John Menadue. Move over Joe Hockey

Nov 26, 2014

The Julie Bishop media blitz continues. But will it flame out like the media blitz of her namesake, Bronwyn Bishop who was also touted by the media as a possible Liberal leader over a decade ago. Like Julie Bishop now and Bronwyn Bishop then, they had amazing free runs in the media. But in the end substance and not style wins out.

And on substantial issues as I have mentioned in my earlier blogs, there is little of real achievement… There have been record cuts in overseas development aid, Ebola delays, needlessly provoking China over its island dispute with Japan, failure to achieve real outcomes on MH17 and of course, most recently, playing party politics with the President of the US over climate change.

Since Joe Hockey hit the hurdle with his first budget, Julie Bishop has obviously seen an opening. The media posturing is so obvious – a range of interviews from Harpers, Vanity Fair and Peter Hartcher in the SMH. There was a round of media interviews in New York which was ideal to project her role as Chair of the Security Council. And of course there was media interest in her jogging in Beijing and elsewhere. She has clearly been impressed by the media which John Howard attracted with his early morning walks and Tony Abbott’s bike riding. But there is not much substance in jogging. She probably decided that shirt-fronting the President of the US would bring her brownie points with her increasingly nervous colleagues and with the electorate.

Her attack on Tanya Plibersek in yesterday’s SMH also reflects this media drive. It hard to understand how she thinks that flirting with Kevin Rudd adds to her foreign policy credentials. If anything she might consider retracting what she said about Kevin Rudd’s campaign for an Australian seat on the Security Council.  ‘There really has been no justification for the benefits that will accrue to Australia for pursuing a seat [on the Security Council] at this time.’ How ironic that she now projects herself as the Chair of the Security Council that she was so critical of a short time ago. How Julie Bishop also thinks that Tanya Plibersek would benefit by a briefing from her is hard to grasp. Most people would think that a briefing from foreign policy and intelligence specialists, which she received, would be much more useful.

But what Julie Bishop will be most remembered for is her attack on President Obama to burnish her tough person image as the logical successor to Tony Abbott if opinion polls keep trending down against the Coalition.

The Coalition was not expecting President Obama’s speech in Brisbane or the deal that President Obama made with President Xi. The Coalition clearly feels badly hurt by the position the US has taken.

Our Foreign Minister and the government however should not have been surprised. The signs were everywhere that the Obama administration was tiring of the Australian Government’s position on climate change.

Tony Abbott was due to meet President Obama for their first meeting at the APEC Summit in Bali only a month after Tony Abbott was elected. But President Obama could not attend and was represented by his Secretary of State, John Kerry. On good advice, I understand that John Kerry was not impressed with Tony Abbott on climate change. He asked officials ‘Where does Prime Minister Abbott get this stuff from on climate change?’

In the AFR yesterday, John Kehoe, its correspondent in Washington spells out very clearly that the Australian Government had been warned about what was coming up in the lift on climate change. Kehoe referred to a speech that John Podesta, President Obama’s climate change policy architect had made. Podesta had been pivotal in President Obama’s landmark deal with China. Kehoe reported that in July this year in a speech ‘to senior Americans and Australians including Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Podesta bemoaned Australia’s lack of climate policy. After the abolition of a carbon price, attendees say Podesta told the audience the Australian Government did not have a credible climate policy in place, adding he felt he should be honest with Australian friends.’

According to Kehoe the issue was also spelled out plainly by Caroline Atkinson who was President Obama’s ‘G20 sherpa’ and national security adviser for international economics. Kehoe reported ‘Not once but twice in the lead up to the G20, Atkinson publicly told Washington audiences full of Australian government officials that the US expected to have a proper discussion on climate at the G20. She even suggested that other countries would team up against Abbott to make it happen. For those in Canberra blindsided by Obama damaging Abbott on climate change, they overlooked signals the White House had been sending for months.’

There is clearly no excuse for Julie Bishop’s ignorance or surprise in what was in train. A minister who was on the ball would not be blindsided like this.

In recent days we have had The Australian carrying stories designed to help the government in its predicament on climate change. Could we think of it doing anything else! The Australian suggested that Tony Abbott led the pack in standing up against President Obama on climate change in and around the G20. This is patently nonsense and special pleading. The reverse was the case with not only President Obama but Prime Ministers Cameron and Merkel, and President Hollande, and maybe others ringing the carbon change bell on our Prime Minister.

The relentless media campaign by Julie Bishop tells us a lot about the problems unfolding in the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop’s personal aspirations and how the under resourced Australian media can be so easily manipulated and distracted by personality and celebrity at the expense of examination of policy.

It is also becoming clear that the government has nowhere to go on climate change, except in reverse.

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