Australians can relate to Merkel’s predicament


CANBERRA: The way German Chancellor Angela Merkel flipped through her notes before meeting Scott Morrison said everything about the Australian Prime Minister’s troubles on the world stage.
It also hinted at his problems at home.
Merkel needed a background note on Morrison in her hands when the two met at the G20 summit on the weekend.
Rightly or wrongly, the question on her mind seemed obvious: who’s this again?
That telling moment, captured by Sydney Morning Herald and The Age photographer Alex Ellinghausen, came one day after Morrison went into a meeting with US President Donald Trump to face a different question: what happened to Malcolm?
The Liberal Party’s leadership spill in August leaves it exposed to something much more dangerous than derision – laughter. There is no way to gloss over the mockery these instants can provoke.
Australians can probably relate to Merkel’s predicament because they are going through the same process. Who’s this again? As Morrison showed with his bus campaign in Queensland, he will have to work hard to make sure voters know who he is.
Morrison represented Australia well at the summit. He made progress on trade with the European Union and the United Kingdom and joined Japan and Canada and the EU to push for a reasonable outcome in the wider summit.
This was not a stellar victory but a way to contain any defeat. The leaders at the summit venue all knew the main game was in a hotel room about 30 minutes away, where Donald Trump and Xi Jinping struck their provisional G2 compromise.
Morrison could not control any outcome at the global gathering but he returns to Australia showing voters he was fighting for a better result on the economy.
His message in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, that the Liberals must “unite and fight” to win the election, is what his party needs to hear.
Morrison was surprised when Julia Banks chose to quit the Liberals for the crossbench but he believes she is an isolated case.
But the special treatment given to Liberal MP Craig Kelly to help him against Kent Johns, a challenger who seems to have the numbers in the local Liberal Party branches, is a sign of the anxiety over future resignations.
It rarely ends happily when a Prime Minister intervenes in a preselection.
Morrison argues that Labor’s “sound and fury” in Parliament is not stopping the real work of government. His visit to the G20 shows that, to an extent, but he will still be under pressure in the week ahead from more disruptive tactics, not least any attempt to refer Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to the High Court. It is loyal of Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to argue, as he did on Sunday, that Coalition governments have survived similar slumps in the past, as John Howard did before the 2001 election. Of course, that historical parallel only applies if you forget that John Howard had a budget surplus to spend on voters and a boatload of asylum seekers on the horizon. He was also facing Kim Beazley rather than Bill Shorten, a more ruthless opponent.
The parallel also depends on whether you believe Morrison has the talent and cunning of Howard, who had two substantial election victories under his belt before he won a third in 2001.
The fact is the Liberal leadership spills of the past four years have thrown the party into uncharted territory, so that winning the next election would be a victory unlike any other.
If Morrison achieves that result, everyone should remember his name. –SMH

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