Airbus Albo? Take that bait and you’ve been played like a trout
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Billy McMahon, one of Australia’s silliest prime ministers, performed one of the great political gutsers when, in July 1971, he attempted to trash the then Labor opposition leader, Gough Whitlam, for visiting China.
Learning that Whitlam had met Zhou Enlai, the premier of what was called “red China” in those Cold War days, McMahon claimed Whitlam had been “played like a trout” by the communist leader.
Gough Whitlam arrives in China on July 11, 1971.Credit: John Stubbs
Hardly were the words out of his mouth when McMahon learned that Henry Kissinger, the US secretary of state, had visited Beijing four days after Whitlam, secretly arranging with Zhou for the US president, Richard Nixon, to visit the previously closed nation, too.
McMahon was mortified that Nixon – president of Australia’s greatest ally – had consigned him to the outer darkness concerning the biggest foreign policy turn-around in the second half of the 20th century.
McMahon was a stunned mullet, guffawed Whitlam’s deputy, Lance Barnard. Within 18 months, McMahon’s Coalition government was smoked trout and Whitlam was prime minister.
For the next half century, Australia prospered as trade with China grew and grew.
High-flyers Anthony Albanese, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison.Credit: Monique Westerman
Since Whitlam, prime ministers Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull all made it their business to visit China, holding their noses at its human rights record.
Every PM, that is, except our nation’s second-silliest leader, Scott Morrison.
His ham-fisted approach to fears of China’s rising influence saw the China-Australia relationship enter something approaching a freeze, complete with bans on Australian agricultural products.
This weekend, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is off to try to give the relationship a new start while commemorating 50 years since Whitlam recognised China.
And wouldn’t you know it?
Scott Morrison and conservative acolytes are doing a modern version of Billy McMahon’s exploding cigar.
Morrison was quoted in The Age this week warning Albanese that “the Chinese Communist Party could exploit his visit for propaganda purposes”. Gosh.
Peta Credlin, once Tony Abbott’s chief of staff and now a stern commentator on Sky News, suggested Albanese’s visit could be seen as “dancing to China’s tune”.
The criticism comes wrapped in a wider campaign by members of Peter Dutton’s Coalition and various radio and TV shock jocks to portray Albanese as more interested in flying the world than dealing with domestic problems.
Meanwhile, Dutton and Co deviously urge him to fly to Israel, ignoring that Israeli leaders have their hands a little full with other matters right now.
“Airbus Albo” is the term the tryhards are attempting to pin on Albanese, though it’s taking a while to get much traction.
“It didn’t take long under the previous Labor government for Kevin 07 to be known as Kevin 747 because he loved getting on a plane so much,” Coalition frontbencher Paul Fletcher told Sky News in June 22 last year.
“Now we’ve got Airbus Albo…”
At that point, Albanese had taken only two overseas trips as prime minister, to Japan and Indonesia, and was about to take a third, to NATO in Madrid, on to Paris to repair relations after Morrison had cancelled a submarines contract, and to war-struck Ukraine.
Fletcher’s moaning, in truth, was simply a re-run of a re-run.
Back in July 2014, the Australian Financial Review ran the headline “Tony Abbott ties ‘Kevin 747’s’ travel record”.
Peta Credlin and Tony Abbott.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“When Tony Abbott arrives home from India and Malaysia the weekend after next, he will have matched a record he lambasted former prime minister Kevin Rudd for barely a year ago,” the story began.
“Mr Abbott… will have made 11 trips overseas by the time of the September 7 anniversary of the election of his government.”
You might have imagined the afore-mentioned Peta Credlin could have recalled her old boss’s travel habits before she got stuck into Albanese for his frequent flying.
But no. “Sky News host Peta Credlin has blasted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for spending too much time on the ‘diplomatic rounds’ overseas rather than being behind his desk in Australia to focus on issues affecting Australians,” read a Sky story last week.
Paul Fletcher, previously one of Scott Morrison’s ministers, might also have recalled that in Morrison’s first year as PM, he’d created his own frequent flying record.
“High-flying Scott Morrison spent $1.3 million on travel in first year as PM”, shouted a headline on the SBS website after Morrison notched up 12 months.
The story, citing freedom-of-information documents, revealed Morrison had embarked “on more overseas trips in his first year in office than each of his predecessors”.
“Mr Morrison jetted off on 12 international trips, visiting 17 nations, in the first 12 months since he took office in August last year,” SBS reported. The list didn’t include the famous holiday in Honolulu.
Morrison’s office protested that “he only travels overseas when it is necessary and will deliver outcomes that benefit Australian families and businesses”.
And now it is Anthony Albanese’s turn. In his first year, he made 11 separate overseas trips, visiting 16 nations. In short, he tied with Rudd and Abbott’s reported excursions, and fell short of Morrison’s epic first-year travel.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the White House with US President Joe Biden last month.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
By the end of this year, Albanese will have made 17 trips overseas as PM, stopping over in 19 nations, some of them, like the UK, India and Fiji, counted twice, and Japan, Indonesia and the US, thrice.
It’s a large pile of jet-lag.
But it’s the lot of all modern PMs, whatever those casting for trout might pretend.
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