“I am simply saying we have seen in recent times, a leader who was prepared to damage alliances and partnerships – and that was Donald Trump,” Labor shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong told Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast last Thursday.
“And we are seeing Mr Morrison being prepared to damage relationships, in the way I’ve described, by the provision of information, which is in his possession, because he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he’s done anything wrong.”
Senator Wong was referring to Scott Morrison’s handling of the fallout with French president Emmanuel Macron in relation to the Australian PM failing to adequately warn the foreign head of state that he was cancelling a $90 billion contract our nation had with French company Naval Group.
Morrison announced Australia’s part in the trilateral AUKUS pact in mid-September. This involved switching to a nuclear-powered submarine agreement with pact partner the US and ditching the 2016 French contract.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian claimed his nation had no prior warning of the pull out and labelled it “a stab in the back”.
In response to a question put to him at a G20 meeting on 31 October, Macron said that he didn’t think Morrison lied to him, rather he knew he did. And this led our PM to publicly rebuke this “slur” as though it targeted the entire nation of Australia, rather than simply being aimed at him.
A leaked text message Macron privately sent to Morrison then mysteriously appeared in the Australian Financial Review the next day. Sent days prior to the AUKUS announcement, it revealed that the president knew the sub deal could be in jeopardy, but not that he was aware it was over.
The “untrustworthy” prime minister
Shadow foreign affairs minister Wong maintains that the prime minister harmed Australia’s global standing on two fronts last week, which involved our relationships with both the United States and France.
The first instance was the leaking of the personal text message, while, on the US front, Morrison was found to have undermined the leader of our nation’s closest ally, Joe Biden.
The US president had appeared on television with his French counterpart on the first day of the G20 and they touched upon the failed French sub deal. Biden publicly stated that he was “under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal would not go through”.
“I honest to God did not know you had not,” Biden told Macron.
However, another subtly leaked document then turned up at The Australian. This one was a 15 page US national security council document, which detailed step-by-step the AUKUS negotiations between Australia, the US and the UK. And it revealed that Biden had been aware of the deceit.
So, it was due to this ham-fisted diplomacy on the part of the PM that Wong declared him to be someone of “dishonest” character, “whose reflex is spin rather than sincerity”, and hence “background and leaking” are the reach-for tools in his political toolkit.
Dragging us all down
Indeed, as Morrison appeared before the press, stating that he wasn’t “going to cop sledging at Australia”, it was plain to see that not only had our leader botched international relations, but in response to being called a liar, he deflected the slur by palming it on to all Australians.
Towards the end of the ABC interview, Wong declared that Morrison is simply “on his own side”. She added it’s clear that he has an inability to “reflect on his own behaviour”. And “because of his personal character”, he’s been revealed as “untrustworthy” on the world stage.
“Wouldn’t it have been easier – even if he didn’t agree – wouldn’t it have been easier to say, ‘Look, I understand that the French are very disappointed… I accept we could have handled this differently,” suggested Wong.