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Morrison the Donald-whisperer steals from the playbook of his new BFF

In any domestic context, or any other foreign diplomatic context, appearing next to a politician as mendacious, incoherent and frankly dodgy as Trump would be a gross misstep.

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But this is the United States of America, and they are our best friends – even if the relationship more and more resembles bully-and-sidekick, to stick with the playground metaphor.

There is every chance that despite Trump’s unpopularity in Australia, voters will reward Morrison’s political skill in managing a close relationship with the President. Morrison has turned out to be something of a Donald-whisperer.

The beginning of Morrison’s American week was dominated by the state dinner, which looked lovely and candle-lit. Civilised. It veered into clownish territory with Morrison breaking protocol by appearing at what was effectively a campaign rally for Trump in Ohio, before descending into international awkwardness when Morrison appeared on stage at the United Nations to defensively blame the media for giving the impression to the world that Australia is not doing enough to cut carbon emissions.

Happy as I am to claim Antonio Guterres and the rest of the United Nations crowd as loyal readers, I suspect they have other avenues of information available to them.

That information tells them Australia is lagging in its international commitments, has a government generously peopled with climate change deniers, is considering using taxpayer funds to finance a coal-fired power station,  and is presiding over rising emissions, while gaily announcing it is projected to meet its emissions targets.

I just ate a Big Mac but based on my projections I will be five kilos slimmer for summer.

Treasurer Scott Morrison brings a lump of coal into Parliament in 2017.

Treasurer Scott Morrison brings a lump of coal into Parliament in 2017.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The media didn’t invent Morrison’s parliamentary lump-o-coal frolic, it only committed the sin of photographing it. The symbolism of that moment is now biting Australia, and it has contributed to making us outliers in the international community, so much so that we were not invited to speak at the United Nations Climate Summit. Morrison’s response? To peer over the shoulder of his mate Donald and steal his favourite play – blame fake news.

Back home in Australia, the level of debate descended into whether or not a 16-year-old Swedish girl who raised her voice was likeable enough.

I have no particular position on Greta Thunberg, beyond being exhausted by the apparent need to have an opinion on an activist who has committed the crime of drawing attention to her cause. The fact that she made so many men in the media so emotional is between them and their therapists.

Illustration: Reg Lynch

Illustration: Reg LynchCredit:

Morrison’s response to growing popular pressure over the environment has been to announce his “plastics push”, which is a laudable policy.

It has been reported favourably as a proactive measure, but in reality it is something the government would have had to deal with anyway – other countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia, have started refusing our plastics rubbish.

Morrison saw an opportunity in this problem, and used it to mount an environmental campaign which is blameless, offends no lobby group, and has no financial impact on business or consumers.

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But what is the plastics pledge, exactly?

It is $167 million in funding for an “Australian Recycling Investment Plan”, which, while promising, doesn’t sound like something that will provide a solution any time soon, or which will remove any existing plastic from any oceans. For comparison, the pledge to help the Americans put astronauts on Mars was $150 million.

The government has also committed to banning exports of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, starting in 2020, and will “support the G20 work on marine plastic debris”.

I don’t mean to nit-pick – plastic pollution is a scourge and any commitment to tackle it is welcome (with the notable exception of the price signal implicit in a plastic bag “ban”, which sent elements of the country into hysterics when introduced recently by supermarkets).

But an anti-plastics push is not a substitute for credible emissions reduction, it is a distraction from it.

It is a way of seizing on something concrete, that seems solvable, instead of dealing with something (emissions reduction) that no one can see, which is not easily solvable, and which costs money.

Twitter: @JacquelineMaley

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