It has been a tough few weeks for the Australian agriculture sector, with our beef and barley exports severely curtailed by the Chinese government, costing farmers and processing industries hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Much of the commentary has praised the Morrison government for leading the world in a COVID-19 inquiry, which triggered the Chinese trade reactions. But this government has not behaved well and it has a case to answer to Australia's exporters.
On April 18, Foreign Minister Marise Payne claimed the World Health Organisation was the wrong body to undertake an inquiry into the origins and spread of COVID-19. She said the idea of the WHO conducting the inquiry was "a bit poacher and gamekeeper". "I'm not sure you can have the health organisation which has been responsible for disseminating much of the international communications material, and doing much of the early engagement and investigative work, also as the review mechanism", Ms Payne said.
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Then on April 23, Scott Morrison backed his Foreign Minister and went a step further. Our Prime Minister said we need a "weapons inspector"-type arrangement. Imagine that: United Nations uniforms marching into China demanding access to Wuhan laboratories and demanding test tubes, computers and files be handed over. It was never going to happen, in part because the big international players - including Security Council Members China and Russia - would never support it. Each have a veto vote.
Now, the Morrison government is celebrating the decision to hold an inquiry to be led by who? The WHO, of course. Indeed, government members from the Prime Minister down are attempting to claim the credit. Say, what?
There was always going to be an inquiry. It was always going to be led by the WHO, the only international organisation with the right expertise. Further, and in the absence of the nutty "weapons inspectors" proposal, the inquiry can only be successful if China is a willing participant.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
The debate around China, COVID-19, and an inquiry has been the most immature, opportunist and reckless I've seen in the 35 years I've been closely watching politics and public policy. The global community was always going to hold an inquiry. To suggest otherwise is just plain silly.
The losers have been all those Australians who run a business enterprise dependent on a good trading relationship with our biggest export market. It didn't need to be this way.