PM has to own his diplomatic nightmare
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