Scott Morrison believes in miracles. This is perhaps why he expected us all to ignore what we had seen with our own eyes this week and instead believe him when he quivered with outrage that French President Emmanuel Macron had questioned “Australia’s integrity”.
It was the Prime Minister, of course, who was in Macron’s sights in Rome this week — not the Australian nation — when he was questioned about the cancellation of a $90 billion submarine contract — the largest in Australia’s history.
Did he think Scott Morrison had lied to him about the future of the deal, Macron was asked by reporters in Rome. “I don’t think, I know,” he had replied.
By the time Morrison got to Glasgow, the PM’s dander was in full dudgeon mode, on a scale that only someone who had once been an amateur musical theatre thespian could muster.
“I must say that I think the statements that were made questioning Australia’s integrity, and the slurs that have been placed on Australia, not me, I’ve got broad shoulders, I can deal with that,” he said. “But those slurs, I’m not going to cop sledging at Australia. I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians.”
This unedifying spectacle, along with the PM’s apparently approved leaking of text messages from another national leader, have this week been analysed in two very different ways which reflect two strands of national conversation about politics that have perhaps never seemed to diverge quite as much as they do right now.
On the one hand, there is the strand of discourse about what are Australia’s underlying national interests. On the other is the strand shaped by politics, character tests, pragmatism, spin and popularity.
A spotlight on two important issues
Morrison’s disastrous overseas trip has seen him portrayed as a significantly reduced figure on both the domestic and international stages. There were two important issues under the spotlight on this trip: climate change and the credibility of our national security strategy.
On climate change, the UN conference in Glasgow — like the ones that have preceded it — was seen as a test against which all governments would be judged in terms of what they are doing to reduce greenhouse emissions.
A lot of governments scored very mediocre results in those tests, none more so than Australia. But something that has changed since the Paris conference in 2015 is that it is not just Australia’s failure to meet the targets set down for the Glasgow conference that has been on display this time around, but that government policy isn’t even meeting the targets set down by the broader Australian leadership: everyone from our scientists to now even the business and financial communities.