Scott Morrison has lost no time pivoting to the incoming US administration, declaring on Sunday he hopes Joe Biden and his wife Jill will visit Australia for next year’s 70th anniversary of ANZUS.
“This is a profound time, not just for the United States, but for our partnership and the world more broadly,” Morrison told a news conference.
“And I look forward to forging a great partnership in the spirit of the relationships that has always existed between prime ministers of Australia and presidents of the United States.”
Those around Morrison say the government is already familiar with many figures in the Biden firmament, who were players in the Obama years.
Morrison also thanked Donald Trump and his cabinet “with whom we have had a very, very good working relationship over the years of the Trump administration and, of course, that will continue through the transition period.”
Meanwhile, Anthony Albanese retrospectively sought to put a less controversial gloss on his Friday comment, when he said Morrison should contact Trump and convey “Australia’s strong view that democratic processes must be respected”.
On Sunday Albanese said: “What I suggested was that Scott Morrison needed to stand up for democracy. He’s done that in acknowledging the election of President-elect Biden”.
Within Australia political attention is quickly turning to what a Biden administration will mean for the Morrison government’s climate change policies, and how Biden will handle China.
With an activist climate policy a central feature of Biden’s agenda, including a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 (which Australia has refused to embrace), Australia faces an increased risk of becoming isolated internationally on the issue.
That could have trade and investment implications, something of concern to the business community.
Morrison sought to highlight a common Australian-US commitment to technology.
He said he particularly welcomed campaign comments Biden made “when he showed a lot of similarity to Australia’s views on how technology can be used to address the lower emissions challenge.
"We want to see global emissions fall and it’s not enough for us to meet our commitments,” Morrison said.
“We need to have the transformational technologies that are scalable and affordable for the developing world as well, because that is where all the emissions increases are coming from … in the next 20 years,” he said.
“I believe we will have a very positive discussion about partnerships we can have with the United States about furthering those technological developments that will see a lower emissions future for the world but a stronger economy as well where we don’t say goodbye to jobs,” Morrison said.
Labor will use the Biden win as a springboard to ramp up its attack on the government over climate policy, including in parliament this week.
Albanese said Biden would reject “accounting tricks” like the government’s argument to be allowed to use carryover credits to reach emission reduction targets.
Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told the ABC the US result gave Morrison the opportunity to pivot on climate policy. Now was the time for him to say, “I don’t have to go on with all of the BS about a gas-led recovery, which is political piffle,” Turnbull said.
Chief of the Australian Industry Group Innes Willox said the Biden administration would place much more emphasis on climate change and energy policy.
“The commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 will encourage other economies to move down this path. We are already seeing significant steps in recent times from other major trading partners such as Japan, South Korea, the UK and the European Union.
"Australia, led by industry and investor action, is already headed this way without making a formal target commitment,” Willox said.
Willox said independent Zali Steggall’s climate change bill – with a pathway to a 2050 target – provided an immediate opportunity to move the debate forward. The bill will be introduced on Monday.
“The Bill is non-partisan. 2050 is many changes of government away, but for some industries it’s just a couple of investment cycles,” Willox said. The Steggall bill is receiving considerable business support.
Willox said the other shift of importance for Australian industry from a Biden administration would be “the opportunity for the US to re-engage with China on trade and broader economic issues.
"Efforts to take the heat out of differences on global trade through a change in tone will be welcomed but there should be no illusion that a Biden administration would seek to markedly soften the US’s stance on key issues,” Willox said.
“The risk for Australia until now has been that we have been caught up as collateral damage in the US-China trade dispute.
"The future risk is that China may seek to substitute Australian exports in key sectors with goods from the US in an effort to reset their economic relationship,” Willox said.
Asked about the prospect of the US rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Morrison said, “I think it would be very early days to speculate on those matters. I would simply say to the United States, the door has always remained open on the TPP. It is open now. It will be open in the future and you are welcome any time.”
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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