New Prime Minister Scott Morrison has one more major meeting to attend before the so-called “summit season” ends. He flies off to Buenos Aires for the G20 at the end of the month, so called because it is the group of the world’s 20 biggest economies.
There he is expected to rub shoulders with President Donald Trump. The US leader snubbed the two Asia Pacific meetings in Singapore and Port Moresby. Had he attended, Morrison at least would have got a more sympathetic ear for his announced review of where Australia should locate its Israel embassy. Trump has already made the move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. Formal recognition of the Israeli capital is tied to a two state peace settlement with the Palestinians.
The issue is very messy for the Prime Minister. Conservative Liberals are putting extreme pressure on him to make the move to show it is Australia who decides its foreign policy, not Indonesia or Malaysia, or most of the rest of the world for that matter.
Even John Howard – who didn’t entertain the idea the whole time he was PM – has joined the likes of Eric Abetz and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, urging Morrison to ignore what our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sees is in our national interest by leaving the embassy where it is. At risk is a trade deal with our giant neighbor in Indonesia and our lucrative agribusiness with customers in the Middle East. And, for good measure, our old irritant Mahathir Mohamed from Malaysia has chimed in with his disapproval.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells has gone so far as to say Australia should go ahead and hang the commercial consequences. Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt – who urged Liberal MPs to dump Turnbull – says he would be furious if Morrison “caves in”. Think about that. Any caving in would be to the national interest as Turnbull and then foreign minister Julie Bishop decided when they reviewed the issue in July.
There are reports that Abetz and fellow conservatives told Morrison if he wants their support going forward he should move the embassy and ditch the Paris emissions reduction commitments. To his credit, the Prime Minister has resisted the climate change demands. He says he wants to keep Pacific Island nations on side in light of the encroaching influence of China in the region. Surely the same applies on the other issue with even bigger regional players in the mix.
What we are seeing is more evidence of divisions within the Liberal Party hindering rational policy. Malcolm Turnbull on the weekend told a gala dinner of lawyers and business people that the Coalition at present was “not capable” of dealing with climate change, despite being a “profound problem”.
His lament comes in a week when Labor plans to unveil its climate policy based largely on the National Energy Guarantee. That’s the policy the conservatives used as an excuse to get rid of Turnbull.