News National Scott Morrison’s absence shows he is a prime minister in caretaker mode: Bongiorno

Scott Morrison’s absence shows he is a prime minister in caretaker mode: Bongiorno

Scott Morrison opted out of spending Remembrance Day in Paris.
Scott Morrison opted out of spending Remembrance Day in Paris with the other world leaders. Photo: Getty
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There was a notable absentee from among the 60 world leaders at the centenary commemorations in Paris to mark the end of World War I. The Australian Prime Minister was nowhere to be seen.

Scott Morrison’s decision to stay home has experienced foreign affairs specialists in Canberra scratching their heads.

One says “he absolutely should have been there”. After all, Australia’s wartime prime minister Billy Hughes was a key player in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles seven months after the armistice.

Mr Hughes was such an irritant as he pushed Australia’s claims for German territory in New Guinea, then-US president Woodrow Wilson asked how the leader of a nation of just five million people could have any international standing.

Mr Hughes angrily replied: “I speak for 60,000 dead. How many do you speak for?”

Mr Morrison left it to the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove to represent the nation in Paris and for Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester to do the honours at the Australian War Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux.

Both are worthy gentlemen but without the executive authority of the prime minister.

Mr Morrison passed up the chance to rub shoulders with President Trump and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Canada and many others with whom we vie for influence and recognition.

Instead Mr Morrison attended the national ceremony in Canberra and gave a solemn and moving address.

He said, “In silence, a silence that beckons and prays for peace, we honour the 102,000 Australians who have lost their lives in war for us”.

His office says the Prime Minister will be attending three international meetings this month. He heads for Singapore on Tuesday for the East Asia Summit, Port Moresby on Friday for the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting, and then to Buenos Aires for the G20.

A spokesman said with little time to waste domestically, the judgement was made there would be more than enough opportunity for Mr Morrison to make himself known to other leaders.

Foreign affairs experts are baffled by Scott Morrison’s decision to attend armistice centenary commemorations in Canberra, not Paris. Photo: Getty

The Labor Opposition is not making it an issue, but senior people think it is “a weird” decision that missed a rare and significant moment.

The fact that he wasn’t there is symptomatic of the cost this country is paying for the merry-go-round of national leaders.

In its five years of existence The New Daily has seen three different Liberal prime ministers. This instability sends a very poor message to trading partners and allies. One that undermines our standing.

It is not drawing too long a bow to say the national interest would have been better served with the newest boy on the block beginning to make himself known personally to his overseas peers.

Every prime minister brings to the job their own style, priorities and broader values. Our diplomats in key posts around the world work overtime to assure and inform what the latest change at the top may mean.

The mixed signals sent by the Morrison government on China, Indonesia and Israel suggest foreign policy is not our latest prime minister’s strong suit.

Indeed, the message coming from Australia would seem to be we are on the cusp of a change of government – this time to one of a different political hue.

The latest Newspoll has the Liberals losing more ground and whatever early shine there was for Mr Morrison has definitely faded, plunging him further into negative territory of disapproval.

It, like his absence from Paris, reinforces the perception he is a caretaker leader who won’t be around very long anyway.

Something Mr Morrison came close to conceding on Sky News when he said that Bill Shorten has a “very strong prospect” of winning the next federal election.

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