Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has left his home Down Under for a trip to France, Canada and the United States. While he is gone he will commemorate D-Day and meet with American President Barack Obama, who may just be his polar opposite when it comes to policy. Few Americans know who Abbott is or care, but for Australians watching at home Down Under, this trip signals a moment when their island home will be truly on the world stage and sharing the big spotlight its ally commands. It may already be one of their more embarrassing moments due in part to Abbott’s apparent propensity for making himself look foolish, and because of comedian John Oliver’s treatment of him which aired earlier this week. As the uproariously funny video has gone viral on Twitter, many Aussies may be beginning to hope that Tony Abbott will not give any cause for embarrassment when he meets with President Barack Obama.
At this point, however, there is cause for worry. Oliver’s takedown of Abbott was hilarious, but it was also an accurate portrayal of Abbott’s frequent gaffes. One is Abbott’s exclusionist immigration policy, which would have many asylum seekers and refugees put in refugee camps indefinitely rather than process them. The skit points out that the prime minister is himself an immigrant and was born in England. It also contains clips of him insulting women, gays and his own soldiers. There is also a clip where Abbott seems to have had a spaced out moment where all he does is stand and nod at a reporter, who had asked him a question, for an uncomfortable and awkward amount of time. What do Australians think of their leader? A clip with a school-aged child notes that the kid’s mother calls him “Tony Dum-dum.” After Oliver’s skit, many Americans may be thinking that as well.
While Oliver’s satirical news program pointed out the funny and cringe-worthy aspects of Tony Abbott’s career, it also pointed out one substantive fact that Americans will immediately understand. At the beginning of the clip, the narrator points out that Abbott is a “hard line right-wing prime minister who rose to power promising to be pro-business and religiously anti-immigration.” American viewers will automatically understand from that description that Abbott has a lot in common with Republicans and conservatives, which are a wing of politics typically associated with buzzwords like “pro-business” and “anti-immigration.” Viewers with even a small amount of knowledge of American politics would be able to understand the connection between the Republican party and Tony Abbott’s beliefs. If they looked a little closer, they would also realize that Abbott denies the existence of climate change and believes in downgrading his country’s medicare system and social services with policies and ideology that put him even more firmly on the American right. His official party affiliation may be the Liberal Party in Australia, but in American terms he is as far from liberal as a politician can get.
That is the political stance that Abbott brings with him on his visit to the United States, which puts him at odds with the American President. One of the biggest issues of the moment is climate change with Obama announcing his new plan. This would seem to be at odds with the Abbott government’s policies which involve not only the denial of climate change, but the discontinuation of most of the government’s programs regarding the issue. Not only has Abbott promised to scrap the carbon tax, a key measure put in place by his predecessors, but he has ended funding for research into climate change and has cut science funding for Australia overall.
On top of this domestic anti-climate change policy, Australia is also setting the agenda for the G20, an international body composed of 19 of the world’s biggest economies and the European Union. Tony Abbott has already signaled that the agenda for this year’s forum will probably exclude climate change in accordance with his government’s current ideology, stating that the G20 was primarily about economics and trade. His understanding of the agenda of the G20 may be at odds with that of the American president, who is expected to ask that climate change be placed firmly back on the agenda. Most Americans probably do not know who Tony Abbott is beyond John Oliver’s video, or maybe even not at all, but anyone who cares about climate change should pay attention to what Australia is doing in the G20.
Overall, Australia is a minor country that is not much on America’s radar. Despite this, America is hugely important to the Land Down Under and good relationships with one of the world’s superpowers is the role of leaders like Tony Abbott to cultivate. Embarrassment is not the way that Aussies want to be known to the world, so there is a certain amount of anxiety that goes along with this trip. The two leaders are almost polar opposites on many issues, especially their stances on climate change, but hopefully they can work together in a constructive fashion. Nevertheless, many Aussies are skeptical of their so far disappointing international representative, and his appearance on John Oliver has not helped bolster their confidence. They will simply have to wait for the actual meeting of Tony Abbott and Barack Obama to see what happens and whether Oliver will have another clip for his show.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury