Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s state visit to the US last month was more than pomp, ceremony, and bathing in the legacy of the late president Theodore Roosevelt, whom Morrison admires. True, his host, incumbent President Donald Trump, pulled out all the stops, including an al fresco state dinner at the White House on September 20. But a more long-term and more important event was the two leaders’ jointly opening a paper mill in Ohio owned by Pratt Industries, of which another prominent Australian, billionaire Anthony Pratt, is executive chairman.
During his visit Morrison vowed that Australia would “pull its weight” when it comes to military cooperation, including in Afghanistan and patrolling the Strait of Hormuz.
During a major foreign-policy speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on September 23, Morrison told the audience that he was pulling his nation out of its self-imposed isolation in the same way his hero, the maverick “rough rider” Theodore Roosevelt, catapulted the young United States into being a world power.
Trump can give as much flattery as he receives, as he did with Morrison, whose visit to the While House included an official welcome on the South Lawn with full military honors, a joint news conference and an outdoor state dinner also attended by other big Australian names: the country’s wealthiest woman, Hancock Prospecting mining mogul Gina Rinehart; News Corp heir Lachlan Murdoch; Anthony Pratt; and of course golf legend Greg Norman.
The pomp and fanfare for Morrison at the White House was not merely an exercise of US-Australian friendship but Trump viewing Australia as an indispensable political-military partner for his overriding policy objective of getting US soldiers out of the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
During his speech in Chicago, Morrison did back off from joining Trump’s trade war with China, noting that Canberra has a trade surplus and a free-trade agreement with Beijing.
Morrison was also showered with American carrots in the form of a joint visit with Trump to open a US$500 million Pratt Industries recycled-paper mill in Wapakoneta, Ohio.
The mill, which uses 100% recycled paper and will serve the bottling plants of Cincinnati, Ohio-based Proctor & Gamble with its 300 new jobs, has already transformed the sleepy central Ohio town famed as the birthplace of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Trump highlighted that the paper plant marks a return of manufacturing to the US.
The Wapakoneta paper mill, which is struggling to fill factory jobs starting at $60,000 a year, is benefiting from ultra-cheap recycled cardboard paper derived from an import ban by China, the world’s largest purchaser of raw recyclables.
Not only is Trump seeking an Australian military contribution, but he wants Sidney-based Macquarie Group to co-invest tens of billions into US infrastructure as part of his administration’s much-touted $1.5 trillion fund to rebuild America’s roads, airports and utilities.
Sidney-based highway operator Transurban is already the operator of 495 toll roads in northern Virginia, while Macquarie is actively seeking to take over US airports, such as Chicago’s Midway airport and/or the soon-to-be-privatized St Louis Lambert International Airport in Ferguson, Missouri.
The urgent need to privatize US water utilities has come to fore after the water-poisoning scandal in Flint, Michigan, and was the basis of many confidential discussions with local public officials by French water giant Suez during the annual WEFTEC (Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference) in Chicago.
The Australian-US economic partnership does not end on American shores but can be expanded abroad, David Bohigian, acting president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), said ahead of the White House state dinner on September 20.
Bohigian, whose agency was to become on October 1 the United States International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) headed by Adam Boehler, has up to $60 billion to co-finance private-sector investments in the strategic markets of MENA (Middle East and North Africa), Africa and Central Asia.
Bohigian said that immediately after the dinner he was scheduled to speak with Macquarie on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) about possible co-investments with the IDFC.
A potentially transformational Middle East peace-making, private-sector investment could be financing Amman-based Nino Group to spearhead a long-discussed Dead Sea-Red Sea desalination and freshwater reclamation mega-project involving Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian National Authority and Saudi Arabia.
Nino Group chief executive officer Gharib Nino was the key contractor in building the Greg Norman-designed Ayla Golf Course in the ultra-luxurious Hyatt Regency Aqaba Ayla Resort in Jordan with Palestinian billionaire Sedih Masri and Chicago billionaire and Hyatt chairman Tom Pritzker.
Nino said one the hardest tasks in creating Ayla was the year spent removing mines from the former no-man’s land left over from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.