opinion

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Anthony Albanese shows true priorities after choosing election campaigning over NATO summit

Simon Birmingham
The Nightly
(L-R) European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during the North Atlantic Council meeting with Sweden, Indo-Pacific Partners, and the EU at the NATO ​summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, 12 July 2023.
(L-R) European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during the North Atlantic Council meeting with Sweden, Indo-Pacific Partners, and the EU at the NATO ​summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, 12 July 2023. Credit: EPA

By choosing to kiss babies over national security, Anthony Albanese has reminded everyone that an election could be around the corner.

Next week the biggest security summit in years will be held in Washington, as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members meet for their 75th anniversary.

Alongside the leaders of the NATO nations are invited partners, in particular the Indo-Pacific Four: Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

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Absent? Anthony Albanese.

Reason? It depends when you ask.

On Tuesday morning, Albanese’s office said he was staying home to focus on cost-of-living pressures.

In Tuesday afternoon’s question time, he said it was because people were being mean about his travel costs.

By Tuesday night Albanese said it was because Australia isn’t a NATO member.

Scratch the surface and none of these pathetic excuses stand up to scrutiny.

Here’s a prediction. You won’t see any new Labor policies to help Australian households with the cost of living announced next week; nor any new Labor policies developed next week.

On the surface you will likely see the PM trying to show that he cares, as he engages in marginal seat campaigning with carefully staged photo ops, particularly where Labor is increasingly, desperately, fighting off The Greens.

Essentially, Albanese will be putting baby-kissing and political campaigning for the Labor Party ahead of doing the actual job of Prime Minister.

Behind the scenes, Albanese will be busy with Labor Party management. He may not be game to leave the country as he juggles the fallout from his mismanagement of rebel Senator Fatima Payman and the increasing speculation of a reshuffle to cast adrift underperforming ministers.

However, the No. 1 responsibility of any Federal government is to keep Australians and Australia safe and secure.

In the face of global destabilisation from players like Russia, Iran, North Korea and China, these are the riskiest times most of us have ever lived through.

Our security isn’t something that we do alone. At the very centre of our national security are the alliances and partnerships we have with NATO members.

This is the largest meeting of leading democracies with a focus on security. We need those nations and NATO members focused on the challenges in our region, as well as their own.

Anthony Albanese, Australia's prime minister, during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange landed in Australia for the first time in more than a decade, following a guilty plea in a US court that allowed him to return to his home country a free man after serving time in a UK prison and holing up in an Ecuadorian embassy. Photographer: Rohan Thomson/Bloomberg
Essentially, Albanese will be putting baby-kissing and political campaigning for the Labor Party ahead of doing the actual job of Prime Minister. Credit: Rohan Thomson/Bloomberg

Yet in these risky times, when partnerships matter more than ever, our Prime Minister opts for domestic politics first.

When he couldn’t deny this shockingly derelict prioritisation, Albanese and his spinners went for the sooky option, complaining that people were mean about the cost of his international travel.

Politicians’ travel costs have been scrutinised for time immemorial. It’s his job to defend doing the work that is necessary and in Australia’s interests.

Given the number of statements that I, and other Opposition members, have made about the importance of leader-level participation in NATO, the lines of defence for Albanese’s travel had already been made for him. It just didn’t suit him to use them.

So, then came the bumbling interview with journalist Sarah Ferguson on ABC’s 7.30, where he again changed tack. It’s worth reading parts of the transcript, to fully appreciate the illogical argument made by Albanese.

Sarah Ferguson: Why aren’t you going?

Prime Minister: I’m not going because we’re not members of NATO.

Sarah Ferguson: You went to the last two previous meetings.

Prime Minister: I went to the last two.

Sarah Ferguson: And said they were important.

Prime Minister: And they were and it is.

Sarah Ferguson: Other countries are sending their leaders.

Prime Minister: They are, we aren’t members of NATO.

So, there we have it. Anthony Albanese isn’t going because Australia isn’t a member of NATO.

We’ve never been a member of NATO, but he went to the last two meetings. They were important, and so is this one, but he’s still not going.

As a result, Australia doesn’t carry the influence we should have in critical discussions. Albanese also likely misses an early chance to engage with a new leader of one of our AUKUS partners, given the UK Labour leader has confirmed his attendance, just days after his predicted election win.

However, given the incoherence demonstrated in attempting to explain this decision, perhaps Australia is better off that Albanese isn’t going.

Simon Birmingham is the shadow foreign affairs minister.

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