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Abbott ready to put G20 behind him

  • 18 November 2014

My prognosis that the heat would be on Tony Abbott at the G20 was largely borne out. It was a tough meeting for him, and whatever remains of personal warmth or trust between the Australian PM and US President Barack Obama will have been diminished by its outcomes.  

Abbott’s best public moment was his closing media conference. He gave an impassioned defence of the meeting’s achievement in agreeing on a concrete, statistically verifiable plan to raise global growth by 2.1 per cent over the next few years. This strategy was essentially negotiated by Treasurer Joe Hockey and senior national officials, who also drafted a communiqué, in the months preceding the meeting. There was, apparently, nothing very controversial in this ‘Brisbane Plan’ and it was welcomed by G20 leaders and international financial agency heads.

This G20 was not a boring talkfest, however. On two important matters – climate change and Ebola - the dynamic of the meeting got out of the Chair’s control and produced outcomes clearly not to his liking. Abbott’s counter-strategy – quite successful in retrospect  – was to set media hounds running to the side-drama of Vladimir Putin. As Anglosphere leaders and journalists goaded and stalked the impassive Putin over Ukraine, Abbott – having stoked this fire assiduously over past months - stood back smiling, saying it was the Chair’s task as host to treat all participants with equal respect during the meeting, and that he had had his say on Ukraine at APEC a few days earlier.  All this distracted the media from the real story: how Abbott had lost control of the meeting. 

The real and historic drama at this G20 revolved around climate change policy, and the protagonists here were Abbott versus most leading participants. The denialist Abbott failed to keep climate change policy discussion out of the G20 meeting. 

He had had no warning of the major Obama-Xi carbon emissions reduction target agreement a few days earlier. Then he was wrongfooted by Obama’s brilliant and moving appeal to Australian youth at Queensland University on Saturday to resist the outdated thinking of their elders and the vested coal interests. Cameron supported that message the next day. The heatwave helped. Abbott and Canada’s Harper were on their own. 

Obama announced a generous US pledge of $300 billion to a UN Green Climate Fund to help developing countries to avoid going down the carbon road. On the next day, Japan’s Abe