With the world watching as the US heads to the polls, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be quietly praying for a second Donald Trump term.
That’s the prognosis from his predecessor Kevin Rudd, who says at least when it comes to the major issue of climate change, the PM benefits from one result.
“Because Trump has been such a climate change denialist, people like Morrison have been able to fly beneath the radar in terms of not doing much globally in terms of Australia’s Paris [agreement] commitments,” Mr Rudd told Yahoo News Australia.
“If you have an inert America on climate change, it’s made it easier for Morrison to frankly get away with blue murder in terms of what needs to be done.”
If you believe current polling, Democratic candidate Joe Biden is on track to claim the White House on November 3 – an outcome that would reset the world’s fight against global warming.
“If there’s a Biden-elect, let me tell you for a whole range of reasons... in terms of climate change this is a massive heart of the Democratic party and movement demanding that the United States take much harder measures domestically and globally on climate change.
“So the ability of the Morrison government to skate through under a Biden administration will be severely constrained. Hence why I think he’s lighting a candle in the church of his preference for the re-election of Trump,” Mr Rudd said.
The issue of climate change has plagued the Coalition government, tearing down Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership and scuttling any chance of a much needed national energy policy. Since coming to the leadership, Mr Morrison has been pragmatic in his approach by acknowledging the reality, but has largely avoided the issue.
Meanwhile the government’s gas-led recovery out of the coronavirus recession, formally announced this week, has been met with scathing criticism from climate activists and economists.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office dismissed Mr Rudd’s criticism of the Morrison government on climate change.
“We are not going to take lectures from a former Prime Minister who failed to take any meaningful action against what he described in his own words as, ‘the great moral challenge of our generation’,” a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s office told Yahoo News Australia.
“Our focus is on cutting emissions and cutting power prices which is why this week we announced an extra $1.9 billion investment in the low-emissions technologies of the future, and established a plan to deliver more support for our energy grid through gas-fired power that can also help bring renewable energy sources into our energy grid.”
During his time as leader Kevin Rudd was unable to get an emissions trading scheme through the parliament. When the party installed Julia Gillard as leader, she introduced a tax on carbon which was later repealed by the Coalition government Mr Morrison now leads.
The US-Australia alliance and dealing with a rising China
When it comes to another major global issue for Australia and arguably its most important ally, the Morrison government has subtly shown a level of trepidation about Donald Trump’s administration.
During a recent Washington visit, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds sought to strengthen military ties with the US. But the pair notably stopped short of agreeing to join the country in naval exercises in the South China Sea within 12 nautical miles of China’s claimed territories – something that would be seen as a provocation.
“There was a notable plume of dust emerging behind Marise Payne’s limousine as she escaped from Washington not wishing to sign up to the latest piece of American bravado about Royal Australian Navy ships conducting freedom of navigation operations within the 12 mile limit of China’s reclaimed islands,” Mr Rudd said.
The former PM criticised the government’s megaphone diplomacy when dealing with China, accusing it of treating the rising tensions as “domestic political raw meat” as it tries to look tough on the rising authoritarian power.
But Donald Trump takes that to an entirely different level.
“My point is, there is even a limit to hairy chestedness on China as far as the Morrison government is concerned, and frankly they’re running for cover at that time [in Washington] I thought was indicative of a level of concern of where Trump and [US Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo could take them,” Mr Rudd told Yahoo News Australia.
Rudd’s offer to Morrison on Chinese relations
Mr Rudd, who is the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, is currently working on a PhD thesis about the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which he says has given him a “new layer of understanding of Xi Jinping’s worldview and the challenges it represents for the rest of us.”
“He is quite a hard wired Marxist-Leninist in his core.”
Just after Mr Morrison won the election last year, Mr Rudd approached him and offered to have a discussion about China and how to manage the relationship.
“So I went and spent some time with him at Kirribilli, since then we’ve not really discussed the matter,” he said.
Whoever wins the US election will face major challenges on how they respond to an increasingly assertive China as it pursues expansion in the South China Sea and tries to reclaim Taiwan, increasing the possibility of military conflict.
And in recent history, where the White House goes, Australia has followed.
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