News Paul Bongiorno: The government has much to learn from George Washington’s cherry tree
Updated:

Paul Bongiorno: The government has much to learn from George Washington’s cherry tree

Prime Minister Scott Morrison must confront some major home truths in the weeks and months ahead. Photo: TND
Share
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

One of the enduring cultural myths of the United States is the honesty of its most famous founder George Washington as a six-year-old boy.

Young George chopped down his father’s cherry tree with the birthday gift hatchet he had received and when confronted by the angry parent fessed up.

“I cannot tell a lie … I did cut it with my hatchet,” he said and so the fable goes “his father rejoiced that his son’s honesty was worth more than a thousand trees”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has just returned from his trip to the nation that takes its capital’s name from the truthful boy and while there confronted some home truths on why honesty is the best policy.

The blowback from the jilted French over the abandoned $90 billion submarine deal was fierce and unresolved, leaving Australia with the reputation as an untrustworthy and devious partner.

The French President Emmanuel Macron refuses point blank to talk to the PM and all the signs are France has neither forgiven nor forgotten, which could have severe consequences for Australia.

US President Joe Biden has shifted the submarines blame to Mr Morrison and Australia. Photo: AFP/Getty

To add insult to injury while in the US Mr Macron – after leaving the US President hanging – finally took Joe Biden’s call, only to have the American none too subtly blame Australia for the sneaky way the contract ended.

Explanations for Australia’s double dealing would have us believe that had the protracted negotiations with Britain and America leaked, the French would have torpedoed them.

How?

It was always going to be a brutal result for the French, but would the American assessment of the worth of further enmeshing Australia in its containment of China really have changed?

At least we would have emerged as an honest broker with our reputation better intact.

The news that Mr Morrison may now not attend the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November – dropped to a reporter from The West Australian high over the Pacific on his return home, is intriguing.

That conference has 100 world leaders signed up including presidents Macron and Biden. What sort of message will the absence of the born-again climate warrior from Australia send?

The Prime Minister’s office says he has not decided if he will attend the G20 meeting in Rome in late October that is designed as a prelude to Glasgow.

One theory is, despite his denials Mr Morrison is planning on a late November or early December election.

Another more compelling theory is that the calculating Mr Morrison won’t want to be caught out with an emissions reduction target and plan that simply won’t pass muster.

Neither Mr Macron, who will be the most senior European at the conference, nor even the host Britain’s Boris Johnson will be as ready as US Congressional leader Nancy Pelosi to dub Australia as world leading.

UK Prime Minister  Boris Johnson denied Mr Morrison a speaking spot at a climate summit.

Unlike Ms Pelosi’s staff, these more militant climate leaders won’t be scanning Mr Morrison’s Facebook page for assessments of his record in this area.

Mr Biden’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, has already called for more ambition from Australia as has Mr Johnson, who embarrassed Mr Morrison by denying him a speaking spot at last year’s climate summit for his lack of commitment to stronger targets.

Director of the climate and energy program at The Australia Institute, Richie Merzian, says Australia’s emissions when you remove contentious land use measurement “have gone up, not down unlike the UK, the US and the EU”.

The fact is net zero in three decades time means nothing without a legislated stepped road map to get there.

The government’s own experts recommended to then prime minister Tony Abbott a 45 per cent emissions reduction target was needed for 2030.

The “technology without taxes” slogan is fine, providing the technology exists and is delivering, something carbon capture and storage and gas technologies are not doing.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese is not far off the mark when he describes the Coalition Nationals as a roadblock in the process.

It is not at all clear that the Nationals Party room would all fall in with any net-zero plan Barnaby Joyce could be persuaded to adopt.

The Prime Minister may well have to avoid the ultimate confrontation in the Parliament by unveiling a plan and promising to deliver it if he wins the election.

Does he have enough credibility with the electorate to make it work? I hardly think so.

There is precedent for the Coalition reverting to type after an election.

John Howard promised an emissions trading scheme in 2007. When he lost, the Liberals and Nationals then defeated the one proposed by the Rudd Labor government.

Truth has a habit of coming out in the end.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics