News World Abbott plays it straight in Davos

Abbott plays it straight in Davos

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Keeping it simple and business-driven ensured a solid, if unspectacular, reception for Tony Abbott at the World Economic Forum.

The Australian prime minister delivered his keynote address to world and business leaders in Davos on Thursday to outline Australia’s agenda for its presidency of the G20 this year.

With global economic health the focus, Mr Abbott told the forum Australia would use the hosting of November’s G20 summit in Brisbane help achieve practical growth outcomes for countries.

He urged nations to abolish protectionism and open up to more free trade and said another key focus would be encouraging business to invest and create jobs and infrastructure.

With the world’s economic recovery still fragile, Mr Abbott also reiterated the importance of sticking to the fundamentals of economics.

“You can’t spend what you haven’t got,” he said.

“No country has ever taxed or subsidised its way to prosperity.

“You don’t address debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit.

“And profit is not a dirty word, because success in business is something to be proud of.”

The address received a round of applause while the forum’s founder Klaus Schwab said on stage to Abbott: “I think your words and your objectives certainly are very much welcomed in this hall because it’s very business-oriented and it’s very people-oriented.”

It’s understood Mr Schwab’s sentiments were largely shared among key business leaders in Davos, despite the address failing to truly capture the attention of the international media.

Mr Abbott, the first Australian prime minister to attend the event in the Swiss alpine town since John Howard in 2005, spent the rest of his three-day meeting with key business figures and fellow world leaders.

On Thursday he held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Israeli PM Benjamin Natanyahu and Swiss President Didier Burkhalter having spoken with counterparts from Japan and the Netherlands the day earlier.

As well as giving his international profile a boost, Mr Abbott will be hoping his visit will aid his goal of having this year’s G20 deliver practical and positive outcomes rather than being simply a “talk-fest”.

This can be achieved, he said, by focusing on just a few key subjects in Brisbane and he wants the post-summit report to be direct and just three pages long.

Mr Abbott also thinks Australia can lead by example by getting things right domestically this year.

Wednesday was his first major post-election speech on economic policy and he didn’t miss an opportunity to talk up his newly-installed government on the world stage, listing its planned measures to promote growth.

Nor could he resist a swipe at his Labor predecessors Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, telling the world – in a break of forum custom – they tried to spend their way out of trouble.

“Governments can be like addicts in search of a fix,” he said.

“But after the recent election, Australia is under new management and open for business.”

Mr Abbott did not hold a press conference after his address and was departing Davos for Australia on Thursday evening.

Iran, Israel cross swords

Iran has stepped up attempts to normalise its relations with the West with a Davos charm offensive that was immediately attacked by Israel as a confidence trick.

On a visit to the Swiss resort aimed at enticing international investors back to Iran, President Hassan Rouhani told the World Economic Forum his government was sincere in its desire for a new relationship based on mutual trust and a rebuilding of economic ties that have been shattered by international sanctions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the West not to take the media-friendly Iranian’s offer at face value, insisting there was no concrete evidence of any fundamental change in the nature of the Islamic regime.

“Hassan Rouhani can say something but it doesn’t make it real,” Netanyahu said on Thursday. “It’s false.”

He said the Iranian president’s claim that Tehran wanted to promote stability and security in the Middle East had “no connection with what is going on on the ground”, notably in Syria, where he said Iranian Revolutionary Guards and its Hezbollah allies were fighting and killing alongside government forces.

Rouhani was making his first international outing since he created a stir at the UN in New York in September by outlining his new government’s desire for a fresh start in relations with the US and other Western powers.

In his speech, described as a message of friendship and hope by the Forum organisers, he unveiled a proposal to create a new multilateral body tasked with stabilising global energy supplies.

Rouhani said Tehran was ready to put some of its extensive oil and gas reserves at the disposal of the proposed new body.

“We are prepared to engage in a serious process to establish a reliable institution for this long-term partnership,” he said.

Iran’s oil exports are currently running at around half the level of a decade ago as a result of EU and US sanctions applied over Tehran’s suspected attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

An agreement on a modest easing of the sanctions took effect this week in line with an interim accord on Iran’s nuclear capacity agreed between Tehran and major world powers in November.

The interim agreement is intended to pave the way for a fuller accord and a further lifting of sanctions.

Iran is already seeking to persuade oil majors to start planning for a resumption of investment in the country.

Rouhani has had a string of private meetings with senior oil executives here and also met with Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, which is home to Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell.

In his speech, Rouhani described the nuclear accord, which limits his country’s ability to enrich uranium and provides for inspections of its facilities, as marking the start of a new phase in relations with the US.