I can understand Tony Abbott’s wish to direct attention away from the budget by going off to The Hague and London. But are Australia’s national and policy interests being served by his absence when John Kerry and Chuck Hegel visit us.
In my blog of July 31 ‘Overplaying one’s hand’ I quoted Tony Abbott’s comments on MH370 in PNG. He said ‘Satellite footage shows what could be debris from the missing airline’s flight MH370’. But he was wrong.
In Shanghai about two weeks later Tony Abbott said ‘We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorders to within some kilometres … we are very confident the signals we are detecting are from the black boxes on MH370’. On the same day Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, who was in charge of the search, said ‘On the information that I have available … there has been no major breakthrough in the search for MH370’. What Angus Houston told us still stands. Apparently we are now to contract out the search for MH370 to a foreign company.
Then Tony Abbott adopted what Paul McGeough in the SMH called ‘megaphone diplomacy’ on MH17. It has now become clear that it was the Malaysian Prime Minister who quietly contacted the rebels in Donetsk and secured the release of the refrigerated train with 200 bodies or more on board. The Malaysian Prime Minister also secured from the rebels the two black boxes of MH17. The role of the Malaysian Prime Minister clearly doesn’t suit Tony Abbott’s agenda. I have yet to hear him make any mention or thank the Malaysian Government for its role in what really mattered after the crash of MH17. Help from the Dutch and others has been helpful, but their contribution did not compare with what the Malaysian Prime Minister achieved. So Tony Abbott went to The Hague to thank the Dutch but there is still no sign of him dropping in to Kuala Lumpur to thank the Malaysian Government. Operation bring them home has become more like wait and see.
Now Tony Abbott is on a side trip to London at the same time that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel, are in Australia. This is quite remarkable. After President Obama, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are without doubt the two most important foreign visitors that could come to our shores at this time. But Tony Abbott was not here to discuss with them what more we might be doing in Iraq and Syria. Just imagine what News Corporation and other media might be saying if Prime Ministers Gillard and Rudd were absent at a time like this.
Our national interest would be much better served with less grandstanding and less megaphone diplomacy.