Nov 20, 2018

The Jerusalem embassy is Scott Morrison’s first serious mistake as Prime Minister, but Australians think Tel Aviv is a subsidiary of Telstra so he may get away with it.  It is the bread and butter domestic issues that win and lose elections.  There may be subjects that interest Australians less than Middle Eastern politics but I can’t think of one. 

One strategy for dealing with a mistake is to pretend it was not a mistake.  John Howard acted as a pathfinder for Scott Morrison on the Jerusalem issue when he popped up on the front page of the Weekend Australian (17-18 November). “I support the principle of the idea of having our embassy in Jerusalem” said Mr Howard, “and I think most Australians would take the view that our embassy should be in the capital city”.

With a mastery born of long experience, the former Prime Minister picked up and used the clash between Josh Frydenberg and Mahathir Mohamad with subtlety and good humour. “On the substance of the issue and given the slow pace of progress on the two-state solution, I can’t see how our decision or that of Donald Trump is going to make any real difference.  So, on both counts, it is our business and our business alone.”

Now Labor thinks the Liberals have wedged themselves between Jerusalem and Mecca while the master wedge-artist, John Howard, is changing the subject to sovereign foreign policy.  As he notes, Australian Prime Ministers have form with the Malaysian Prime Minister.

Mahathir Mohamad has warned that a Jerusalem move will increase the risk of terrorism in Australia and that sounds like good advice.  The Malaysian PM in his earlier term showed the world how to deal with globalised financialisation by controlling currency flows.

It is not disputed that Scott Morrison raised the Jerusalem move in a desperate bid for Jewish votes during the Wentworth by-election campaign.  The policy came from the Liberal candidate, David Sharma, a former Australian Ambassador to Israel.  David looked good on paper but he was a poor candidate on the ground.  Scott Morrison’s wish in the Liberal pre-selection for Wentworth was for a female candidate and his instincts were correct.

David, Scott and Josh should remember two points.  Not all Jews are Zionists and very few Jews are stupid.  Scott Morrison’s Jerusalem brain-fade was transparently opportunistic and ill-considered.

The best definition of politics came from the late Jim Carlton.  “It is a funny sort of job” said the Liberal front-bencher, “but somebody has to do it”.  David is not that somebody.  Neither is Malcolm Turnbull.  These are clever, talented gents but politics is not their gig.  Scott Morrison is that somebody.  He is a politician to the manner born.

In the same edition of the Weekend Australian where John Howard rode to the rescue of his beloved Liberal Party, Paul Kelly described the Jerusalem affair as a failure in terms of foreign policy priorities.  Paul joined Catherine McGregor in detecting a Donald Trump influence on the Australian Liberals and his concluding sentence sums up the issue: “The point of realpolitik, however, is to ensure that Israel does not become a defining issue in Australia’s relations with its Islamic neighbours.  That is the mistake the government has made. Australia’s opponents in the region will seize this issue as the chance to teach us a lesson.”

A more serious mistake than Jerusalem was the re-appointment of APRA Chairman Wayne Byres before completion of the banking royal commission.  Former ANZ director and Woolworths chairman John Dahlsen interprets this blatant error as a move by Treasury to preserve the status quo and maintain its power.

Dahlsen, an experienced corporate lawyer and businessman, criticises the incestuous relationship between APRA (Australian Prudential and Regulation Authority) and the banks.  Here is the big question mark over the Australian Labor Party.  Will Labor get serious about the structural reform of Australia’s financial system?  Will Labor support a Glass Steagall separation of honest banking from speculative finance?  In other words, will changing governments next year make any difference?

The position of the Greens as Labor’s unofficial left wing and conscience is jeopardised by their inability to think above their navels, as my mother used to say, but Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson’s recent comments on the need for banking separation are encouraging.

American documentary film-maker Michael Moore’s latest production, Fahrenheit 11/9, looks with hope to a new generation of young political activists.  Some of the hopes were realised in the American mid-term elections where we saw fine young talent such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted into the Congress.

The worrying sign for the Democrats was the leading role taken in the campaign by Joe Biden and Barack Obama.  Even more alarming was a prediction from the Clinton camp that Hillary would run again in 2020.  Let’s hope that was a joke.

Elizabeth Warren has acknowledged that she is thinking about running.  She also admitted a while ago that she had been to lunch with Larry Summers who had tried to duchess her into the Wall Street club where she could sit with the Clintons and Obama.   I would like to think that she has the brains and the class to know that this course is profoundly the wrong direction.

The American Democrats and the Australian Labor Party need to be clearly on the side of the people against the corporations and financial institutions.  This will involve a radical change in the politics we have come to know in the last 30 years.  We are unlikely to see it but it is comforting to have an ideal.

Jerry Roberts gave up smoking but has not managed to drop his interest in politics despite advice from friends that he should get a real job.


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