G20 goodness

Overall when I think about the Brisbane G20 I’ll think about Putin not being shirt-fronted and leaving the instant the conference was over, about president Obama putting climate change front and centre in peoples minds, deserted streets and empty cafes, masses of coppers, 6000 of them, and traffic gridlock from here to the Gold Coast as people took advantage of the long weekend.

Yes, Brisbane welcomed the pollies and thousands of journalists by getting the hell out of here.


As to Abbott’s role in the G20, Paul Syvret in the Courier Mail summed it up perfectly (thankyou John D!):

TAKE a bow ’Straya. You showed the world, when given the opportunity to shine on a global stage of grand ideas, just how small-minded and insular we can be.

Sure, we hosted a meeting of G20 leaders that went off without a logistic hitch or any ugly civil unrest or security incidents. Well done us.

The vision and inspirational leadership side of the equation though left a bit to be desired.

Less than a week after the United States and China announced a landmark agreement to tackle climate change, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott opened proceedings at the G20 summit by boasting how Australia had abandoned its carbon-pricing scheme.

He also, literally, thanked God that we have stopped the “illegal boats” – in the company of people like Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose navy earlier this year rescued more than 3500 seaborne asylum seekers in one 48-hour period.

Then for good measure, he moaned to the world’s most-powerful leaders about his failure to get a $7 Medicare co-payment through the Senate; parish pump pissantery in front of the likes of US President Barack Obama, whose administration went to the brink of international debt default thanks to a gridlocked Congress.

A columnist for the LA Times described it as “an awkward, pimply youth moment so embarrassing that it does sting”.

Australia, she wrote, is “the adolescent country. The bit player. The shrimp of the schoolyard.”

“The Group of 20 summit could have been Australia’s moment, signalling its arrival as a global player … but in all, the summit had Australians cringing more than cheering.”

Bill Shorten dubbed Abbott as “weird and graceless”.

Compare Barack Obama’s visionary eloquence, laying down the gauntlet on climate change and announcing a US$3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund. His speech if you missed it is here.

Ironically there was a point to Abbott’s whingeing about the $7 Medicare co-payment. If you ask Joe Hockey, he’ll tell you G20 was about growth, 2 trillion dollars of it, in 862 concrete proposals put forward by the G20 countries. Apparently Australia’s bright ideas for growth included wrecking Medicare and ripping 20% of funding out of our universities. Fair dinkum! Makes you wonder about the other 860 ideas!

Another point is that the ideas for growth were supposed to be ideas that the governments would not otherwise have done. However, I understand the gun went off in February in preparation for the G20 finance ministers meeting in Cairns in September. Are we really to believe that the Abbott government would have left Medicare and universities alone in the 2014 budget, but for G20?

It must be said that the Brisbane G20 was well organised from every viewpoint. The G20 Leaders’ Communiqué, 21 points in three pages of text, plus lists of supporting documents, is mercifully succinct. Of course it was written and circulated beforehand. Climate change was always going to be there (para 19) because a Climate Finance Study Group had been set up at an earlier meeting.

By the way the Abbott government does not support the Green Climate Fund, designed to assist developing countries, and apparently won’t contribute. Our share, pro rata, should be a mere $200,000 or so.

The G20 spawns a large number of sub-groups. Apart from the finance ministers and central bankers, trade ministers have met and now energy ministers will follow suit. There is a Financial Stability Board and a G20 Food Security and Nutrition Framework, for example. As a decision of this meeting a Global Infrastructure Hub will be established in Sydney to facilitate infrastructure planning.

Around the G20 sit an alphabet soup of meetings hoping to influence the G20. The B20 meeting of business leaders is inside the tent in formal collaboration with the G20. By contrast an L20 group, I gather of labour unions, is ignored. A ‘women in leadership’ group was luckier. The G20 responded by (para 9) agreeing to a goal of

reducing the gap in participation rates between men and women in our countries by 25 per cent by 2025, taking into account national circumstances, to bring more than 100 million women into the labour force, significantly increase global growth and reduce poverty and inequality.

There was also a T20 organised by think tanks. In addition there was a Global Cafe, I think organised by the Brisbane City Council, which brought together “futurists and thought leasers”.

There were plenty of protests. For example, refugee advocates released paper boats on the Brisbane River and were ignored. I think Turkey, the next host, is going to put refugees on the agenda.

Aborigines shouted angry words and burnt effigies of Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton and Warren Mundine.

The police set up formal lines of communication with groups planning to protest and facilitated how they might do it. As a result there were only 14 arrests, compared I believe with 1300 in Toronto. It was unusual to see protesters praised by police on the telly. There was no property damage.

Those who thought that Vladimir Putin was comprehensively roasted by other leaders missed an informal meeting of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) where Putin was supported and the sanctions declared illegal.

On climate change, Laura Tingle reckoned Obama delivered Abbott a lesson in power. Within the meeting according to The Age Abbott carried on like a pork chop, giving an impassioned defence of coal and opposing the goal of eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.

Enough said!

Elsewhere John Quiggin thinks hosting the G20 did nothing for Brisbane and was a waste of money. The notion that events like this “put Brisbane on the map” is silly.

I dunno! Perhaps Angela Merkel taking selfies in a Caxton Street pub will bring her many Tweet followers flocking to Brisbane!