Scott Morrison explains leadership spill to Donald Trump on sidelines of G20 Summit
US President Donald Trump has been given a personal explanation of events that led to him meeting Scott Morrison as Australia’s Prime Minister — not the man he has been used to meeting at the White House, in New York and at world summits for the last two years.
In a meeting that lasted just over 20 minutes on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, Mr Trump made what Mr Morrison described as “inquiries” about how he came to be Australia’s 30th Prime Minister after a week of upheaval in the Liberal Party in August.
“It’s a foreign system to presidential systems and it’s readily understood … we just ran through what the events were,” Mr Morrison said when later questioned by reporters about his first formal encounter with the President.
In the two minutes of the Buenos Aires meeting open to the media, Mr Trump’s first remarks suggested he was still coming to grips with the Australian leadership change that had now delivered the second prime minister of his presidency.
“We’ve just gotten to know each other and, so far, so good,” was his estimation of Mr Morrison from the outset, before adding “I think it’s going to be a great relationship”.
What Mr Trump appeared to lack in understanding of events within the Liberal party room, he made up for in enthusiasm towards Mr Morrison’s achievements in his first three months in office.
“I know you’ve done a fantastic job in a very short period of time,” he said.
“You’ve done a lot of things that they’ve wanted over [in Australia] and that’s why you’re sitting right here.”
Mr Morrison said his review of Australia’s embassy in Israel did not come up for discussion. (AAP: Lukas Coch)
Mr Trump did not specify in his remarks, or privately to Mr Morrison, which “things” had most captured his attention, but the Prime Minister later ran through a checklist of measures, including his Government’s commitment to trade, extra engagement in the Pacific region and a review of the Iran nuclear deal.
The G20 Summit offered Mr Morrison a final opportunity to take soundings with world leaders on his review of the position of Australia’s embassy in Israel and whether it should be shifted to Jerusalem, as the Trump administration is doing.
But the issue was not canvassed in talks with the President.
“No, that didn’t come up today”, Mr Morrison explained, because “that had been well traversed in my previous discussion” with US Vice-President Mike Pence at the earlier APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea.
The Prime Minister did send a clearer signal to Mr Trump about his position on world trade, as the President draws closer to a crucial discussion with China’s Xi Jinping at the end of the G20.
When the two presidents meet, they will either broker a settlement of simmering tensions over import tariffs and trade and investment rules, or lurch into a further escalation of tariffs as early as next year.
While careful to avoid any suggestion of “protectionism” as a motive for the Americans, Mr Morrison said he emphasised a new and cooperative approach to modernising rules for trade was the way forward.
“The trade discussion is very alive, so I don’t think it is surprising that there will be tension from time to time … some of the old rules are a bit clunky, they need a service,” he said.
“I continue to highlight, as I always have, that trade tensions are not good for the global economy.”
Morrison discusses submarine deal with French President
Mr Morrison and Mr Macron addressed Australia’s Future Submarine defence project during talks. (AAP: Lukas Coch)
At a summit function earlier in the day the Prime Minister had also shared a private chat with Mr Trump’s negotiating partner, Mr Xi.
The G20 brought another first Mr Morrison, through his introduction to French President Emmanuel Macron.
The leaders dealt with a slowdown in talks on a strategic partnership agreement (SPA) which lays the ground rules for Australia’s biggest ever defence project, the $50 billion Future Submarine fleet.
In a possible breakthrough, Mr Morrison said the SPA was “progressing extremely well”, but will be “elevated back up to leader level to ensure it’s finalised in the near term”.
With an election looming in the next six months, the Prime Minister has not been in a position to issue invitations at the G20 for other leaders to come to Australia, least of all the US President.
But having made his introductions, Mr Morrison is warming to the idea of further contacts with prime ministers and presidents.
Of his blossoming relationship with Mr Trump, Mr Morrison said: “Australia and the United States have the longest-running alliance of any countries in the world today — going back 100 years — so you would expect there would be a strong relationship to build on and I was happy to play my role in that today, and there was a very easy and affable connection.”