Anthony Albanese has launched a savage attack on Scott Morrison’s handling of Australia’s relationship with the United States, claiming the Prime Minister “went too far” in his support for Donald Trump and “neglected” members of Joe Biden’s team.
The Labor leader alleges Mr Morrison is “afraid” of his maverick backbenchers Craig Kelly and George Christensen, blasting the pair and other Coalition members as “far-right extremist fringe dwellers” – while also calling for a rethink of how Australia deals with China.
Mr Albanese will give a major foreign policy speech to the Perth USAsia Centre on Wednesday, timed to coincide with Mr Biden’s inauguration as President in the early hours of Thursday morning (Australian time).
The Labor leader will speak about how he would tread the line between honouring the US relationship while not further angering our biggest trading partner in China, saying Australia shouldn’t have to pick sides between the two.
Mr Albanese said his party’s commitment to the United States was “stronger than ever”, but that the two countries must be able to “argue” if needed.
“Where interests are not completely aligned, we must be able to disagree and know that the relationship can nonetheless be sustained,” he will say, according to an advance copy of the speech circulated by his office.
“We should seek steady and predictable engagement. An engagement guided by a deep understanding of regional countries’ interests, not attempts to force them to pick sides.”
This framing of the tightrope between backing the US, and not further alienating China, comes amid long-running trade tensions with the Asian superpower.
Chinese state media has accused Australia of being America’s “lapdog”, and such characterisation of Australia being too close with the US is one that some analysts have claimed is a factor in deteriorating trade ties.
Indeed, Mr Albanese says the government’s public call for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 – a key factor in China’s recent coldness toward Australia – was a mistake.
“It burned capital with a poorly managed call for an inquiry, which was always going to take place,” the speech reads.
Mr Albanese’s speech accuses Mr Morrison of a “dereliction of duty” in not staking a firmer position for Australia between the US and China.
He said Labor wanted to see the incoming President pay more attention to the South-East Asian region, with “a greater strategic effort” to help protect Australia’s interests.
“A key task for Australia will be ensuring any settling point that is reached between the two powers will take account of the interests of the countries of the Indo-Pacific,” Mr Albanese will say.
“Further encouraging the US to be more engaged will require Australia to lead the way through our own actions and lift our game in the region.”
Claims Morrison ‘went too far’
But while half the speech set out a new agenda and spoke of optimism for the actions of President Biden, the other half was all about stinging criticisms of Mr Morrison’s dealings with Mr Trump in recent years.
He claims Mr Morrison focused too much on the US.
“Scott Morrison went too far – partly out of his affinity with Donald Trump, partly because of the political constituency they share,” Mr Albanese will say.
Mr Albanese claimed it was “poor alliance management” that Mr Morrison had “neglected” meeting Democrats while in the US, noting Labor politicians had met senior American officials including Vice President Mike Pence.
He also took aim at a controversial October 2019 speech in which Mr Morrison criticised “negative globalism” and “an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy”.
Those words were interpreted by some as Trumpesque criticisms of multilateral organisations, which the American President had railed against and tried to remove the US from.
Mr Morrison has since strongly reaffirmed his support for such organisations, but Mr Albanese claimed the PM had been “pandering” to Mr Trump.
“It is dangerous for Australia to be part of efforts to tear down useful multilateral institutions,” he will say.
He also linked this argument to Labor’s favourite recent line of attack, on conspiracy-spreading Coalition MPs.
“[Mr Morrison] remains afraid of the far-right extremist fringe dwellers who make up the bedrock of his personal support – and who he cultivates through the avatars of Trumpists and conspiracy theorists like Craig Kelly and George Christensen,” Mr Albanese will say.
“Mr Morrison wants to ride this tiger because he thinks he’s on a political winner – but we have seen this month that the longer you ride it, the harder it is to dismount.”