20 things I learned from the G20

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g20leaders1) It’s short. Like, Tom-Cruise-without-platforms short. For quite a few leaders, their flying time would have exceeded their time in Australia, even including the time spent sleeping. I wasn’t expecting it this huge meeting of the world’s most powerful leaders to last about as long as a Lord of the Rings director’s cut marathon.

2) It takes place right after APEC. What this means is not only that the multiple leaders who are part of both groupings can travel in a sweet VIP jet convoy, but it means that what happens at the first can totally overshadow the second. Like, oh, I dunno, if the US and China announced a completely unexpected carbon reduction deal that got the world talking about climate change ahead of a meeting whose host wasn’t exactly keen to have the topic on his agenda.

3) “Brisvegas” is officially a thing now. Oh, it’s been a nickname for years, of course. But now it’s received the imprimatur of the leader of the free world, who mentioned it during his warmup gags at UQ. I’m hoping the next step is for the world’s top bars to start serving the Brizgarita, a cocktail invented by the novelist Nick Earls that involves mixing tequila with the 1980s’ second-most popular powdery substance, Staminade.

4) We invited the Kiwis, and all they could do is gloat. NZ PM John Key boasted about how his team beat the Kangaroos in the final of the Four Nations rugby league competition. Pal, your country ain’t even in the G20, so if you want to keep getting courtesy invitations to the big kids” table, you might want to keep your country’s undoubted superiority in both forms of rugby to yourself, capisce?

5) Tony Abbott really wants that $7 GP co-payment to pass. Like, real bad. So much so that he mentioned it to eighteen fellow world leaders whose interest in the minutiae of Australian health policy presumably fell somewhere on the spectrum between polite indifference and open boredom. And then there’s Barack Obama who would have loved to introduce something very much like the single-payer Australian system, except that he couldn’t get the numbers. He, at least, knew exactly how Abbott felt.

6) If you want to deliver a stern rebuke in international diplomacy, use a junior minister. That’s why we sent Assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert to greet Vladimir Putin. However, this may backfire if the junior minister you send is a cool dude who can advise on the latest awesome bar and happening nightclubs, where to score weed without violating your diplomatic immunity, that kind of dealio. I’m not aware of whether Assistant Minister Robert is party to those kind of rad deets about Brisbane. All I know is that Putin claimed to be more tired than everyone else yesterday, and I leave it up to you to decide whether it was due to him doing jelly shots with Stewie til 3am.

7) “Shirtfronting” means different things to different people. The debate over the word’s definition, which varies according to one’s football code of choice, has at last been resolved. Some thought Tony Abbott meant the term in the AFL sense of “cannoning into”, others the rugby version of grabbing the front of an opponent’s jersey. We now know that what it ultimately meant was “present with an adorable koala“.

8) Some non-Australians like Vegemite! One of President Obama’s Secret Service agents bought a jar, apparently. Which would be great news for the Australian economy were Vegemite not already owned by an American company. Then again, perhaps the Secret Service use it to grease their sniper rifles? I’ve always thought it tastes like it’d be good for that.

9) There are other G20esque satellite groups. No shortage of groups attempt to jump on one of the world’s foremost bandwagons. Have you heard of the B20 (business) Y20 (youth) or L20 (labour)? Probably you haven’t. Then there’s the T20, which is a bunch of academics who presumably don’t realise that their acronym means cricket to just about everyone else, and my favourite, the Q20 – a group of prominent Queenslanders. Because of course no event is so globalised that Queenslanders can’t make it about being Queenslanders.

10) Queenslanders can make anything about beer, as well. Imagine – Russia’s president is about to visit your city amid geopolitical tensions resulting from his annexation of parts of Ukraine? What would a Queenslander do? Make a banner saying “Brewski?”. I like the other one in the photo too, which says “We welcome our Russian overlords”. Ah, they’re a funny bunch o’ bananas.

11) When the President enters a room, nobody sits. That’s what they say in The West Wing, anyway. Unless it’s he’s in Australia, when our press, bless them, don’t stand even while their American counterparts do. Which might seem a tad disrespectful, but I reckon there is something pretty great about the way we treat our leaders as equals. They do work for us, after all.

12) Vladimir Putin sleeps. So, he is human, kinda! Well, at least, his need to sleep is the reason he nominated for leaving early. Oh, and he has work to do. All of which sounded a lot like the presidential version of claiming a dog eating his homework after he was shunned by most of his fellow leaders over Ukraine. Still, he is very busy – those pesky neighbouring territories don’t annexe themselves.

13) There’s an international grouping called BRICS. It’s a club for developing economic powerhouses: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Or perhaps the name signifies that they get together to play Lego. After which Putin grabs everyone else’s bricks.

14) Flag-burning is still a thing. There were protests from indigenous activists, who targeted their own community’s representatives as well as the national government, they made their point, and then we have had the usual suggestions that flag-burning be made illegal. Given the extensive reporting of the protests, it remains an extremely potent way of getting attention.

15) Like rappers and Freemasons, world leaders adore silly handshakes. International relations are often underhanded at the best of times, so why not make a photo-op out of it?

16) This must have been one of the worst weekends of Kevin Rudd’s life. He was a big part of starting the G20 leaders’ meetings, and if he had won last year’s election, he would have been welcoming the world’s most powerful leaders to his home town, and unleashing an unprecedented number of high-level selfies on Instagram. So it’s no wonder he was in the Middle East, at an entirely different meeting about international relations. He said he was keeping “an eye” on the meeting, too; and probably that eye was glaring.

17) Clearly nowhere is safe from kalemania. It was the first thing we served them at the welcome BBQ. I haven’t read any reports on how many world leaders actually finished their portions of the “superfood”, though.

18) There were novelty burgers. And based on these photos, the Bad Vlad Burger looked a lot tastier than the Big Obama one. Although it’s on a Russian news website, so you can trust it about as much as you can trust that dodgy pic of the Ukrainian fighter

19) Many Brisbane residents figured that the best way to enjoy the G20 coming to town was to avoid it. The locals got an extra public holiday, and made sure to use it – some even went to Bali.

20) The really important decisions are agreed on in advance. The G20’s final communiqué cited 800 new measures that the member countries endorsed in the interests of, they claim, boosting global growth by 20%. Presumably that took up a grand total of zero seconds of their precious discussion time. So, why even meet in person when the details of the deal were sorted out in advance? Well, koalas don’t cuddle themselves!