, and none have responded with violence. Ideally, Daniel Andrews’ Victorian government and CFMEU leadership should have been more sensitive to the anti-vax sentiment brewing in union ranks, and the Morrison government should get off the fence too.

“No state or territory will receive less mRNA vaccines in October when compared to what they received in September.”

The Health Department has a funny way of saying that Australia faces another Pfizer supply problem in October. States are still not sure how many doses they will be receiving, but have been warned by the head of the national vaccine taskforce, Lt Gen John Frewen, of another disruption.

Can Australia actually reach its vaccination goal?
Australia is steadily marching towards the magic number of 80 per cent of the eligible population being fully vaccinated. But given how few countries have reached that target so far, even with a significant head start, how likely are we to actually get vaccination coverage that high?


The dollar amount received by services dealing with domestic and family violence, from the $1.1 billion announced in the May federal budget.

“It’s something I’m seriously considering.”

Victoria’s Chief Commissioner Shane Patton says Victoria Police could become the next workforce in the state requiring mandatory vaccination, as protesters hit Melbourne’s streets for a fourth day on Thursday.

The list

“Scott Morrison is a devout wowser. Not even he could invent a character that more egregiously contradicts Australia’s self-image as a nation of laidback larrikins. Morrison’s solitary attempt at rebelling against his father was threatening to study theology in Canada after university. John Morrison – not just your average battler – lined up Scotty a job with the Property Council of Australia. The closest that Morrison came to battling – or being a larrikin, for that matter – was getting cast as the Artful Dodger in Oliver!.”

“The book is made of two halves. The first is contained to the British summer of 1986, and concerns the adventures of six working-class Ayrshire lads, bright and voluble and self-consciously defined by their music tastes (the British post-punk and indie of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Shop Assistants, The Fall and – holier than all others – The Smiths). Unemployment is high, the miners are on strike and Thatcher is conspicuously despised, when the boys make their southern pilgrimage by bus to a Manchester music festival and the city’s famed Hacienda club.”

“The new three-part SBS documentary Lost for Words opens with the stark statistic that 43 per cent of Australian adults lack the necessary literacy skills to get through everyday life. We are guided through the series by actor and singer Jay Laga’aia – a man who himself admits to a previous struggle with literacy. This, he tells the participants and the audience, was partially overcome by being cast on Play School and engaging with reading and children’s literacy. He is a buoyant, relatable host and narrates the statistics, the challenges and the participants’ progress with compassion and understanding.” 

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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