Morrison Active But No Major Policy Statements

Morrison Active But Short on Major Policy Statements

My last Commentary (4 November) was headed “How Much Longer Can Morrison Last” and suggested that he must quickly address major policy issues and stop announcing handouts mainly designed to demonstrate that he is an “active” PM. But his decision to establish a electoral promotion bus to travel around parts of Queensland  has so far not produced major policy statements. Of some interest is that senior Queensland Liberal Steve Ciobo (who voted for Dutton in the leadership spill)  “refused to say yesterday whether the leadership switch to Mr Morrison would help improve the government’s stocks in the state”: ‘I don’t think it serves anyone’s purpose and I also don’t think, frankly, that Queenslanders or indeed Australians more generally, care about what’s happened,’ Mr Ciobo told Sky News (see Morrison Qld Bus Tour).

There have been, and remain, opportunities to make major statements or explanations of policies.

The first  relates to the US’s announcement not only of a re-imposition of sanctions against Iran but an increase compared with what they were before Obama (with help from the Europeans) announced  a virtual abandonment of them. An editorial in today’s Australian points out that “Just as Scott Morrison is right to have announced an updated review of Australia’s support for the deal, so should Europe do the same”. It also quotes the assessment by Colin Rubenstein (of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council) that “Archives of smuggled Iranian intelligence documents revealed by Israel have shown that, contrary to assertions Tehran has been complying with the deal’s terms, it has pursued “a (secret) strategy of noncompliance and incomplete disclosure of its nuclear capabilities and ambitions in violation of the (deal’s) letter and spirit” (see Sanctions on Iran).

With Iran so reliant on its oil exports, and already experiencing a high unemployment rate, the US sanctions will make it increasingly difficult to continue to finance terrorist groups in the Middle East and, in particular, those groups which are a major threat to Israel and which are taking quasi-military action against residents of that country. It will also make it difficult for European countries to sustain their agreement with Obama to accept Iran’s undertaking not to develop its nuclear capacity. A statement endorsing the US announcement could be presented as, inter alia, strengthening Australia’s support of the US and its alliance with that country.

The second opportunity for Australia to make a major statement has been on immigration. In my previous Commentary I drew attention to the excellent article by Judith Sloan outlining the strong domestic support for action to reduce immigration (see Reduced Immigration a Possible Morrison Winner).

A third opportunity would be less about making a major statement than providing an indication that Australia strongly supports the announcement by Chinese President XI that it will open its economy. Inter alia, XI has just stated that  “China has pursued development with the door open and succeeded in transforming a semi-closed economy into a fully open economy. Openness has become a trade mark of China. China’s door will never be closed. It will only open still wider” (see China to Open Economy). China is of course far from providing the openness which XI claims as its objective: but it is a promising development.

So too is the apparent change in Chinese attitude to Australia through its invitation to our Foreign Minister to pay an official visit to China. As Greg Sheridan points out, Australia has been prepared for some time to stomach the failure to receive such an invitation while also being “as close to the Trump administration on broad security issues, especially Indo-Pacific security issues, as any nation in the world”. While one has to see how this works out in practice, it should be officially acknowledged as being as welcome as the open economy is (see Improved Chinese Relations Reflect Trump).

Australia should also recognize that these developments in Chinese policy almost certainly at least partly reflect the response to Trump’s trade policy. The apparent inability of the World Trade Organization to ensure that China conducts a “fair trade” policy has arguably forced the US in particular to take measures which force China to adopt such a policy in its trade with the US and, in doing so, this inevitably extends to trade with other countries. This has been widely criticized as threatening  a move to a “protectionist war” between countries. But it appears that the US has set itself up as a de facto WTO and that genuine protectionist policies are limited. It runs a deficit on international trade (ie imports exceed exports) of over $US50 bn a year and this has been increasing.

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