As Morrison heads to the Pacific, our nearest neighbours will be looking for more than kind words


Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Scott Morrison travels to Europe for D-Day commemorations next week. While there, he may also hold talks with leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the G20 meeting in Japan in June.

With the UK and US in the midst of internal and international repositioning –otherwise known as turmoil – and with China continuing to flex and grow, safeguarding Australia’s strategic and commercial interests has rarely been more complicated, nor more of a singular Australian responsibility.

Somewhat perversely, this may explain why Morrison’s first stop as a freshly re-elected prime minister will not be London or Washington, or even Berlin, but rather, the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara.

That is significant. Whoever won the May 18 election, the regional “backyard” was set to become a renewed priority for Australia.

Attention now turns to small and micro nations, who suffer in varying degrees from the effects of remoteness, narrow economies, endemic poverty, poor infrastructure, and, most existentially, rising sea levels. These countries are eager for assistance in securing their futures, whether sourced from old friends like the US and Australia, or new enthusiasts like China.




Read more:
For Pacific Island nations, rising sea levels are a bigger security concern than rising Chinese influence


China’s influence continues to grow

Labor’s new deputy, Richard Marles, has long championed improved development aid and other assistance to Australia’s nearest neighbours, arguing it is Australia’s moral responsibility. That’s a given, but so is the strategic case for a renewed presence. Namely, the expanding diplomatic and strategic reach of Beijing.

Morrison is alive to it too.

China’s influence across the region – particularly as an infrastructure and project financier – is growing. This is seen in Canberra as a serious threat, with both major parties looking for ways to strengthen ties with Pacific nations that had been allowed to fray.

Darwin-based Labor MP Luke Gosling told me he would make the Northern Territory capital the official base for Australia’s renewed regional extension.

“Whether it is responding to earthquake, cyclone, tsunami, or terrorist attack – it should be the hub for humanitarian, emergency and disaster assistance to the region, but more importantly involved in capacity building with our regional neighbours,” he said.

Valid though this is, success will turn not so much on a change of arrangements internally, as a whole new basis to Australia’s regional pitch.




Read more:
If there’s one thing Pacific nations don’t need, it’s yet another infrastructure investment bank


Australia needs to listen first

Experts say the key to closer relations is talking to smaller countries about their concerns, rather than the tendency we’ve had to date to talk about ours.

For Morrison, that is a political challenge with distinct domestic characteristics. It means acknowledging the contemporaneous real-world effects of global warming, including the direct contribution to carbon emissions from mining and burning coal.

For low-lying island countries including Kiribati, with a population of just 110,000, and Fiji, this is no abstract debate but rather one of life and death, here and now.

“It’s their top security priority,” Michael Wesley, Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, told Sky News “whereas our top security priority in the Pacific is China”.

“Pacific leaders have made it very clear that they don’t see China in the Pacific as a threat, so we’ve got an immediate mismatch of what we perceive to be the problems between us and the Pacific Islanders.”

Wesley described global warming as an existential concern “happening to them right now”.

“We have to be extremely sensitive about how things like the Adani coal mine, [and] a new coal-fired power plant perhaps being opened, will play out in the Pacific, it goes down like a lead balloon.”

As with Mr Morrison’s visit to Honiara, the order of things matter when communicating internationally.




Read more:
Pacific nations aren’t cash-hungry, minister, they just want action on climate change


Taking climate change concerns seriously

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was among the first to congratulate Morrison on his surprise election win. The pair had struck up a warm relationship when they met earlier this year. But now, as then, the Fijian used the opportunity to seek stronger climate leadership from the region’s wealthiest economy.

His longer post on Facebook provided the kicker:

In Australia, you have defied all expectations; let us take the same underdog attitude that inspired your parliamentary victory to the global fight against climate change. By working closely together, we can turn the tides in this battle – the most urgent crisis facing not only the Pacific, but the world. Together, we can ensure that we are earthly stewards of Fiji, Australia, and the ocean that unites us. Together, we can pass down a planet that our children are proud to inherit.

It was a similar message from Samoa, where Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi welcomed the election result, but noted in an interview with The Guardian that “[Australia] has been lagging behind,” regarding the need for action on the climate emergency.

And it’s a fair bet the content will be the same in Honiara.

The finer points of diplomacy have not been a strength of Morrison, who, even after his recent electoral endorsement, is still less than a year in the top job.

A plainly cynical suggestion made during the Wentworth byelection of moving the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem caused nothing but embarrassment. More recent comments depicting the US as our friend and China as merely our client raised eyebrows in Beijing.

But a desire to succeed, a personable nature, and an avowedly conservative disposition, suggest the Australian prime minister does not envisage significant direction changes in Australia’s stance on either regional or global affairs. That is a reality likely to prove disappointing to Pacific Island leaders looking for a lot more than kind words as their citizens face inundation.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Senior Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Liberals adopt new rule to stop the revolving prime ministership


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has announced a major change in Liberal party rules to
ensure a prime minister who wins an election serves the full term,
unless two thirds of the party decides otherwise.

Morrison said the Liberal party had heard the public and was responding.

The entire party understood “the frustration and the disappointment
that Australians have felt when governments and prime ministers that
they have elected, under their authority, under their power, have been
taken from them through the actions of politicians here in Canberra,”
he said at a joint news conference with Liberal deputy Josh Frydenberg
on Monday night.

This had happened with the Liberal party as well as Labor, Morrison
said. “We acknowledge it and we take responsibility for it.”

The Australian people were “sick of it and we’re sick of it and it has to stop,” he said.

The Liberal party was “willingly and enthusiastically putting this
constraint to return the power of these decisions about who is prime
minister in this country to the Australian people.”

Morrison described the rule change as historic and the biggest in the
74 years of the party’s history.

Frydenberg said: “The changes in Australian prime ministers over the
last decade has diminished the parliament and its representatives in
the eyes of the public. The Liberal party has listened to the
Australian people and the Liberal parliamentary party has responded
tonight.”

Earlier, Liberal members of the ministry approved the new rule, before
it went to an evening special meeting of the Liberal parliamentarians.

Morrison discussed the proposed change with former prime minister John
Howard, but not with Malcolm Turnbull.

He briefed Tony Abbott who was the first speaker from the floor.
Strongly supporting the proposal, Abbott – who lost the prime
ministership before he had served a full term – thanked Morrison for
bringing him into his confidence.

Morrison said the change was carried by consensus. He declined to be
drawn on differences expressed within the meeting.

He said he had asked the party whips, Nola Marino and David Bushby, to
work up a proposal. He’d had a view for some time that something
needed to be done.

The party meeting discussed whether the threshold should be two thirds
or three quarters. There was some questioning about the position of a PM who had the weight of the party against them but was just under the threshold for change.

But speakers who had differences on the detail made it clear they would swing in behind what was finally decided.

The Labor party already has rules that restrain leadership changes
including of an opposition leader, although they could be altered by a
simple majority of caucus.

In August after the ousting of Turnbull, Kevin Rudd urged the Liberals to
follow Labor’s example “to prevent rolling political chaos.”

Howard said then “I don’t think changing the rules is a good idea”, adding “What’s the point of bringing in rules if, in any event, they can be set aside?”

Morrison said the Liberal rule on prime ministers was tougher because
it would take a two thirds majority to alter it. But it does not cover
opposition leaders.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australian prime minister foreshadows cut to ‘migration settings’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has flagged the Australian government will respond to public
pressure and cut the immigration cap, saying he has heard “loud and clear” the protests of Australians about overcrowding in the biggest cities.

“They are saying: Enough, enough, enough. The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments. I hear what you are saying,” Morrison said in a speech in Sydney on Monday night.

“That’s why we need to improve how we manage population growth in this country.”

Morrison said he would “move away from top-down discussions about population to set our migration intake caps.

“I anticipate that this will lead to a reduction in our current migration settings.

“This is to be expected since our current permanent intake is almost 30,000 a year below our current cap [of 190,000]. So we will look to make an adjustment as we go forward in to next year and this should not be surprising.”

When federal treasurer, Morrison was reluctant to yield to the strong pressure from the right in the Liberal party about immigration levels, although the government was actually reducing the intake in practice, while the cap remained unchanged.

But as prime minister he has increasingly been reacting to the mounting community pressure on the issue, while foreshadowing a comprehensive population policy, including the involvement of the states.

In his speech, Morrison argued the economic benefits of immigration – including temporary migrants.

But he said that far too often planners had treated population “as one amorphous blob”.

“That doesn’t work for Australia. We’re too big and diverse. Talking about average population growth is like talking about our average rainfall. It fails to recognise the different experiences and outlooks of different cities or regions.”

Morrison repeated his plan for a discussion with the states and territories about local population growth, although the Commonwealth would always retain responsibility for determining the overall intake.

The conversation should be “grounded in data, economics and community sentiment”, he said.

“A responsible population discussion cannot be arbitrarily about one number, the cap on annual permanent migration. It is certainly relevant, but you have to look at what sits behind those numbers.

“For a start, more than half the people who become permanent migrants are already here on temporary visas.

“To contemplate our permanent visa settings would also require upstream changes to how many people are coming in on temporary visas as well. The implications of this need to be understood, including by state and territory governments.”

Morrison said changes must be done in a way that ensured states wanting more people were not disadvantaged and that there were mechanisms to send new migrants to where there were jobs and services.

“Managing population change is a shared responsibility, involving all levels of government,” he said.

“It is the states who build hospitals, approve housing developments, plan roads and know how many kids will be going into their schools in the future.

“The states and territories know better than any what the population carrying capacity is for their existing and planned infrastructure and services. So I plan to ask them, before we set our annual caps.

“The old model of a single national number determined by Canberra is no longer fit for purpose.

“While the benefits of population growth are widespread – in terms of economic growth and a more skilled and enriched society – the pressure points are inevitably local and varied.

“It’s about getting the balance right and understanding there is variation between our cities and regions. So we need a more targeted and tailored approach to conversations about population.”

Morrison said he was writing to state and territory leaders for their input, and putting the population issue on the Council of Australian Governments meeting agenda. The council meets on December 12.

The states’ population plans would “feed into the setting of our migrations caps and policies for next year, ensuring that migrations is finally tied to infrastructure and services carrying capacity”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Frydenberg lashes out at Malaysia’s prime minister for anti-Semitism



File 20181116 194491 1os4w4n.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad expressed his displeasure to Scott Morrison this week over Australia’s proposed move of its Israel embassy.
Wallace Woon/EPA

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has launched a strong attack on Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, declaring he has “form” in being anti-Semitic.

Frydenberg, who is Jewish, was responding to Mahathir’s criticism of the Morrison government for considering whether to move the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mahathir said on Thursday he had pointed out to Prime Minister Scott Morrison during their meeting at the East Asia Summit in Singapore that “adding to the cause for terrorism is not going to be helpful”.

Frydenberg told a news conference that Mahathir “has called Jews hook-nosed people. He has questioned the number of people that have been killed in the Holocaust.

“He banned Schindler’s List as a movie being shown (in Malaysia), though it showed the amazing story of a righteous gentile who saved many people from persecution.”

Frydenberg made similar comments earlier in the day to ABC, saying Mahathir had “form” on making derogatory comments about Jews.

Frydenberg said Morrison was “absolutely right” to begin a process of considering where the embassy should be.

Indonesia is also highly critical of any embassy change, which was
reiterated in the talks Morrison had with Indonesian President Joko Widodo this week. The Indonesians have delayed the signing of the free-trade agreement until Australia makes a decision on the embassy.

Taking a decision on the embassy will be difficult and potentially divisive for the government. Members of the right in the Liberal Party and in the commentariat have been urging the move, but the pragmatists and many in the foreign policy establishment believe the government should stick with the status quo.

While saying that “no one is pre-empting the outcome” of the consideration, Frydenberg in effect made a case for moving from Tel Aviv.

“Australia already recognises Israel’s sovereignty over West Jerusalem. It’s where the Israeli Parliament is. It’s where the Australian ambassador presents his or her credentials. It will be the capital of Israel under any two-state solution,” he said.

“People who say ‘do not put the embassy in Jerusalem’ are making the point that we need to maintain more leverage over the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The reality is that those negotiations have frozen. ”

Frydenberg said Israel was the only country in the world where Australia did not put its embassy in the nation’s capital.

He also criticised what he saw as “a double standard within parts of the United Nations and the Human Rights Council when it comes to Israel, compared with the treatment of other countries.

“The UN General Assembly has passed more anti-Israel resolutions than nearly all resolutions against other individual countries combined.”

Frydenberg said it was inevitable Australia and Indonesia would have
different views on the relationship with Israel.

“Indonesia doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel. Next year
Australia is enjoying 70 years of diplomatic ties with Israel. Of
course we are going to have a different view about that relationship.”

Morrison, now in Darwin to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, said of Frydenberg’s remarks that he was “filling in the history of (Mahathir’s) record on various issues over time”.

Morrison repeated that Australia decided its own foreign policy, not
other countries.

The 93-year-old Mahathir, recently re-installed as Malaysia’s prime minister, was the object of criticism by then-Prime Minister Paul Keating a quarter of a century ago. When Mahathir refused to attend an APEC summit, Keating condemned him as a “recalcitrant”. Mahathir demanded an apology. The incident embittered relations between the two countries.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: When you’re not PM but behave like you are


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull was correct, in policy terms, when this week he called out Scott Morrison’s ill-judged plan for Australia to consider moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The inevitable political consequence, however, is that the ex-prime minister has highlighted that his successor is expedient and a foreign affairs amateur.

Morrison sent Turnbull to Indonesia as head of Australia’s delegation to a conference about ocean sustainability. The trip was in the former PM’s diary when he was deposed; at the time Morrison decided to stick by the arrangement, the “Jerusalem” issue hadn’t arisen.

That announcement only came in the final week of the Wentworth byelection, with Morrison desperately trying to shore up the Jewish vote for the Liberals.

As Turnbull is personally close to President Joko Widodo, when the announcement ruffled Indonesian feathers, it was apparently hoped that Turnbull could do some smoothing.

If this were the thinking it was naïve, to the extent it ignored the inevitable consequences of putting Turnbull centre stage.

The trip might have been unremarkable if Turnbull’s activities had been confined to the oceans conference. But it looks very strange to have a recently-sacked PM conducting top-level talks with the Indonesian government about a highly controversial Australian initiative – with which he personally disagrees.

An observer – or the Indonesians – might ask: would the real prime minister please stand up?

After his Monday meeting with the President, Turnbull made it clear how off-the-cuff the Morrison announcement looked – in contrast to his own administration’s policy.

He said the conclusion he and his government had taken “after very careful and considered advice was that a policy that is well over 40 years old, 50 years old, should remain exactly the same as it is”.

Turnbull said Widodo had told him, as he had Morrison, of the very serious concern held in Indonesia about the prospect of the embassy being moved.

“There is no question, were that move to occur, it would be met with a very negative reaction”, in the heavily Muslim Indonesia, Turnbull said.

The hasty nature of Morrison’s announcement had already been exposed. At Senate estimates last week it was revealed that Foreign Minister Marise Payne had been informed only on the Sunday before the Tuesday announcement. The secretary of her department, Frances Adamson wasn’t told until the Monday, the same day officials of the Prime Minister’s department and the Defence department also learned of it.

There’d been no proper public service process sitting behind such a
consequential proposal.

Morrison early on tried to fudge the immediate Indonesian blowback, although it was obvious via leaking. Turnbull has not just reiterated that criticism directly from the Indonesian President, but backed it up with his own support for making no change.

Forced to respond on Tuesday to Turnbull’s remarks, Morrison said a decision has not yet been taken, and “we will follow a proper process” – which seems rather late in the piece. He also stressed that “Australia decides what our foreign policy is and only Australia”.

Morrison is in an awkward situation. An outcome has been promised by year’s end. If the government opts against moving the embassy, it will disappoint Israel, which welcomed the rethink, as well as making even more obvious what a sham the original announcement was.

If it endorses the move, there will be a fresh reaction from Indonesia and others. And Turnbull’s critique will be already on the record.

The rightwingers inside the Liberal Party and among the commentariat opposed Turnbull being sent to the oceans conference, and they will feel vindicated following his remarks about the embassy.

Turnbull must know his comments are damaging to his successor. But like his refusal to help with a robo call or a letter in Wentworth, he’s going to do things his way now. Whether this will mean further interventions before the election remains to be seen. He has declared himself “retired” from politics but he’s also said “I’ll continue to have things to say about important matters of public interest”.

From another ex-prime ministerial corner Tony Abbott, without a blush, has started calling for party unity, an appeal that’s hard to take seriously given the disunity he’s caused.

Writing in Monday’s Australian Abbott argued: “Scott Morrison won’t have the problems that I had as PM because no one is stalking him for his job.

“He won’t have the problems Turnbull had as PM because he is a much more tribal Liberal, and because he’s done the best he could, under the circumstances, to acknowledge the two biggest personalities on his backbench”. (A rather immodest reference to himself and Barnaby Joyce, and their “envoy” jobs.)

Now that Abbott has seen the fall of the man who brought him down, he is apparently willing to behave better, despite Morrison declining to meet the hard right’s agenda on such matters as quitting the Paris climate agreement.

As he talks togetherness, some believe Abbott has his eye on post-election opposition leadership. More immediately, possibly he’s looking to his seat, where his wrecker image could be a liability if he faces a credible independent.

Whatever the motive, many Liberals will be cynical about the unity pitch, though the Prime Minister might be relieved. Given Abbott’s bitterness about Morrison after the 2015 coup, relations between the two are always delicate.

The continuing federal government shenanigans can only be causing despair in the Liberals’ Victorian division, as the state campaign begins, with the Coalition opposition trailing 46-54% in the latest Newspoll.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Morrison’s ratings slump in Newspoll; Wentworth’s huge difference in on-the-day and early voting


Although people do distinguish between state and federal when they vote, there is also overlap and the dumping of Turnbull was unhelpful for the Victorian Liberals. In the Newspoll, three in ten people said the federal leadership change had made them less likely to vote for the state Liberals.

If the state Liberals are trounced, some of the blame is likely to be tossed Canberra’s way, adding to Morrison’s pre-Christmas woes.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Government to set up new multi-billion Future Drought Fund


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce a Future Drought Fund, that will grow to $5 billion over a decade, at Friday’s national drought summit.

The fund is to provide support against future droughts, helping primary producers, non-government organisations and communities prepare for and respond to their impact.

It will be given an initial $3.9 billion injection, and will expand to $5 billion by 2028. The funding will be managed by the Future Fund Board of Guardians.

From 2020, about $100 million annually will be available, with payments starting on July 1, 2020.

Morrison has made dealing with the impact of drought one of his priorities since becoming prime minister, with various immediate measures for the current dry.

The summit will be attended by all levels of government, and representatives of farming and agribusiness, banking and finance services, and community and charitable organisations, as well as experts.

The special envoy for drought, Barnaby Joyce, and the coordinator-general for drought, Major General Stephen Day, will speak, while the Bureau of Meteorology will brief on present conditions and the projected outlook.




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The planned fund will provide community services and research, and assist the adoption of technology to support long-term sustainability in periods of drought, through capital or ongoing initiatives. It could include investments in local projects, infrastructure, and research.

The criteria for the type of projects to be supported have yet to be determined and the government says these would continue to change, depending on the drought and community response needed.

Initiatives to be supported by the fund would be decided as part of the budget process.




Read more:
Helping farmers in distress doesn’t help them be the best: the drought relief dilemma


Morrison said that in his visit to Quilpie in western Queensland, which he undertook immediately after becoming prime minister, he had been struck by “the strength, resilience and hope” displayed by the families.

“Our response to the drought has to be the same. Deal with the here and now, but also make sure we plan for the future.

“That’s what the Future Drought Fund is all about. Putting money aside for non-rainy days in the future,” he said.

“The fund will build over time, starting with an initial $3.9 billion up front. Part of the earning in the fund will be used to fund important water infrastructure and drought resilience projects, while the balance is ploughed back into the fund, so it grows to $5 billion over the next decade.

“This funding will support farmers and their local communities when it’s not raining.

“The challenges of drought vary from farm to farm, district to district, town to town and we continually need to adapt and build capacity – the Future Drought Fund gives us this opportunity,” Morrison said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

One year on for Ardern’s coalition government in New Zealand



File 20181018 67161 2mpgrj.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the General Assembly of the United Nations last month.
EPA/PETER FOLEY, CC BY-ND

Richard Shaw, Massey University

Shortly before last years’s general election in Aotearoa New Zealand, a Morrinsville farmer protesting the then opposition Labour Party’s planned water tax held up a placard describing its newly minted leader, Jacinda Ardern, as a “pretty communist”.

A year on, Ardern is New Zealand’s prime minister, the third woman and the youngest person to have held the role in 150 years. She is comfortably the most popular politician in the land, and one of the brightest stars in the international political firmament.

The Labour-New Zealand First-Green coalition government led by Ardern celebrates its first birthday this week.




Read more:
Jacinda Ardern to become NZ prime minister following coalition announcement


It has been quite the year for Ardern. It is worth reiterating just how far she has travelled since she took the reins as Labour’s leader just weeks before the election, igniting a dull campaign and resuscitating Labour’s polling.

A contemporary politician

Following the election, the conservative National Party looked odds-on to retain office. But on 19 October, after almost two weeks of negotiations, the leader of the centre-right New Zealand First (NZF) party, Winston Peters, surprised virtually everyone (including Labour’s front bench) when he used the balance of power to form a government with Labour and the Greens.

In the year since, Ardern has firmly established herself as the government’s and her party’s most valuable political asset. In an ironic turn of events, Andrew Little, the man who voluntarily stood aside so Ardern could become Labour leader, is also performing well.

An astute and effective political communicator, Ardern regularly uses Facebook Live to apprise the nation of the contents of a day in the life of the PM.
The formal set pieces that have helped established Ardern as the dominant figure on New Zealand’s political landscape include her speaking on the lower marae at Waitangi, the spiritual birthplace of the nation, wearing a Māori korowai while meeting New Zealand’s head of state, and taking a seat in the United Nations General Assembly with her child, Neve Te Aroha, and partner, Clarke Gayford.

Jacinda Ardern brought her partner, Clarke Gayford, and baby to the UN General Assembly.
EPA/PETER FOLEY, CC BY-ND

The informal, popular-culture moments – particularly those mediated by social media – have been just as important and reflect how Ardern occupies political time and space in a way no previous New Zealand prime minister has. She and Gayford have used Twitter to announce Ardern’s pregnancy, triggering stiff nationwide competition for the role of official babysitter. Social media also charted the birth of their child in a public hospital, the PM’s taste for mac’n’cheese, and the creation of a special UN pass for Neve Te Aroha.

But swooning international audiences do not vote in Aotearoa New Zealand, and what plays well on the Colbert Show does not necessarily resonate in quite the same way back home.

Not all smooth sailing

It is important to note that National continues to outpoll Labour on the preferred party vote. At times the political management of the coalition has been shoddy. Ardern has already had to relieve two members of her cabinet – Clare Curran and Meka Whaitiri – of their ministerial duties, to the disappointment of those hoping to see more, not fewer, women at the top table.

Ardern has also been criticised for not taking a stronger stand on the plight of refugees and on questions concerning possible Chinese involvement in domestic politics. While the government has established many reviews, it is taking some time for the material achievements to start racking up.

But there are signs the administration is starting to hit its straps. Finance Minister Grant Robertson recently announced a larger than expected budget surplus, thus meeting his promised public debt/GDP ratio four years ahead of schedule.

Since Ardern’s return from the UN, Peters and his New Zealand First party colleagues have looked uncharacteristically focused, although the call at the party’s recent conference for a Respecting New Zealand Values Bill was quickly slapped down by Ardern.

Meanwhile, the opposition National party is spiralling into nasty internecine strife that has gone global, may cost the party its leader, and will almost certainly damage its polling.

Changing the culture of politics

Standing back from the detail, what can be said about the political landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand one year on from the formation of the first Labour-NZF-Greens coalition? For one thing, on this side of the ditch we are cautiously re-familiarising ourselves with the idea that the state can be a force for good. The results at this early stage are patchy, as you would expect, but this administration’s belief that government can be benign rather than benighted feels new and different.

Second, Ardern is normalising a whole bunch of things. Being a prime minister and a new mum, breastfeeding at work, and having a male partner who is a primary carer are all becoming, well, just normal.

Third, our cultural politics are changing. Not quickly enough, to be sure, but the symbolism of the fact that Ardern and Gayford’s child carries a Māori name and will be raised speaking both te reo Māori and English has been lost on precisely no-one in this country.

Finally, the nation’s political stocks in the international arena are appreciating. That is no bad thing for a small, exporting nation. There is a powerful progressive-egalitarian narrative in New Zealand reaching back through the nation’s anti-nuclear stance in the mid-1980s to the achievement (or granting) of women’s suffrage in 1893.




Read more:
Why New Zealand was the first country where women won the right to vote


As is the case with all political narratives, this one obscures as much as it reveals. But in an age of international fear and loathing, many New Zealanders take quiet pride in the sight of the “pretty communist” defending a rules-based international order, in opposition to the stance taken by the president of the US, a nation that was once the self-appointed leader of the free world. One wonders whether the farmer from Morrinsville appreciated the irony of that moment.The Conversation

Richard Shaw, Professor of Politics, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Morrison aims to make agility his prime ministerial trademark


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Strawberries and hay have provided unlikely lenses for an insight into how Scott Morrison will conduct his prime ministership from now to the election.

The needles-in-the-berries contamination has been alarming for consumers and devastating for the industry. Anyone involved deserves the full force of the quite heavy penalties available, and the public should be encouraged to eat (with due care) this delicious fruit.

But when the government rolls out the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the Home Affairs Minister, the Australian Federal Police chief and the Border Force Commissioner, and then rushes new legislation through parliament in a single day – well, you know a political point is being made.

A serious crime was turned into a national crisis. MPs donned aprons, grabbed knives and started slicing.

The legislation naturally received bipartisan support, with little discussion of whether the changes are actually needed. Its extremely hasty passage was despite the fact it won’t apply retrospectively to this criminal action.

As the strawberry crisis gripped the parliament, we’re reminded how rapidly a government can escalate an issue. In this case, the worst that could be said is that it’s an over-reaction with a political vibe. But you don’t need much imagination to think how a similar drama could be concocted with darker motives.

As for the hay: this was an announcement of liberalised rules for carting fodder so more could be sent faster to drought-affected farmers. Normally you’d expect a ministerial press release. Morrison turned it into a prime ministerial occasion, on Thursday being photographed climbing into a truck somewhere outside Canberra.

Earlier in the week, he’d called a “drought summit” for next month. Dealing with the drought has been one of his central themes, from his first news conference, followed by his interview on Australia All Over, and his visit to see things on the ground in Queensland.

These examples – and the very important one of the weekend announcement of a royal commission into aged care – show Morrison’s style. He will pick up and run with whatever is around – issues he sees as resonating with ordinary people.

“Scott likes to move quickly”, says a colleague. He’s not – if he can help it – going to get caught having to respond to others’ agendas. The royal commission was announced a day before the ABC’s aged care expose.

Morrison is also clearing away irritants as rapidly as possible. Thursday’s $4.6 billion decade-long package for private schools drew a line under the damaging row between the government and the vociferous Catholic sector. Negotiations have been underway for some time, but the deal’s now landed.




Read more:
Government unfurls $4.6 billion private schools package, calming Catholic critics


Morrison won’t get bogged down in process. When he recently dumped the commitment to increasing the pension age to 70, he acted before the full cabinet had ratified what was a significant policy shift.

The new PM is tactically quicker than Malcolm Turnbull, just as in his messaging he can cut through with greater sharpness. He’s more attuned to the emotional and knee-jerk drivers of today’s politics, in the age of the continuous news cycle and social media. Malcolm liked to mull over moves.

He is also freer to act than his predecessor, who was hemmed in by enemies as well as allies of convenience, like Peter Dutton, who turned into enemies.

For the Liberals, Morrison is the end of the pre-election leadership line, and that gives him a good deal of latitude to set his own course. He might be displeasing the hard right Liberals by not exiting the Paris climate agreement, but he’s able to stare them down or fob them off. They know he’s in the seat until the election.

Defining your opponent can be critical in our semi-presidential contests. “The Prime Minister is a blank canvass”, says one Labor man. “Both sides are trying to fill in the colours”.

Morrison’s brush strokes on his own portrait are designed to create the image of a leader tuned to the voters’ concerns, rather than the “Canberra bubble”. If sometimes this makes him look more like the mayor of Albury than the prime minister of Australia – well, he just hopes it works. Like the latecomer desperately working the room, he knows he has practically no time.

In his one departure from pragmatism during these first prime ministerial weeks, Morrison has flagged he’s willing to stir the hornets’ nest of religious freedom. Although unclear about the problem, he told Sky on Monday “there’s nothing wrong with a bit of preventative regulation and legislation”. Especially given the time constraints, it’s hard to see that battle is worth the likely costs.

To highlight Morrison’s agility and hyper-activity is not to overlook the government’s parlous situation, with a sour electorate, a still-shocked backbench, divisions in the ranks, all sorts of trouble over the “women problem”, and the uncertainty of the Wentworth byelection.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Morrison’s challenge with women goes beyond simple numbers


It’s rather to say, the way the game’s being played has changed. Labor is alert to this, wondering, for instance, whether Morrison will appeal to some of its male “battler” type voters.

The PM said in question time on Thursday that Bill Shorten “isn’t looking as certain as he was two weeks ago.” Despite the political bonuses being handed almost daily to Labor, this is probably true. The opposition is still seeking to get its fix on its new opponent.

However Morrison goes over coming months, this week should give the Liberals cause to reflect that they had a lucky escape when Dutton failed to get the numbers in the coup he started.

The Senate inquiry into the au pair affair, which reported on Wednesday, was dominated by Labor and the Greens, so it was always set to produce a majority report very critical of Dutton. Even allowing for that, a couple of things are clear from the facts of the two cases the inquiry examined.

In assisting these women, Dutton did go above and beyond what would normally have been expected – all stops were pulled out. And he did mislead parliament when he denied any personal connections.

In the case of the woman who landed in Brisbane, he had a past acquaintanceship (via their mutual police service) with her prospective employer.




Read more:
Dutton back in spotlight after split Senate report on au pair affair


But misleading parliament is no longer taken seriously. Morrison’s certainly not going to worry that his Home Affairs Minister – who has oversight of the independent agencies of the Australian Federal Police and ASIO – did not tell parliament the truth. Canberra bubble and all that.

Anyway, Morrison has a lot to thank Dutton for. After all, Dutton delivered him the prime ministership.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister


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After five years as foreign minister, Julie Bishop will move to the backbench.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julie Bishop has chosen to go to the backbench, to be succeeded by Marise Payne as foreign minister, and the energy and environment portfolio has been split, in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ministry announced Sunday.

Dan Tehan replaces Simon Birmingham in education, in a gesture to the Catholic education sector ahead of a special deal to meet its trenchant criticisms of the government’s schools policy.

Bishop, 62, who won only a handful of votes in the leadership ballot after the “stop Dutton” forces rallied behind Morrison, said in a statement she had told Morrison “I will be resigning from my cabinet position as Minister for Foreign Affairs.” She said she had made no decision about whether she would contest the election.

Unveiling an extensive reshuffle, Morrison described his ministry as a “next generation team”. He has rewarded his supporters but also accommodated some Peter Dutton loyalists.

Energy goes to former businessman the conservative Angus Taylor, previously minister for law enforcement and cyber security, who moves into cabinet. Morrison dubbed Taylor as minister for “getting electricity prices down”.

Environment is taken by Melissa Price, previously assistant minister for the environment. The portfolio remains in cabinet.

Asked where the carve up left emissions, Morrison made clear where his priorities lay, saying the challenge in energy was reliability and dispatchable power.

Peter Dutton, the man who launched the leadership coup though failed to win the prime ministership, returns to his portfolio of home affairs. But immigration has been sliced off, going to David Coleman, previously assistant minister for finance, who becomes minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs.

This flags Morrison’s interest in the economic side of immigration. “Immigration forms part of national security policy but it also has always played an important role in economic and social policy,” he said.

Christopher Pyne becomes defence minister, achieving his long-time wish to be the senior minister in the area; his old job of defence industry goes to Steve Ciobo, who was previously in trade. Birmingham takes his place in trade.

The Morrison cabinet has six women, one extra compared with the Turnbull cabinet. They are Bridget McKenzie (Nat), Payne, Kelly O’Dwyer, Michaelia Cash, Karen Andrews, and Melissa Price.

O’Dwyer moves from revenue to jobs and industrial relations; she keeps responsibility for women. Industrial relations is back in cabinet. Michaelia Cash has gone into small and family business, skills and vocations.

Alan Tudge becomes minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population. Morrison said Tudge would be “the minister for congestion-busting”. Population has become an increasing pressure point.

Mathias Cormann remains in finance and as Senate leader, but his special minister of state job goes to Alex Hawke.

Paul Fletcher will be social services minister and moves into cabinet.

Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert, who both had to leave the ministry over controversies, are back on the frontbench. Robert is assistant treasurer; Ley is assistant minister for regional development and territories.

Michael Sukkar, previously assistant minister to the treasurer and outspoken conservative, has been dumped to the backbench.

Barnaby Joyce, still on the backbench, has been made “special envoy for drought assistance and recovery”.

Tony Abbott has not been given a job, although Morrison signalled he was open to giving him some Joyce-type role if he wanted.

Two Liberals apart from Julie Bishop, and a National, indicated they did not want to be considered for frontbench roles. The Liberals were Craig Laundy and John McVeigh, while the National was Keith Pitt, who had been assistant to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Pitt said in a statement: “I will always put the national interest and the interests of my constituents above my own. I will always put reducing power prices, before Paris.”

Morrison acknowledged at the weekend that ordinary people had been “absolutely disgusted” by the events of last week.

The exit of Bishop, who had developed a high and well-respected international profile, will send a further confusing message to other countries, which have witnessed Australia’s revolving door of the prime ministership.

Bishop, who entered parliament in 1998, has been foreign minister since 2013 and deputy to every Liberal leader since 2007.

In the aftermath of the coup, the bitterness continued to flow as the machinations were revealed.

A WhatsApp chain of messages was leaked to the ABC, in which tactics to stop Dutton ultimately winning, were revealed.

Fletcher, close to Turnbull, said in the chain: “Cormann rumoured to be putting some WA votes behind Julie Bishop in round 1. Be aware that this is a ruse trying to get her ahead of Morrison so he drops out & his votes go to Dutton. Despite our hearts tugging us to Julie we need to vote with our heads for Scott in round one.”

Cormann describes the Fletcher claim as “100% incorrect”.

Birmingham, a strong Turnbull supporter, told the ABC that a “handful of individuals” had wreaked havoc.

“We had Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership confirmed and re-endorsed just last Tuesday with a clear majority, and yet those who wanted to wreak havoc continued to do so during the week. Now, that was terribly destructive and every single man and woman in the Liberal Party room needs to put that type of behaviour behind us and make sure that we do unify for the future.”

On Monday, Morrison, who has put the drought at the top of his priority list, will make a quick trip to a drought-afflicted part of Queensland. At the weekend he met Major General Stephen Day, who is coordinating drought relief and support

Drought was “the thing that I think Australians very much want the attention of their prime minister on and right now”, Morrison told the popular regional program Australia All Over. Morrison reeled off some “encouraging” weekend rainfall numbers while noting this was “nowhere near what’s obviously needed.”

Over the weekend, the new prime minister spoke with US President Donald Trump (inviting him to visit Australia), Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

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Later this week Morrison will visit Indonesia, but he will not undertake the visits to multiple regional countries that Turnbull had slotted in. Australia and Indonesia have been negotiating a free trade deal, which could be signed during the visit.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: A shocker performance, even by coup standards



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Scott Morrison is sworn in as the 30th prime minister of Australia by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

When they turn nasty, politicians can be an extraordinarily ugly lot. This week, the Liberals looked hideous – feral, self-indulgent, thuggish and contemptuous of an electorate that would like to be able to have MPs respect its choice of the country’s prime minister.

No wonder ordinary people caught by the cameras in the vox pops were disgusted. This was a shocker performance, even by coup standards.

As Malcolm Turnbull said, an “insurgency” by the conservatives brought him down. But, in a sort of perverse justice, the insurgents were punished. Their reprehensible behaviour blasted out the leader they hated but failed to deliver them the prize they desired – installing their own man in the Lodge.




Read more:
How the hard right terminated Turnbull, only to see Scott Morrison become PM


Turnbull, by delaying the ballot, and getting the Solicitor-General to give an opinion on a question mark over Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament, helped to thwart them.

Dutton thought his prospects better than they were; Turnbull judged his own prospects to be worse than the reality.

The spill motion was carried 45-40, a tiny margin. In other words, 40 people wanted to keep Turnbull. Yet three cabinet ministers – Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash – had previously insisted to Turnbull that he had lost the party room’s support and then resigned, ensuring his political death.

No wonder that after the spill numbers were given to the party room, Turnbull said “what a farce”.

In choosing Scott Morrison, the Liberals went for the safest option among the three candidates on offer. Dutton was seen as too risky and hardline; Julie Bishop started too far behind.

But while Morrison was the best of the trio, his elevation just further emphasised the bizarre nature of it all.

There is no compelling evidence to suggest Morrison will be much more competitive than his predecessor at the election. With some voters – Liberals on the progressive side – he might be less attractive.

And what about the gnashing of teeth over Queensland? After Longman, the Dutton people insisted he was needed to hold up the vote, because Turnbull was so unpopular.

In the new order, Queensland remains unrepresented in the leader/deputy team. And if Morrison has an advantage over Turnbull there, it would be a matter of degree, hardly worth ripping apart the party.

One vulnerable Queensland seat is Dickson, held by Dutton on a 2% margin. His actions may – and should – cost him votes, although they won’t cost him a position on the frontbench. Morrison has flagged Dutton will be in his cabinet.

Josh Frydenberg is a good choice as deputy leader, a unifying rather than a divisive figure, who’s done some heroic work on the National Energy Guarantee, the fate of which is up in the air.

Frydenberg becomes the new treasurer. He’s diligent and competent, but it will be a steep learning curve, facing a savvy and experienced opponent in Chris Bowen.

As he crafts his ministry, Morrison has to balance the factions and wrangle with the Nationals, out to get the most they can after the turbulence. Nationals leader Michael McCormack has every incentive to fight hard – he’s seen by his critics as not standing up strongly enough to the Liberals.

On the policy front, Morrison has an immense vacuum on energy, a major issue for the public, at the cutting edge of the ideological divide, and the catalyst for this week’s calamity.

Is he going to keep or reshape the NEG? He wouldn’t be drawn at his news conference. He said he’d talk to his cabinet.

Will he be able to get any sort of sensible energy policy through the party room? And will he want to?

Will he pursue an energy policy that is relatively bipartisan, as business desperately wants, to get investment certainty, or will he decide to go down the route of maximising the differences with Labor, in the hope of an electoral advantage and under pressure from the ideologues?

The energy wars will continue, one way or another.

A changing of the guard, especially in circumstances like these, is always disruptive – the ripples are felt through the administrative structure of government. New ministers have to learn new jobs. Initiatives in the pipeline must be paused and reviewed. All that alone is advantageous to an opposition that is already well organised.

Not surprisingly, Morrison flagged he doesn’t want an early election. But given Turnbull says he will leave Parliament “before too long”, he seems likely to face a byelection in Wentworth. It’s on a whopping 17.7% margin, but Turnbull had a strong personal vote, and a big swing would be a setback for the new leader.

Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster is being encouraged to seek Liberal preselection. Just another twist in this saga replete with dark irony.




Read more:
Memo Scott Morrison: don’t chase the ‘base’


How the disappointed conservatives behave will determine what internal trouble Morrison faces. One thing seems clear: they won’t be satisfied unless the change of personnel produces changes in policy, notable on climate and immigration.

Abbott seems unlikely to go silent. He harbours a deep resentment towards Morrison, accusing him of disloyalty in the 2015 coup.

It will be fascinating to watch Morrison construct his post-Treasury, pre-election persona. There are multiple Morrisons. The aggressive, shouty, attack dog tearing at Labor. The lower-key, more compromising negotiator. The knock-about bloke, always talking about “the (Sutherland) Shire” and the Sharks.

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The Conversation

Then there is the Morrison who is ambitious to leave his mark as a reformer – who’d hoped to reshape the GST until Turnbull pulled the pin on him. Now he has his chance to set his own direction. But he will be buffeted by cross winds and has little time to plot his course.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.