The Politics    Thursday, November 4, 2021

Move on, Macron!

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison arriving at Sydney Airport after attending the G20 and COP26 summits in Europe. November 4, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at Sydney Airport after attending the G20 and COP26 summits in Europe. November 4, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Having committed a major diplomatic faux pas, the PM would like us to simply move on

The federal government has a new motto when it comes to Scott Morrison’s dispute with the French and the subsequent leaking of private text messages from French President Emmanuel Macron: “Move on.” The PM used the phrase three separate times in yesterday’s press conference (along with a few “get on with it”s), and it’s been echoed by his ministers, especially Defence Minister Peter Dutton, who used it at least twice in this morning’s interview on 2GB. “I think now we move on from it,” Dutton said, adding that it was time for France to “put aside” any “hurt feelings”. Unfortunately for Morrison, no one seems quite ready to do that, least of all Labor. (The Australian is also not ready to let go, apparently, with at least half a dozen articles on the issue in the past day alone.) The Opposition has sharpened its critique of the PM’s character, which shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong compared to that of the previous US president. “You don’t make a country more secure by demonstrating that you’re prepared to damage, at any cost, partnerships and alliances,” she told RN Breakfast. “We’ve seen another leader who followed that trend, and that person was Donald Trump.” Asked about Wong’s comments on ABC News Breakfast, leader Anthony Albanese backed them up, reminding viewers that Morrison had gone to a rally with Trump. “Part of the problem with politics and the alienation that people feel is that you can say anything based upon a 24-hour timeframe and not be accountable,” he added. Morrison is no doubt hoping that 24-hour news cycle will help him out once more (assuming no more sprays from the French ambassador). But can France simply “move on” from this? Will the international community trust him in future? And, most importantly for the PM, will Australians?

It’s a bit rich for Morrison to want to simply move on from this dispute, attempting to have the last word through the leaked text messages – messages that, as Nick Feik noted, don’t actually vindicate him at all. It’s rich, also, for Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to want the same, while continuing to throw pot shots at the French. “You can’t go around calling other leaders of other countries a liar,” he told the ABC last night. (“I wouldn’t be taking any lessons from [Joyce] on diplomacy, frankly,” quipped Albanese today.) In any case the French are reportedly not ready to let go, with the ABC’s Andrew Probyn suspecting the “price of peace” won’t come cheap – although it will be up to Morrison to find an offering. In yesterday’s fiery speech, ambassador Jean-Pierre Thébault claimed that the stalling of free-trade negotiations with the EU were a result of the quarrel, adding that Australia needed to increase its emissions-reduction targets. “We won’t buy any more on cheap words,” he said. “We won’t buy on promises of love. Love is good. But the proof of love is much better.”

Labor, of course, will be doing all it can to keep this issue alive, with Morrison’s inappropriate leaking perfectly in line with the Opposition’s long-running portrait of him as duplicitous and untrustworthy. Morrison wants to make this about whose “side” you are on, a line he tried out in yesterday’s presser, implying Labor is siding with the enemy (who we’re supposed to be moving on from seeing as the enemy, of course). But as Niki Savva argues, this incident – among others – has done him real harm, and the PM is no longer able to portray himself as the “safe pair of hands”. “If the election becomes a referendum on Morrison, he will lose,” she writes. “If it’s about character, trust or integrity, he will lose.”

This isn’t the only issue the prime minister will be wanting to move on from this week. As the AFR’s Phil Coorey wrote before Morrison went to Glasgow, the PM’s goal was to get a net-zero deal done ahead of the summit so that he could come home and change the subject. (Not that him being a liar is the subject he would have chosen. He might have preferred “the economy”, which Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been trying to talk about this week, when not busy advocating for embattled Victorian Liberal MP Tim Smith.) But Australia’s abysmal efforts on climate change aren’t slipping off the radar just yet. Over in Glasgow, more than 40 countries are backing a pledge to phase out coal-fired power in the 2030s and ’40s, while at least 19 countries are working on a major deal to end the financing of fossil fuels elsewhere by the end of next year. Australia, by appalling contrast, is eyeing more oil and gas fields. A new report has found that international financial institutions have poured $36.7 billion into Australian fossil-fuel projects between 2010 and 2020 – meaning that the pledge to end such financing might be an issue for us. Industry experts, meanwhile, are calling for Australia to take a “smarter approach” to technology development, arguing that opportunities could be squandered if the government adopts a business-as-usual approach to research and development.

But business-as-usual is, unfortunately, Morrison’s modus operandi. The PM would like us to forget his dumbfounding diplomatic faux pas, just as he hoped the growing number of Australians wanting strong climate action would simply swallow his policy-free “plan”, just as he hoped we might get over his government’s devastating vaccine rollout and quarantine errors. Some of this, certainly, Australians will forget about. But it’s getting harder and harder to put aside all those hurt feelings.

“We are in very similar circumstances … There are some things we can work together on, Dominic and I, and that’s exactly what we have been doing.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews reveals he is working with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, as the pair prepare to use Friday’s national cabinet meeting to push for children under 12 to be vaccinated and booster shots to be rolled out ASAP.

“My Facebook page’s average engagement rate per page is vastly superior to that of Sky News Australia’s Facebook page.”

Shock jock Alan Jones spends hundreds of words insisting he is still popular, after Sky News opted not to renew his contract.

How the gas industry shaped Australia’s climate policy
Australia’s gas industry has undergone a massive expansion, and it’s been supported by federal and state governments. Scott Morrison’s roadmap to net-zero emissions includes ongoing support for gas mining. Today, Marian Wilkinson on how the gas lobby is shaping Australia’s climate policies.

The guaranteed hourly pay rate for farm workers, after the Fair Work Commission ruled that workers picking fruit on a piece rate must be guaranteed the minimum wage.

“Businesses would have to reveal more of the financial risks they face due to climate change under a policy move being considered by the federal Labor Party aimed at providing more certainty to investors.”

Labor is reportedly considering tougher climate change disclosure laws, according to comments from shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers. Australian law currently requires companies to report material risks and issues, but not climate implications.

The list

“Together, the prime minister, his health minister and the secretary of the department of health have overseen the most expensive public policy mistakes in Australian history, but to hear Scott Morrison speak is to hear a man seeking praise for his performance. As Anthony Albanese has said often, Morrison failed in his two critical jobs: quarantine and vaccines. While the final tally cannot yet be known, the cost of these failures already runs to the tens of billions of dollars.”

“While much of Morrison remains a mystery (and perhaps there really is not much more to know), his complacent response to a burning continent has seen an increasing recognition that there may be a strong link between his personal beliefs and political actions, and that his Pentecostalism may be having some impact on climate policy. Should we not ‘go there’? The alternative argument assumes it is just a coincidence that all Pentecostal leaders share the prime minister’s complacency.”

“We all generate so much data all the time now – on smartphones and wearables and Zoom calls and so on – that archiving is no longer a luxury. Without an archive, we lose our connection to our digital past … If we aren’t very careful, we could lose our connections to our past. The data may remain somewhere but could be so difficult to locate that most people would simply resign themselves to a kind of perpetual digital amnesia.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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