Heading towards an election,Scott Morrison gets to present himself as a national leader with a chair at the same table as US President Joe Biden.

Heading towards an election,Scott Morrison gets to present himself as a national leader with a chair at the same table as US President Joe Biden.Credit:AAP

It elevates Scott Morrison from harried,strife-beset leader looking increasingly like a potential loser,to the position of Prime Minister taking charge of his nation’s defence in an emerging regional Cold War.

The new pact,saddled with the awkward acronym AUKUS,may not have got off to the shining start for which Morrison hoped,of course,when US President Joe Biden appeared to forget his name at the crucial moment.

“I want to thank ... uh ... that fella Down Under. Thank you very much,pal,” Biden said.


Shades,perhaps,of then US president Jimmy Carter welcoming former prime minister Malcolm Fraser to the White House in 1977 as “John”,though Fraser’s first name was,in fact,John.

Still,the monumental nature of the AUKUS announcement meant even the “Down Under” window into the little-brother nature of Australia’s position among the powers was a mere blip on the road to Morrison’s repossession of high domestic political ground.

Not since 2001,when John Howard seized on the al-Qaeda attack on the US – and the arrival of the refugee-laden freighterTampa off Christmas Island – have circumstances combined to offer a conservative prime minister the pre-election opportunity to re-frame his leadership.


Just as Howard had been battered by all manner of domestic problems and all but written off earlier in 2001,Morrison has been sinking beneath his government’s slow COVID-19 vaccine roll-out,battles with state premiers and latterly,the preposterousclaim of cabinet minister Christian Porter that he didn’t know who was paying part of his vast legal bill.

He desperately needed to change the narrative,as spin doctors say.

All the while,fizzing dangerously on the international stage has been China’s increasing belligerence towards the West,its military expansionism in the South China Sea,and its attack on sections of Australia’s trade as its warm-up act.

Coincident was the decision of previous governments to spend immense treasure onre-fashioning a French nuclear submarine into a conventionally powered model for Australia’s next fleet – an effort that made little sense to anyone but those desperate for jobs in Adelaide and the merry accountants of the French partners.

And so,the secretly negotiated defence pact with the US and the UK has turned Morrison’s previously faltering trajectory on its head.

Heading towards an election – whether late this year or early the next – he gets to present himself as a national leader with a chair at the same table as the US President and the British Prime Minister.

The election,at least by implication,is thus shaded khaki – long a winner for conservative parties,whatever the consequences later – because the effort to contain China is now out in the open.


The details are yet to emerge,as always:the financial cost,the fallout with France for tearing up a long-standing contract,the time-scale,and the geopolitical implications of becoming America’s nuclear-powered deputy sheriff in the region.

Details,however,in every rush to every tough election,are for later.

That fella from Down Under has a re-make to complete.

Two,in fact. A submarine fleet and his own political destiny.

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