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Morrison picks fight with China — Australia left holding the barley

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Morrison, who says we are too small to matter on climate, has instead picked a fight over the coronavirus — with our biggest trade partner, writes executive editor Michelle Pini.

USUALLY, it is possible to consider Australia’s political landscape and determine that, while it may be populated by a large number of self-interested people, they are mostly … okay generally, alright sometimes, basically competent — at least in a rudimentary way.

Today, however, it is abundantly clear we are being governed by the characters from an episode of Utopia.

SCOMO PLAYS DIPLOMAT

In an excellent analysis of the idiocy of Morrison’s foray into international diplomacy in The Conversation, Tony Walker described the PM’s involvement in the China COVID-19 debate as having

‘…excavated a diplomatic cavity for himself and his country.’

To summarise, after a deep and meaningful with his idol Trump, in which they discussed China’s responsibility for the contagion, Scotty from Marketing suddenly became the chief prefect in pointing the finger at our neighbour — and in a not terribly Christian manner. The PM proceeded to jump up and down until everyone heard that Australia now thinks public enemy number one is China — again. No need to worry, Donald, we are always on your side — oh, and Putin’s, in this case.

It’s important to note that this is not a debate about whether China should be investigated or whether there should be an international inquiry into the origins of the pandemic. Few would deny this should happen. However, perhaps the mechanisms that led to Australia’s involvement as the self-appointed judge in the imbroglio – which jeopardises $150 billion in trade even as our economy has ground to a halt – need closer examination.

While pondering this unholy mess, it may be instructive to consider why, when it comes to the climate emergency, Morrison considers any action on the part of Australia as too small and insignificant to hold any weight. However, when it comes to this issue – though obviously well above our pay grade – we are suddenly leaders.

TRUMPING TRADE

Perhaps the U.S. President forgot to mention the slight detail of the trade agreement signed just a few months ago, which ensures that China will buy an additional $200 billion in goods and services from the U.S. by 2021? The deal includes both agricultural products and energy exports.

Or maybe it slipped the PM’s mind that China is our biggest trading partner in, coincidentally, agricultural and energy exports. Did anyone run this idea past Gina Rinehart? Certainly, Andrew Forrest and Kerry Stokes, both of whom rake in the money from trade with China, were none too impressed — in this case, with good reason. (China takes about 30 per cent of Australia's exports.)

Since he is so clearly enamoured with the POTUS, Morrison should have at least remembered that when it comes to deals, Donald is in his element.

A BARLEY SURPLUS

It did not take long for China to exact pain on this annoying little meddler, slapping tariffs on Australian barley and suspending permits for beef supplied by four abattoirs. And the agricultural industry is bracing itself for further penalties. Livestock, dairy, wine, wool and of course, coal shipments (an interesting one for the Coalition Government to tamper with) are in jeopardy.

Attempts by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham to discuss the sanctions were met with total disinterest from Beijing, refusing even to take his calls.

With our economy at a standstill, is this the best time to pick a fight with a trading partner, the repercussions of which will impact on the living standards of all Australians?

And where are those outraged Nationals when we need them? Where is Barnaby? Why isn’t he screaming about our farmers?

Alas, the irony of a situation in which Australia does America’s bidding and takes the fall for the mighty star-spangled banner, but in which the latter also wins at our expense, appears lost on the high-level diplomacy skills within the Coalition ranks.

Regardless of the level of amusement of our self-aggrandising, there can be little doubt that when it comes to diplomacy, Morrison should stick to his big blue bus tour of Queensland since this little prank comes with a conservative short-term price tag of about $100 billion.

For those who may need reminding, we are, in a "once-in-a-century recession”, which is why we’d better not be expecting that surplus – now, but sometime in the future – anywhere in the near future, according to the PM.

STAYING IN WITH THE RIGHT

Bizarrely, for the party who self-identifies as Australia’s “best economic managers” and whose only election policy involved a surplus we are never likely to see – nor our children, for that matter – this is suddenly not about money.

Pandemic and recession be damned! The Coalition is now far more interested in the “principle” — though, which principle, exactly, is difficult to ascertain.

Taking the PM-in-waiting as a guide – nowhere to be seen when his actual area of responsibility, Border Protection, welcomed COVID-19-infected boats into the country – Peter Dutton was busy revving up racist outrage left, right and centre. Though admittedly, mainly Right. Let’s not allow an opportunity to dig the boot into those Asians go by!

The effects of continued dog-whistling by right-wing conservative forces have seen a surge in racism against Asian-Australians — resurrecting those rabid voices of hate with added gusto. 

The principle, then, is surely tied up with appealing to the Morrison Government's far-right base, keeping Donald Trump on-side and whipping up a new enemy to “other”, just to keep in reserve until the election.

For when it comes to this iteration of the Coalition Government, there is only one item on the agenda: its own re-election.

This is only half the story! Read the rest of this editorial in the IA members-only area. It takes less than a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a small sum for superb journalism and lots of extras.

You can follow executive editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @VMP9. You can also follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus or on Facebook HERE.

 
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