National

PM’s world travels boost him to new stage

By AAP Newswire

Scott Morrison is out looking to win friends and influence people on a global scale.

The prime minister has largely kept his head down at home in a bid to slow the rate of politics and the news cycle.

But in the few months since the election, he has kept up the kind of frenetic pace of travel that would put Kevin 747 to shame.

Over three weeks of this parliamentary winter break, he visits four countries: Tuvalu, Vietnam, France and East Timor.

He was in Japan eight weeks ago and will be in the US in four weeks' time.

Part of this is not his fault.

Summit season for the international forums Australia is involved in is usually around September-October.

But this year Japan held the G20 leaders' summit unusually early, only six months from its previous meeting.

And Australia received its first-ever invitation to attend the G7, which is usually limited to the seven economic heavyweights of France, Germany, Britain, Italy, the United States, Canada and Japan.

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to shake up the forum, saying, "the time when a club of rich countries could alone define the world's balances is long gone".

It's understood Macron sees Australia as a country that gets things done.

Although the invitation came before the Osaka G20 meeting, Macron was impressed at the way Morrison convinced that diverse set of countries to join in acting against violent extremist content on the internet.

The move fits nicely with one of Macron's aims, to make sure the internet and tech giants serve democracies and not the other way around.

The G7 was from 1997 to 2014 the G8, with Russia a partner until it was ostracised for taking over the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

This week US President Donald Trump called for Russia to be reinstated, saying he would view any such move "very favourably".

Back in January, a British think tank suggested another possibility for an eighth member of the powerful grouping: Australia.

The Henry Jackson Society ranked Australia as the eighth most powerful nation in the G20 and classified it as a "hemispheric power", outranking Russia in tenth place and labelled a "regional power".

Report author James Rogers told the Sydney Morning Herald there was a case for Australia to take the seat Russia had lost at the G8.

It could be that Trump would also view this move very favourably.

The president who loves winners has taken a shine to Morrison, particularly after his surprise election victory which Trump insisted - when they dined together in Osaka - he had foreseen.

He's invited Morrison to a formal state dinner at the White House in September, just the second world leader he's bestowed that honour on since he took office in January 2017.

The hosting duties might even extend further, with a visit to Australian billionaire businessman Anthony Pratt's new factory in Ohio reportedly on the cards for both leaders.

Imagine the friendship that could be forged on board Air Force One, should Morrison be asked to travel with Trump.

But in all his country-hopping, there is one group of people Morrison has left unimpressed: Pacific island leaders.

He arrived at the Pacific Islands Forum brimming with largesse (albeit largesse redirected from other aid programs) to help the small island nations invest in renewable energy and climate change resilience.

But the other leaders made it clear that what they really wanted was Australia to step up its own game.

Many wanted to single out coal-fired power - Australia's major generation source - for its impact on climate.

After the White House dinner in September, Morrison will head to the United Nations General Assembly, which this year includes a special climate summit.

UN chief Antonio Guterres wants countries to commit to ban new coal power plants from 2020 and become carbon neutral by 2050.

Macron is also going to emphasise at a special G7 session - one Morrison is part of - the importance of becoming carbon neutral.

That's a tough ask when there are several noisy backbenchers sitting behind Morrison who are convinced his promise of a business case study for a new coal generator in Queensland is the same thing as turning the first sod on its construction.

Climate action may prove the one area Morrison finds it tough to win friends and influence people.