Columnist MIKE WELSH reflects on another another seven days in the national capital
AS the electors of Wentworth consider their options to replace Malcolm Turnbull as their MP, we might take a moment to note his legacy as PM. At first glance it barely rates with his predecessors in the passing parade since Kevin Rudd’s departure in 2010.
Rudd at least has the apology to the Stolen Generations; Julia Gillard will be credited with the NDIS and the Royal Commission into child abuse; and who could forget Tony Abbott’s knighthood to the Duke of Edinburgh. But Malcolm? Well, the Banking Royal Commission got started on his watch but that was despite his determined efforts and those of his successor, the “Muppets” fan, Scott Morrison.
However, behind the scenes Turnbull had been engaged in a project that had the capacity to remake a vital element of Australia’s defence and security; and if only he’d been given a few more days in The Lodge he would have sealed the deal.
From the time he took office, Turnbull turned his attention to the tightrope that Australia walks between our principal trading partner in China and our major defence ally in the US. He was happily free of the kind of racial prejudice that has bedevilled our relations with Asia; and as a partner in Goldman Sachs he well knew the enormous global power and influence of the American imperium.
While the US remained unchallenged at the top of the tree, Australia could dance along the tightrope enjoying the best of both worlds. But once China came roaring back into the economic arena after a couple of centuries on the sidelines, the winds of change began buffeting the little Aussie funambulist. And when the Americans had a mad conniption and elected Donald J. Trump to the White House, it was suddenly blowing a gale up there.
Turnbull realised that we needed a net. It was not a new thought. A former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, had come to the same conclusion decades before when he said that Australia should find its security “in Asia and not from Asia”. Keating secretly negotiated a security agreement with Indonesia’s President Suharto then announced it to a bemused nation. Neither Indonesia nor Australia were ready for it and Suharto’s corrupt regime fell apart anyway.
However, by 2016 President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was running a good democratic government overseeing a massive economic growth spurt that provided an excellent antidote to the Islamic extremists.
And Jokowi was equally concerned to avoid any intrusiveness from a China who Xi Jinping himself boasted was the “big guy” in the neighbourhood. Turnbull set out to charm Jokowi, calling him to his face, “one of the most important leaders [and] role models in the world”. The Indonesian responded in kind.
By August this year, it was all coming together – the broad outlines of a new relationship had been negotiated and individual agreements, staggered and timed for the greatest impact, would follow in its train. The stage was set for Turnbull’s trip to Jakarta on August 31.
But there were rats in the ranks at home and there was no way he could leave the country without putting them in their place. So on August 21 Turnbull called a spill to confirm his leadership… and the rest, as they say, is history. However, before he called the final meeting that saw him replaced, he secured Morrison’s agreement that he would make the Jakarta visit. Which he did.
But, oh dear, what a let down it was. The “Muppets” fan looked about as comfortable in Jakarta as Miss Piggy in a tutu. And it’s no job for a new Foreign Minister like Marise Payne. And with those intemperate tweets from New York went any chance that Malcolm himself could save it.
Seems a shame, doesn’t it.