Scott Morrison and Donald Trump (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Time now for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to begin his own pivot to the new US President Joe Biden.

Biden to Morrison maybe not so much. He doesn’t need to.

“We will repair our alliances” said the incoming president in his inauguration speech a few hours ago.

One of the few alliances he doesn’t need to repair is that with Australia, which flourished under his predecessor thanks to the efforts of Morrison and the previous Australian ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey.

(Hockey has already been desperately executing his own personal pivot, rushing to the papers with glowing praise of Biden after only recently publicly backing Trump’s election fraud claims).

However Morrison continues to be testy about his close personal relationship with Trump, which culminated in December with the president bizarrely awarding the PM the Legion of Merit.

Yesterday the PM once again refused to call Trump out for inciting the recent Capitol riots, even while Trump loyalist Senator Mitch McConnell was doing exactly that in Washington.

Morrison was obviously particularly sensitive yesterday as Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese had issued a lengthy speech on the US relationship, accusing Morrison of “pandering” to Trump and outlining his vision for future strong ties.

Morrison and other coalition MPs rightly noted that it’s the job of every Australian government to maintain close ties with whomever occupies the White House. Even Malcolm Turnbull was desperate to get close to Trump when necessary despite their obvious antipathy toward each other.

The PM is also correct in saying recently that the relationship will be more about “continuity than change” under the new administration.

On the key issues of security, defence, relations with China, and building up the Quad with Japan and India, there will be only closer cooperation between the two nations.

This will be helped by the fact that key figures in the new Biden administration served under president Obama and already have strong relationships with Australia.

This begins with new Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and in particular Kurt Campbell in the newly created national security role of coordinator of Indo-Pacific affairs.

And given the first priority of President Biden will be addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, he will no doubt be looking to Australia as a good example of how best to handle the crisis.

One area of obvious discord between the two nations is the issue of climate change, which is a focus of President Biden.

One of his first moves today was to rejoin the Paris Agreement. Although Australia has remained in the agreement, our government’s dismal efforts on climate policy will now make us a target for renewed global pressure.

Just as crucial for Australia though will be the economic direction of the US, the so-called engine room of the world economy.

Wall Street certainly added its endorsement to the new president, setting new records overnight in the biggest inauguration day rise since Reagan’s second swearing in.

Markets have welcomed respected former federal reserve chief Janet Yellen taking on the crucial role of treasury secretary. She is expected to reverse the efforts of the Trump regime to roll back post-GFC financial and banking regulations like the Dodd-Frank laws.

Perhaps Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg should take note as he tries to unwind responsible lending laws here.

Ironically one of the first flashpoints between the two nations could be over the obscure issue of making US tech giants like Facebook and Google pay Australian news providers for their content. The proposed Australian law has already attracted negative attention from the incoming Biden team.

But while there might be some personal pivoting needed, the overall direction of US-Australian relations will remain strong — even if the new president might need to focus on others like NATO to start with.

It won’t be punishment for Morrison’s warm embrace of Trump — Joe Biden has been around politics long enough to understand pragmatism. There are simply other alliances which have been severely undermined by Trump and his dictator friends.

There is one Australian who might struggle with his pivot though: Joe Hockey, with his fledgling Washington lobbying business. Does anyone want advice from a used treasurer, ambassador and Sky News correspondent who once played golf with Trump?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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