For most of us mere mortals, mastering the art of the deal is a pointless exercise, since even those whose profession it is to represent the interests of their countries in Trump’s Washington have grave difficulties finding their feet. At times it seems that the rulebook of diplomacy is rewritten these days, and even diplomats representing governments closely aligned with the US are feeling the cringe nowadays.
Scott Morrison, with his sharp political instincts and his occasional personal charm, knows full well that the president admires three qualities in a leader more than anything else; he loves winners, holds conservatives in high esteem and praises those who flatter him. Having won the recent federal election back in May, Morrison has turned out to be a winner, and has proven his conservative credentials as well. A bit of flattery in the national interest will come naturally to Australia’s PM and can be explained away easily back home, since an overwhelming majority of Australians firmly believe in the importance of the alliance with the US, and this despite most of them holding Trump in low regard. Morrison might be one of the few Western heads of government who know how to handle the US President on a personal level; at least, he is unlikely to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor Turnbull. Getting the red carpet treatment in Washington proves that his charm offensive has been working thus far, and Morrison is keen to repay Trump for his hospitality. Even so, the alliance between the two countries may once in awhile hit a roadblock, nonetheless. Growing Chinese influence in the region and beyond could force Australia to be more assertive in its foreign policy toward the US in the future, even though the country will do what it can to avoid having to choose between the two powers; indeed, the national security architecture in Australia would make such a choice difficult if not all together impracticable. Whilst Morrison’s current rhetoric on China should not be overstated, it is not helpful, and may end up alienating Australia’s business community even further from the Coalition government. Recently, cracks have emerged between the government and the business sector in relation to climate change. Almost somewhat ironically, Australian businesses have criticized the government’s perceived failure to act more decisively on this globally vexing quandary of our times. Choosing John Howard’s long serving chief of staff, NSW Senator and minister in both the Abbott and Turnbull governments Arthur Sinodinos to do the diplomatic heavy lifting in Washington is a wise choice; Sinodinos is widely respected across the board, and has the personal temperament and professional experience to build bridges over troubled waters. As Australia’s new embassador to the US, he will be a tremendous asset for the government.
I first stumbled upon Arthur Sinodinos quite a few years back as he was frequently debating Labor’s Andrew Leigh on the ABC. What set the two men apart from the usual Canberra shitchat was not just their supreme expertise on everything economic, but also their style of engagement; in spite of representing opposing sides in federal politics, they encountered each other with great mutual respect and personal warmth. Both politicians were so markedly different from what I was used to that I have followed their respective careers from afar ever since.
Sinodinos was born to Greek immigrant parents in Newcastle, New South Wales in 1957. After attending the University of Newcastle obtaining a Bachelor of Commerce with Honours, he joined Australia’s public service by first working in the Department of Finance before moving on to the Department of the Treasury. As he would later profess on numerous occasions, the prevalent intellectual climate at the time in both institutions, stressing deregulation, privatization and free trade, had a huge formative impact on him. Sinodinos worked as a staffer for John Howard during his first stint as leader of the Liberal Party, returning to Treasury following Howard’s demise in 1989. When Howard reclaimed the top job in his party in 1995, Sinodinos rejoined his office, working for Prime Minister Howard as his chief of staff from 1996 until 2006. Even though Sinodinos was seen as having been one of the most powerful man in Australia during his tenure in the PM’s office, he managed to fly largely under the radar as a good staffer always should. In 2010 he was elected to the parliament as a Senator for New South Wales, and went on to serve in the Abbott government as Assistant Treasurer. It was then that things took a rather melancholy turn for him, when he was forced to stand aside from his position, resulting from an ongoing probe by NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). By late 2014 he had resigned his post in Abbott’s ministry for good. Not being vanquished for long, he became Cabinet Secretary to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in September 2015 and later Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science. As impeccable as his conservative credentials were on economics, he stood firm with the government on social reforms where deemed appropriate. Unlike many of his colleagues in the Liberal Party room, Sinodinos argued in favor of strong action on climate change. The sciences were always close to his heart. So was the moral imperative for good leadership and democracy.
Cancer is a word, not a sentence
Whenever a life threatening disease strikes, it is either triumph or tragedy, and you don’t really have a say in the matter. As Sinodinos reflects on his cancer experience and brush with death, he concedes that our bodies have a will of their own.
Having been granted a new lease on life, Sinodinos now has the opportunity to crown his public career by becoming Australia’s new embassador to Washington. Bringing plenty of maturity, common sense and experience to his new role as a senior diplomat, his appointment is an eminently sensible one.