Around the World in 11 Days: The Prime Minister's Overseas Visit
After meeting with the leaders of four different countries, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has now returned to Australia from his round-the-world trip.
While the Prime Minister himself has hailed his tour a success in bolstering trade and security ties and highlighting Australia’s place on the world stage, this recent trip has attracted a sharp response from some commentators with many critics instead choosing to focus on the prime minister’s shortcomings and blunders.
Abbott commenced his tour with a stopover on Batam Island where he met with his Indonesian counterpart President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. This talk was the first of its kind since reports that Australian spies had been targeting the phones of the President and senior government officials surfaced in November 2013. With both parties agreeing to finalise a code of conduct on intelligence-gathering in the near future, the meeting represents an important step towards repairing ties between Australia and Indonesia which had sunken to a near all-time low.
In Normandy Abbott joined French President Francois Hollande and other European heads of government such as British Premier David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the official commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Accompanied by seven Australian D-Day veterans Abbott also visited the Western Front as part of the Anzac centenary, paying tribute to the Australian troops who served their between 1916 and 1918 and honouring the 46,000 soldiers who lost their lives.
Leaving Europe Abbott then arrived in Ottawa where he met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for formal talks. During his visit Abbott referred to Canada as a “likeminded partner” with great similarities, both countries being “multicultural resource-driven federations”. However what will probably be best remembered about Abbott’s visit is his slip of the tongue when he accidentally called Canada “Canadia” creating his very own Bushism. The Prime Minister’s slip quickly went viral with “#Canadia” trending on Twitter, causing a great deal of amusement.
Abbott commenced his US visit with a stop in New York where he met Australian and American business leaders with the aim of promoting Australian trade and business relations. One of the major issues that emerged from Abbott’s meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington was climate change, arguably an area of difference between the two leaders. While Obama has made clear that he sees climate change as a legacy for his second term in office, Abbott has continuously indicated that he does not view the fight against global warming as a top priority. Although the discussions on the matter under the heading of “energy efficiency” more or less ended with an “agreement to disagree”, the topic is likely to be on the agenda again for the upcoming G20 Summit in Brisbane this November.
Finally, Abbott completed his visit to the United States with stops in Houston Texas and Peal Harbour Hawaii. However the end of the Prime Minister’s trip was largely overshadowed by the renewed outbreak of violence and unfolding of events in Iraq. During a media conference before he left Texas, Abbott reaffirmed that Australia will work closely with the US before deciding what to do. Highlighting the seriousness of the situation in northern Iraq, Abbott pointed out that this was “not only a humanitarian disaster”, but also “a security disaster for the Middle East and the wider world” with the risk of Iraq becoming a terrorist state. Meanwhile Obama announced that the US was reviewing military options short of sending ground combat troops to counter the insurgency.
Having now returned to Australia, it remains to be seen how successful Abbott’s visit abroad was in contributing to his twin goals of bolstering trade and security ties and promoting Australian business overseas.
Eva Brockschmidt is an intern at the Australian Institute of International Affairs National Office. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.