Australia: Scott Morrison is being treated to a state dinner with Donald Trump — but there are always strings attached - - PressFrom - Australia
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AustraliaScott Morrison is being treated to a state dinner with Donald Trump — but there are always strings attached

01:30  19 september  2019
01:30  19 september  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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Scott Morrison is being treated to a state dinner with Donald Trump — but there are always strings attached© Kazuhiro NOGI - Pool/Getty Images Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison chats with US President Donald Trump. This weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny travel to Washington to attend a state dinner hosted in their honour.

This isn't a standard visit. Australian PMs go to Washington all the time — they even have meals there, often with a president — but they don't all get a state dinner at the White House.

They're usually reserved only for heads of state (technically for us that's the Queen, but let's not be too pedantic).

Think president Ronald Reagan hosting prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1981 as their special relationship bloomed in the shadow of the Cold War, or Bill Clinton hosting the newly elected president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, in 1994 — with entertainment provided by Whitney Houston.

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That comes ahead of Morrison ’s trip to the United States , where he will be a guest at only the second state dinner Donald Trump has ever held. It’s going to be a delicate balance for Morrison , as it always is There is also quite a lot of criticism around the latest family court inquiry Scott Morrison

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It's been a while, as they say, between drinks.

As with almost everything written and said about Mr Morrison's visit since it was announced in July, this is the first time an Australian PM has been invited to a state dinner since John Howard in 2006. Before Howard, it was Hawke in 1989, and before him, only three others.

Why now? The past holds the answer

Given the rarity and the prestige of these dinners, it's worth asking why Morrison, and why now.

Looking more closely at these rare events gives us some significant insights into the past and future of the US-Australian alliance.

It was Republican president Richard Nixon who issued the first state dinner invitations to Australian leaders. Two Liberal PMs, John Gorton and Billy McMahon, had dinner with the Nixons in 1969 and then 1971.

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Both dinners happened in the shadow of the United States' unnecessary and extremely unpopular war in Vietnam. Australia was one of the only countries to follow the United States into that war.

It was McMahon, as minister, who had introduced the National Service Act that began conscription. In the context of both Vietnam and the broader Cold War, Nixon found staunch allies in both PMs.

Later, another Liberal prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, enjoyed not one but three state dinners. In 1976, newly installed president Gerald Ford, trying to rebuild America's image in the world after the "long national nightmare" of Nixon, found a friend in Fraser. So too did Democrat Jimmy Carter, as he was finding his foreign policy feet and somewhat complicating matters with some of the United States' other traditional allies.

President Ronald Reagan welcomed Fraser back to the White House in 1981.

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The two leaders shared an almost apocalyptic anti-communism attitude in an increasingly frightening Cold War. As Reagan oversaw an unprecedented military build-up, he found a supportive friend in Fraser and an economic ally to boot.

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Scott Morrison is being treated to a state dinner with Donald Trump — but there are always strings attached

Then, at the close of the decade, Reagan's successor, Republican president George H W Bush, hosted the first Labor prime minister to receive a state dinner invitation: Bob Hawke.

The Hawkes attended dinner in the midst of great uncertainty in the global economic and political landscape. The Cold War was still raging, showing no signs of ending. While he wasn't a fervent anti-communist like Fraser, Hawke maintained Australia's strong commitment to the alliance. Both leaders were also, no doubt, keen to shore up the official basis of that relationship, the ANZUS Treaty, in the face of its near-collapse a few years before.

It would be another decade and a half before an Australian leader would be invited back. In 2006, the Howards were welcomed to DC by the Bush family. As we have been repeatedly reminded this week, the two leaders, united by ideology and another unnecessary war, shared a warm friendship.

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We're an early bird

If we look back at this short list, a few things stand out.

US presidents tend to host Australian PMs at state dinners relatively early in their first terms, when they're still finding their foreign policy feet and are perhaps looking for a risk-free foray into the world of global politics.

Invitations to these swanky events also tend to come (perhaps with the exception of Hawke) when US presidents want to demonstrate to the world — and themselves — that they have at least one uncomplicated friend who will stand by them and say nice things, no matter what.

But most importantly, for Australia, invitations arrive during times of war: Vietnam, then the Cold War (which was in fact a hot war for much of the world), and then, decades later, Iraq. Notably, Australia did not receive a state dinner invitation between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the war on terror.

As Ronald Reagan noted when he welcomed Malcolm Fraser to the White House on the morning of June 30, 1981, "Australians have fought side-by-side with Americans in every major war in this century." And, we might add, in the next.

With that in mind, as the Morrisons prepare to board the plane to Washington while Trump escalates his rhetoric against Iran, it's worth also recalling the words of Morrison's Liberal predecessor John Gorton, at the first state dinner attended by an Australian prime minister.

In 1969, Gorton told his hosts that "wherever the United States is resisting aggression, wherever the United States or the United Kingdom or any other country is seeking to ensure that there will be a chance for the free expression of the spirit of man from himself and not from dictatorship; wherever there is a joint attempt to improve not only the material but the spiritual standards of life of the peoples of the world, then, Sir, we will go Waltzing Matilda with you."

It's Australia's historic willingness to waltz, with the United States in the lead, that usually gets Australian leaders their state dinner invitations. Morrison, like his predecessors, has shown the same willingness to dance.

Emma Shortis is a research fellow at the Social and Global Studies Centre at RMIT University.

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