Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday emphasized environmental issues and maritime sovereignty, concluding with some criticism of climate activists for using children to accomplish their political objectives.
Morrison called on the United Nations, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, to “reform and evolve to respond effectively to the challenges of the 21st century.”
He elaborated that what he really meant was the U.N. resisting pressures to abandon its core liberal democratic values and follow “the alternate path of lowest common denominator transactional relativism,” which he called a “dead end.”
“The U.N. is the prime custodian of the rules-based order,” he said. “The U.N. and its norms are central to a cooperative rules-based approach to global challenges.”
Morrison spoke at length about Australia’s approach to environmental issues, particularly oceanic issues and recycling, which he described as vitally important matters for a nation situated on what amounts to a very large island, with some 85 percent of its population concentrated on the coasts.
Some of Morrison’s talking points sounded more like a backhanded indictment of the United Nations than a celebration of its importance. For example, he spent several minutes discussing the menace of illegal fishing, which he described as an especially serious problem for small Pacific Island nations that are highly dependent on their fishing industries, and talking about how Australia is working to resolve the issue as a regional leader in partnership with countries like Indonesia. It did not sound like this was a problem anyone wanted to wait for the United Nations to identify and resolve.
“There are too many nations standing by while their nationals are thieving the livelihood of their neighbors,” Morrison said of illegal fishing. “Australia is acting not only in our own interests but helping our Pacific Island family to reduce illegal fishing.”
Although he did not challenge China directly in his speech, Morrison’s complaints about infringements against maritime sovereignty could certainly be taken as a jab at Beijing, which is the primary regional threat to such sovereignty. Chinese boats are among the worst perpetrators of illegal fishing activities, and they’re not always subtle about it.
After speaking at great length on environmental and climate issues, Morrison made what could be taken as a criticism of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and, more directly, the adults who handle her. The relevant passage in his address on Wednesday closely paralleled comments he made Tuesday on Thunberg’s appearance at the U.N.
“We must respect and harness the passion and aspiration of our younger generations, and we must guard against others who would seek to compound or, worse, facelessly exploit their anxiety for other agendas,” he said.
“We must similarly not allow their concerns to be dismissed or diminished, as this can also needlessly increase their anxiety,” he added. “What parent would do otherwise?”
“Our children have a right not just to their future, but to their optimism. Above all, we must let our children be children. Let our kids be kids. Let our teenagers be teenagers while we do the work positively together to deliver the practical solutions for them and their future,” he urged.
Morrison’s speech also chastised climate change activists for undervaluing Australia’s environmentalist actions, lamenting that critics “willingly overlook or ignore our achievements” because “the facts simply don’t fit the narrative they wish to project.”