Given the turbulence Scott Morrison has faced at the opening of his short peak season, all eyes were on Saturday’s G20 “family photo” – a tradition where leaders are photographed together for a portrait on day one of the event.
If you missed the bumpy prelude to Morrison’s adventure in the Northern Hemisphere, we can quickly sum it up.
Before Morrison left Canberra, there was a brief telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron. When Morrison arrived in Rome, local evening news brought TV footage of Joe Biden apologizing to Macron for the offense caused when Australia, Britain and the United States unveiled the Aukus submarine pact.
In a lavishly choreographed relaxation, the US president told his French counterpart that he had been “under the impression” that Macron knew Australia was dumping his submarines in favor of their nuclear-powered alternative. But what a surprise.
It was clear that Biden had given a strong public reprimand. The only element that was unclear was whether he had a public crackdown on Morrison for being outreach with the French or reprimanding his own senior White House staff for failing to cope with the nuances.
Maybe it was both. At least let’s fast forward to the family picture at the G20 summit and the trembling of anticipation.
Journalists watching the live feed in the G20 media center saw Macron and Biden greet each other warmly in the front corner of the podium. In the opposite back corner, just visible, was Morrison.
There was not much small talk or yukking it in the corner of the Australian Prime Minister. It looked pretty calm out there, not much spontaneity. There was no random contact with either Biden (who may have reprimanded him) or Macron (who absolutely did). No contact at least during the public assembly.
Morrison’s office insists things were differently private. A spokesman said Morrison had mingled with Macron in the leader’s lounge just before everyone gathered for their official portrait.
Asked by reporters later in the day what he had said to the president during their private meeting, Morrison replied, “I said G’day.”
How did this meeting come about? Morrison explained that Macron had talked to someone else and he went up and put his hand on the French president’s shoulder. So intercepted, Macron was happy to exchange cozy cases. Coincidentally, the Prime Minister’s official photographer was present to capture the magical moment. Pictures were duly provided to traveling journalists as proof of the concept.
Morrison’s photographer had also captured the prime minister in the process with other leaders. Smile at Justin Trudeau. Smile at Narendra Modi. A bunch of schnapps smiles at Biden.
The interaction with Biden looked warm and natural – a step forward, perhaps given the president (in the big apartment of the Aukus revelation) Morrison referred to as “that fella down under” (which led to speculation that the president could not call the Australian prime minister’s name) .
Then there were a series of snaps of Morrison and Macron that looked… yes, less hot.
Not quite Cobargo terrifying. (If you managed to scrub Cobargo from your mind, this was the infamous involuntary handshake that the Prime Minister lured out of a local woman during the terrible bushfires of summer 2019 and 2020 – a visual stumble now an established part of Morrison’s iconography.
Not bad Cobargo.
No sign of handling and pumping without consent.
If one is mistaken for the generosity, it is even possible that the mask of the French president suffocated a smile.
But if Macron smiled, it is fair to say that the smile did not reach his eyes.