When Morrison met Macron: tension in the air as G20 leaders gather for ‘family photo’

 Katharine Murphy Political editor in Rome 1 day agoLike|2‘Tycoons & celebs on leak list’ as cyber heist rocks GraffBiden says pope has brought him comfort after son’s deathPhotograph: Am Pool/Getty Images© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Am Pool/Getty Images

Given the turbulence Scott Morrison has encountered at the opening of his short summit season, all eyes were on Saturday’s G20 “family photo” – a tradition where the leaders are photographed together for a portrait on day one of the event.

If you’ve missed the bumpy prelude to Morrison’s northern hemisphere adventures, we can recap it quickly.

Before Morrison departed from Canberra, there was a terse phone conversation with the French president, Emmanuel Macron. Once Morrison arrived in Rome, the local evening news carried television pictures of Joe Biden apologising to Macron for the offence caused when Australia, the UK and the US unveiled the Aukus submarine pact.World leaders including Scott Morrison prepare for the ‘family photo’ on the first day of the Rome G20 summit.© Photograph: Am Pool/Getty Images World leaders including Scott Morrison prepare for the ‘family photo’ on the first day of the Rome G20 summit.

Related: Scott Morrison contradicts Biden’s comments on whether French were informed about Aukus

In a lavishly choreographed detente, the US president told his French counterpart he’d been “under the impression” that Macron knew Australia was about to dump his submarines in favour of their nuclear powered alternative. But quelle surprise.

It was clear Biden had delivered a forceful public rebuke. The only element that was unclear was whether he was having a public crack at Morrison for being gauche with the French, or rebuking his own senior staff in the White House for failing to manage up the nuances.

Perhaps it was both. In any case, let’s fast forward to the family photo at the G20 summit and that quiver of anticipation.

Journalists watching the live feed in the G20 media centre saw Macron and Biden greeting one another warmly on the front corner of the dais. In the opposite back corner, just visible, was Morrison.

There wasn’t much small talk or yukking it up in the Australian prime minister’s corner. It looked pretty sedate back there, not a lot of spontaneity. There was no incidental contact with either Biden (who may have rebuked him) or Macron (who absolutely did). No contact at least during the public assembly.

Morrison’s office insists things were different in private. A spokesperson conveyed that 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 encounter, Morrison replied: “I said G’day”.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1454427277777903625&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com%2Faustralia-news%2F2021%2Foct%2F31%2Fwhen-morrison-met-macron-tension-in-the-air-as-g20-leaders-gather-for-family-photo&sessionId=04e22da956cc0121ead4ae3bf579b5efa8aeb597&theme=light&widgetsVersion=f001879%3A1634581029404&width=550px

How had this rendezvous come about? Morrison explained that Macron had been speaking to someone else, and he went up and put his hand on the French president’s shoulder. So tapped, Macron was happy to exchange pleasantries. Fortuitously, the prime minister’s official photographer was on hand to capture the magic moment. Pictures were duly supplied to travelling reporters for proof of concept.

Morrison’s photographer had also captured the prime minister milling about with other leaders. Smiling at Justin Trudeau. Smiling at Narendra Modi. A bunch of snaps smiling at Biden.

The interactions with Biden looked warm and natural – an advance, perhaps, given the president (on the grand occasion of the Aukus unveiling) referred to Morrison as “that fella down under” (which led to speculation the president couldn’t summon the Australian prime minister’s name).

Then there was a series of snaps of Morrison and Macron that looked … well, less warm.

Not quite Cobargo horrifying. (If you’ve managed to scrub Cobargo from your mind, this was the infamous involuntary handshake the prime minister coaxed out of a local woman during the terrible bushfires in the summer of 2019 and 2020 – a visual stumble now an established part of Morrison’s iconography.

Not Cobargo bad.

No evidence of hand grabbing and pumping without consent.

Erring on the side of generosity, it is even possible the French president’s mask smothered a smile.

But if Macron was smiling, it’s fair to say the smile hadn’t reached his eyes.




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