Smiles and unity at the Pacific Islands Forum mask tough questions shelved for another day

At the close of the Pacific Islands Forum the leaders emerged from their retreat smiling, cut a giant cake with a sword and then, in an impromptu moment of diplomatic bonhomie, posed for a selfie after Anthony Albanese whipped out his phone, Ellen DeGeneres style. It was, quite literally, a picture of harmony. “It’s been a very successful meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum,” said Albanese at his post-leaders’ retreat press conference. “We are family when it comes to the Pacific and there was a good spirit of cooperation and…

‘Considerable strain’: how Australian officials saw the China rift

Australian officials stayed in “regular contact” with the Chinese embassy in Canberra to “explain our decisions” even when Australian ministers were subjected to a two-year diplomatic freeze, newly released documents show. The former Morrison government had been “willing to engage with China in dialogue at any time”, according to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade briefing notes, which also described the relationship as being under “considerable strain”. Australian government ministers were blocked from meetings or calls with their direct Chinese counterparts for more than two years, although lower-level diplomats and…

Cabinet committee blocked plan to double Australia’s support to Pacific, election-eve leak reveals

The Morrison government has been hit by an election-eve leak that cabinet’s national security committee blocked a proposal by the foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, to double Australia’s support to the Pacific. Labor said the “extraordinary” pre-election leak, first reported by the Australian newspaper, showed the government was “falling apart”, while Scott Morrison insisted the committee was “extremely tight”. The revelation was expected to trigger renewed debate about the government’s Pacific policy in the wake of China signing a security deal with Solomon Islands. Guardian Australia has confirmed that the…

Chinese-speaking voters critical of Coalition’s ‘militaristic’ stance on China in lead-up to 2022 election, WeChat study shows

The Coalition’s muscular position toward China is not going down well with Chinese-speaking voters, while Labor is facing criticism over its more generous approach to humanitarian immigration, an analysis of WeChat audience comments reveals. The study of more than 3,000 political news stories and associated comments appearing on the Chinese social media platform, WeChat, has been undertaken by researchers at Monash and Deakin Universities over the past 11 months, including during the election campaign. It provides an insight into the Australian political news reaching Chinese speakers and how they are…

Factcheck: the Coalition says Labor always ‘takes China’s side’, but are the parties’ positions so different?

As the Coalition campaign seeks to revive the talking point that Labor always “takes China’s side”, Scott Morrison implored reporters to “just look at the record”. So we did just that and found the claims by the prime minister and his senior ministers are either factually inaccurate, misleading, or lack context. Claim What I don’t understand is that when something of this significance takes place, why would you take China’s side? – Scott Morrison in response to Labor criticism over the security agreement between China and Solomon Islands, leaders’ debate,…

Australia’s lost influence in Pacific on display in Solomon Islands-China deal, Anthony Albanese says

Australia has lost influence in the Pacific by failing to act on climate and cutting foreign aid, Anthony Albanese says, amid concerns about China’s proposed security deal with Solomon Islands. Australia and New Zealand are worried the draft agreement could jeopardise regional stability, with China having the opportunity to base navy warships in the Pacific less than 2,000km off the Australian coast. The prime minister of Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, is due to address parliament in Honiara on Tuesday about security cooperation with China. But the leaking of the draft…

Scott Morrison says it would have been ‘weakness’ for him to meet new Chinese ambassador

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, says there will be no diplomatic thaw in relations with China until it lifts a block on ministerial meetings. “So long as China continues to refuse to have dialogue with Australian ministers and the prime minister, I think that’s an entirely proportional response,” Morrison told reporters on Saturday regarding reports he declined to meet China’s new ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian. “That would be a demonstration of weakness and I can assure you as prime minister that’s the last message I’d ever send to…

From a China frenzy to casual transphobia, PM is on the hunt for disaffected but highly motivated voters | Katharine Murphy

If you watch politics closely, you’ll recall this moment. In 2018, Scott Morrison draped his arm around Malcolm Turnbull and declared: “This is my leader and I’m ambitious for him!” Two days later, Turnbull was out and Morrison was prime minister. That moment popped into my head this week as I watched Morrison out on the hustings in Tasmania. The more recent circumstances were quite different, but the vibe was similar. Morrison was flanked by Bridget Archer, the moderate Liberal, who has made a name for herself in Canberra by…

Essential poll analysis:​ Coalition’s national security scare campaign may have backfired

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Scott Morrison’s China gambit is a Hail Mary from a flailing leader trying to galvanise fear | Peter Lewis

Scott Morrison’s efforts to politicise Australia’s complex relationship with China seems to be further soiling his own flagging reputation. Like a bull in the proverbial, he has spent the past fortnight bombarding the airwaves with hastily googled dossiers and cold war-era panics to suggest an Albanese government would become an antipodean branch office of the Beijing Politburo. Large sections of the national gallery have embraced his China pivot, breathlessly reporting the attacks on Labor, amplifying intelligence community blowback and catastrophising operational incidents that would normally demand sober assessment rather than…