Scott Morrison had a successful visit to Washington last week. It is no mean feat for an Australian prime minister to be the guest of honour at a state dinner at the White House – let alone so soon after taking office, and with this particular President.
Perhaps Donald Trump was predisposed to like Morrison. After all, Trump likes conservatives, he likes winners, and he likes people who like him. The American press has cast Morrison in the Trump mould, which is incorrect, but which no doubt flatters the President.
Morrison used these facts to his advantage. Other leaders have been burned by exposure to Trump, whether they were sycophantic (like former British prime minister Theresa May) or standoffish (like Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel).
Morrison played up the things he has in common with Trump and played down the things on which they disagree. He also learned a lesson from the disastrous first phone call between Trump and Morrison’s predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, and made no difficult requests of this notoriously transactional President.
This was the right course for Morrison’s first visit to Washington. But now that that rendezvous has been kept, it may well be time for Morrison to ask something of Trump. We believe Morrison should think big, and ask the President to invite Australia to join the Group of Seven nations – the G7.
This may seem like a crazy idea, especially to Australians who habitually talk themselves down. It is true that the G7 comprises many of the world’s richest and most powerful nations: the United States, Germany, Japan, France, Britain, Canada and Italy, as well as the European Union.
But a coherent argument can be made for Australian membership of the G7. Australia is a significant power with regional and global interests. Its economy is the 13th largest in the world and Australia’s people are among the richest. Australia would plug a gap in the membership of the G7, which has five European members (including the EU) but only one in the Asia-Pacific, the most dynamic region in the world.
Australia has smart diplomats and a capable military. And Australia has always pulled its weight as a global security contributor – from the Dardanelles and North Africa in the world wars to East Timor and Afghanistan in recent decades. The same can be said about Australia’s contributions to the international economic order.
The G7 was created in 1975 (originally as a G6 – Canada joined in 1976) to respond to the recession caused by the oil crisis. Russia joined in 1997 but was kicked out in 2014 after its illegal annexation of Crimea. While the original purpose of the G7 was economic, it quickly acquired political functions and influence, and today it addresses a wide variety of issues, with other countries and international organisations attending on an ad hoc basis. At the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, Morrison represented Australia at the G7 meeting in Biarritz in August on a one-off basis.
The G7 needs to define its role in world politics. The G20 is more representative than the G7, and it is focused wholly on the global economy. The G7’s unique persona is that of a forum for free nations committed to democracy, liberal economics and human rights. The G7’s leaders should work together to uphold these values in the face of rising authoritarianism.
Threat of Russia's return
This vision is threatened by the possible return of Russia to the G7. When Russia was invited to join the G7, it was an emerging democracy. Today it is an authoritarian state. Australia’s system of government and its many contributions to the rules-based order make it a better fit for the G7. Trump has little appreciation for a club of democracies, but he does like Australia and Morrison. He may be tempted to say yes for this reason alone.
If Australia made a formal request, it would also force a larger discussion among the members about the G7's future: does it want to be a rich man’s club with no purpose, or does it want to be a forum for democracy and freedom? Australia’s request would not preclude membership for other democracies, including India, South Korea and Mexico, and indeed it may make further expansion more likely.
In 2020, the US will host the annual G7 summit. President Trump has mused that one of his golf resorts in Florida may serve as the venue. At a minimum, Australia should be invited to attend that meeting as an observer, as it was this year. But permanent membership should be the larger goal.
Sure, making such an ask of Donald Trump would demonstrate chutzpah. But, as we know, this President is no stranger to chutzpah.