ScoMo Swaps His Bus For A Plane To Face First Major Test On World Stage
Scott Morrison is trading in his big blue bus for a plane this month as the Asia Pacific hits what's known as the summit season.
This week he’s in Singapore which is hosting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit leading right into the East Asia Summit. After that he’ll head over to Port Moresby to take part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting and then at the end of the month he’ll swing by Buenos Aires for South America’s first ever hosting of the G20.
If Morrison’s hoping for a respite from dramas at home, including polling numbers best described as electorally circling the drain, he’s likely to come away conflicted.
When it comes to Australia’s closest neighbours the Morrison leadership will get mixed reviews.
Australia’s relationship with Indonesia hit a bottom during the Abbott years but has steadily healed in the years since. Until Morrison came for one of the country’s strongest foreign policy values -- Palestine.
Our neighbour to the east boasts one of the most popular leaders on the circuit. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern isn’t here just for a good time, she’s hoping to reset changes to the migrant law introduced by Morrison predecessor Malcolm Turnbull.
READ MORE: Morrison At ASEAN
The pair couldn’t get much more different from one another. This is Ardern’s second ASEAN and East Asia Summit visit and she’s become somewhat of a favourite among the world’s political elite. Vice President Mike Pence, who was sent to Singapore after President Donald Trump declined to attend, reportedly specially requested to sit beside her at the gala dinner. Morrison, meanwhile, will be the fifth Australian leader to attend in a decade much to the bemusement of the rest of the region.
Ardern charms easily and her press conference Wednesday with Morrison shows why. Shrugging off questions about unresolved issues in the relationship, she explored one important value shared between the countries: the beloved sausage sizzle.
A new regulation from hardware giant Bunnings suggests onions should be placed underneath the sausage lest they fall and become a slipping hazard. It was "the most pressing international or trans-Tasman news of the day", she said.
This was news to Morrison, although he did promise to look into the issue further.
"Onions on top, or underneath, however you like," Morrison declared, presumably waiting to see which choice his advisors decide is the most fair dinkum Australian.
Ardern also confirmed she broached the topic of deportation of New Zealand citizens from Australia, even if they had not ever lived in the country. The policy caused tensions between the then brand-new prime minister and then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull when it was introduced three years ago, and it hasn’t really been resolved yet.
READ MORE: Labor Wants NZ Resettlement For Nauru Kids
Changes to the migration law have seen more than 1,300 New Zealanders deported from Australia after being charged with a range of crimes, a reversal on decades-long norms of treating New Zealand offenders much the same as Australian nationals. This has left the corrections sector buckling under the unexpected influx of past offenders with high needs and few social or familial connections to the country.
The 30-minute conversation did not touch on New Zealand again offering to accept 150 refugees kept in detention by Australia in Nauru, but with the two set to meet again at the APEC summit there’s plenty of time.
Morrison hasn’t gotten off as easily when it comes to Indonesia. His announcement last month that the government was considering following the US’ lead and moving the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem sparked outrage in Australia, but also Indonesia. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi is one of the Muslim world’s most vocal supporters of Palestine so it didn’t help that on the October morning the news was announced, she was hosting Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki as part of a week-long show of solidarity to the cause.
READ MORE: Embassy 'Move' Not About Wentworth: Sharma
How damaging even just the talk of a move in Israel could be has been a point of contention for watchers of the relationship. No demonstrations in Jakarta in the immediate aftermath likely prompted a sigh of relief from the Australian diplomatic corps, who famously were not consulted before Morrison floated the idea, but the weeks since has seen the Indonesian government dig in its heels.
Morrison seemingly understood the importance of the long-negotiated free trade agreement between the two countries when he headed to Jakarta in the first fortnight of his leadership. But the flagship policy has fallen prey to one of Morrison’s emerging leadership features -- his penchant for not just selling out long term strategy for short term gains , but to also see it blow up spectacularly.
Meeting Wednesday in Singapore, Morrison promised President Joko Widodo he’d make a decision on the embassy move before Christmas. The timeline comes just days after the Indonesian trade ministry said signing the agreement would be delayed if the Australian government committed to moving the embassy.
The embassy move is widely seen as a cynical attempt to retain Jewish voters in Wentworth. Now that the seat is lost, is he willing to torpedo the preferential market entry for Australian exports to our massive neighbour to save his own face?
But the issue won’t be going away any time soon. The pair will come face to face repeatedly this month at the APEC and G20 summits.