Shirt-fronting a distraction from real G20 issues?

IT would be a bit of a shame if our Prime Minister's threat to shirt-front Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 overshadowed the real reason they're all in our part of the world.

Or would it?

The TV news snippets of AFL players shirt-fronting each other, and the countless memes and cartoons now viral on mainstream and social media, has amusement value for the masses but what's the real wash-up from our PM's audacity?

In pledging to "shirt-front" Putin at the leaders' summit the president might attend next month, Mr Abbott has further heightened diplomatic sensitivities in the wake of the MH17 plane shooting, which killed 38 Australians, near the Ukraine-Russian border.

But University of Queensland international relations senior lecturer Matt McDonald's research shows few Australians are engaged with foreign and international relations, so what has been viewed a gaff in global circles could prove a win domestically.

He says such comments would inevitably affect the tone of media coverage about the G20 event but he doubted the average Australian would care much about the issues - such as corruption, energy, tax and trade - they were discussing anyway.

His research suggests issues mostly like to agitate Australians are climate change - particularly not risking our economic future for global problems -and support for restrictive asylum seeker policies which did do little for the nation's international reputation.

"The Australian population's engagement with foreign policy is pretty minimal and when it is, it does really err on the side of 'what does this mean for domestic politics?'," Mr McDonald says.

"In that sense, there's an inevitability about this. That's a large part of why Abbott is making these comments in the first place. He's clearly talking to the domestic constituency rather than thinking 'how can I solve this internationally'."

Mr McDonald also points to general support for the Federal Government cutting foreign aid despite the rest of the budget deemed widely unpopular.

"It does really suggest that when Australian's do engage in international affairs, it's about protecting a particularly narrowly defined set of national interests," he says.

While there is no suggestion the pair will actually meet up at the G20 event, University of Melbourne international relations associate professor Timothy Lynch says one had to admire the Russian bravado in acting hurt over Mr Abbott's comments.

He believes Putin has gotten away with his alleged complicity in "this crime" when he could not "imagine any Australian Prime Minister getting away with this".

"It's an unusual situation in that the Russian leader is indirectly responsible, it seems pretty clear from most informed global opinions, for the death of 38 Australians," he said.

"If we inverted that and the Russian Prime Minister was responsible for the equivalent number of Australians, you're looking at several hundred to match it, you'd have more than diplomatic spat on your hands.

"What else would you expect an Australian PM to do expect to try and explain the anger of the people he represents to the man largely allegedly responsible for their murder which is what Tony Abbott has called it."

While there is a sense of the "rich club" coming to town, both men agree there should be some pride at having such an event in Queensland.

But Australians would be naïve to believe an international organisation like G20 could moralise the behaviours and actions of world leaders, Mr Lynch suggested.

He says G20 is an institution that allows its members to advance national interests on an international stage to get richer, not deal with global issues such as poverty and climate change.

Mr McDonald said while the event was historic because of the range of world leaders descending on Queensland, the discussions were unlikely to affect daily lives in any way.

"At that point, Brisbane in part will be the centre of international politics and in that sense there's an excitement about that," he said.

"They will be discussing some issues with real global consequence but location is not that important."

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