PM has to own his diplo­matic night­mare

The Sunday Times - - OPINION - Peter van Onse­len

IT has be­come patently clear Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son is no diplo­mat. Nor is he as strate­gic as you’d hope a PM would be when it comes to for­eign af­fairs, es­pe­cially one who used to run a State divi­sion of the party or­gan­i­sa­tion.

But Mor­ri­son the ex-mar­ket­ing man hasn’t ex­actly ex­celled in the spin of pol­i­tics, much less the sub­stance.

The han­dling of whether or not Aus­tralia would move its Is­raeli em­bassy to Jerusalem was about as botched as you could pos­si­bly imag­ine.

The Govern­ment is now caught in a catch-22 en­tirely of its own mak­ing.

Move the em­bassy, as was first sug­gested by Mor­ri­son, and it looks like it was de­cided as a way of try­ing to win Wentworth. Why? Be­cause Mal­colm Turn­bull’s for­mer elec­torate has the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of Jewish vot­ers of any seat across the coun­try.

Cyn­i­cal rea­son­ing, to be sure. Of course, the Lib­er­als failed to re­tain Wentworth, mean­ing the ges­ture didn’t achieve the re­sult he wanted any­way.

An­other un­in­tended con­se­quence is that Mor­ri­son has put Aus­tralia in the mid­dle of a diplo­matic snow storm.

We’ve em­u­lated the United States, but few other coun­tries have done the same. Not even al­lies. The US is do­ing it only be­cause Donald Trump is Pres­i­dent.

And now our near­est neigh­bour, In­done­sia — also the world’s most pop­ulist Mus­lim na­tion — has said it might refuse to rat­ify the free trade agree­ment be­tween our na­tions that was painfully thrashed out in re­cent years. Why?

It is be­cause of the em­bassy de­ci­sion Mor­ri­son is con­tem­plat­ing. The lead­er­ship in In­done­sia isn’t happy.

Like it or not, the mess above is one that Mor­ri­son cre­ated.

And there is even the risk that if we go ahead and move our em­bassy, In­done­sia will stop co-op­er­at­ing on our “stop the boats” pol­icy. Hence, the catch-22. Mov­ing the em­bassy would be based on crass de­ci­sion-mak­ing — to ap­peal to the Wentworth vot­ers.

Don’t move it and you stand ac­cused of kow­tow­ing to In­done­sia.

It’s an uned­i­fy­ing choice, but one Mor­ri­son now has to make.

Yes, Mor­ri­son tried to crab walk away from his mus­ings about mov­ing the em­bassy to Jerusalem, say­ing he sim­ply wanted to start de­bate on the is­sue.

But that’s an es­pe­cially poor ex­pla­na­tion for some­one who is used to run­ning the party or­gan­i­sa­tion and thus should have a mod­icum of un­der­stand­ing about the way the news cy­cle works.

Peter van Onse­len is The Sun­day Times’ po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and a pro­fes­sor at UWA

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