Prime Minister Anthony ‘My Government’ Albanese’s enthusiasm to strut the world diplomatic stage has already begun waning.
He’s announced that he will not attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2022 in late June in Kigali, Rwanda.
The ink was hardly dry on his prime ministerial commission before he jetted off to Japan for a meeting with the Quad – United States, India, Japan, and Australia. The timing was fortuitous, as Labor supporters were still coming down from a victory high while Coalition supporters were prostrate with grief.
Even the most duplicitous Labor leadership schemers would find it difficult to function in that environment.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong had since been duchessing various dubious Pacific relationships before she and Albanese quickly jetted off to Indonesia to meet President Joko Widodo, who is not quite Australia’s closest neighbour nor one of its closest allies. There are questions as to whether Indonesia remains a true regional ally.
Sabah-born Wong and Ed Husic, Australia’s first Muslim minister, accompanied the Prime Minister in what was supposedly good optics for the Australian public.
Looking back, this trip may prove to be Albanese’s Hawaii moment, the obligatory batik shirt photo opportunity, while not having to hold a hose on the first substantial interest rate increase in years and on his watch, leaving that onerous task to his hapless but ambitious deputy Richard Marles.
Not Albanese’s problem.
All this jet-setting apparently has so tired Australia’s 31st Prime Minister he will need to rest and recuperate rather than attend in two weeks what is probably this country’s premier international partnership gathering.
CHOGM 2022, twice delayed since its last meeting in 2018, is scheduled to meet between 20-26 June.
As Rwandan President Paul Kagame said in his invitation to CHOGM members:
‘The last two years have made it clear to us that we are more connected than ever before, and we must work together to achieve the tangible and sustainable results we want.’
Why then would Australia’s Prime Minister not wish to be seen in Kigali mingling with the other Commonwealth heads?
After all, Rwanda has an equally colourful taste in shirts, and the Prime Minister already has a batik collection.
Fundamentally, if you believe his version of his life, Albanese is an unreconstructed, undergraduate ‘Tory-baiting’ republican socialist, the Camperdown public housing Italian-Irish orphan with a chip on both shoulders.
The leopard doesn’t change its spots.
The Commonwealth of Nations is anathema to every bone in his body because, well, just because it offends his fundamental prejudices.
Currently, there are 54 member states, all self-governing dominions.
Every continent is represented.
As Winston Churchill wrote of the Commonwealth in the depths of the second world war:
‘Alone in history, the British people, taught by the lessons they had learned in the past, have found the means to attach to the Motherland, vast self-governing Dominions upon whom there rests no obligation, other than that of, sentiment and tradition to plunge into war at the side of the Motherland.
‘None of these Dominions, except Southern Ireland, which does not under its present dispensation fully accept Dominion status, has ever failed to respond, with all the vigour of democratic institutions, to the trumpet call of a supreme crisis, to the overpowering influences and impulses that make Canada, that make Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa send their manhood across the ocean to fight and die.’
To Eire we may now add those bastions of democracy, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong.
England is no longer the Motherland, nor do the Dominions rush to its side in every dispute in which it has been recently involved.
Perhaps the last truly Commonwealth engagement was the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation in the mid-1960s, when 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade Group, with troops from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Singapore resisted Indonesian expansionism, particularly in Borneo, including Foreign Minister Wong’s birthplace, Sabah.
In all, 3,500 Australians served during Confrontation and casualties were 23 dead, including seven killed in action, while another eight were wounded.
If there was a purpose to Albanese’s Indonesian visit, it was to announce he will instead attend the G20 summit in Bali in November, a deliberate message of support for President Joko Widodo as host and a snub to CHOGM.
A former Surakarta mayor, Widodo’s cultural traditions are drawn from Javanese royalty with traits, such as subtlety, politeness, courtesy, indirectness, and emotional restraint.
Javanese culture values social status, while avoiding direct conflicts and disagreements.
Riding bamboo bicycles may be more relevant signalling Australia’s future transport options under Teal/Green ideological pressure at home than as a measure of Albanese’s standing with the Indonesians.
On his part, Widodo would have been too polite to mention the war.
Albanese’s CHOGM boycott begs the question, will any of the other Commonwealth heads of government actually notice he’s not there?
Will they care?
By November, with other hoses to hold and other political and economic problems coming home to roost, our Prime Minister may prove to be the invisible man in the sea of G20 batik shirts.
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