Friday, February 3, 2017

Today by Elle Hardy

Australia is struggling to come to grips with the radical new disorder


As Malcolm Turnbull continues to learn, democratic politics is a deeply humiliating spectacle. While Turnbull was probably yearning for a phone call with President Trump akin to Kevin Rudd’s apocryphal schooling of Dubya, our proud PM’s rebuke by an even more formidable ego will see him subject to days of analysis ahead of the first Newspoll of the year and the resumption of parliament next week.

After Ambassador Joe Hockey held high-level meetings in Washington, Trump has today said that the refugee deal is on – but subject to “extreme vetting”. As analysts begin to wonder what Trump may ask for in return, it is clear that the new president’s disregard for diplomatic convention and for the warmth of our longstanding relationship will see the issue of the US alliance dominate the foreign-policy debate here in Australia.

Historian James Curran notes that the incident is “unprecedented” (get used to that word) in Australia–US relations, and believes that Canberra must recalibrate its expectations immediately. Bob Carr, a proponent of stronger ties with China, has been quick to describe the phone call [possible paywall] as a “damn healthy thing for Australia”. Paul Keating has been pressing the issue too, telling the Australian [possible paywall] last December that when it comes to matters in Asia “the US cannot be the framer and the security guarantor”. He continued, “I do not believe US strategic hegemony in Asia is sustainable in the face of the development of China as a great industrial state.”

Making a pivot towards China may have its benefits, but the ANZUS alliance gives us a security guarantee that enables us to spend far less on our military, and have access to greater resources, than we would under an independent foreign policy. This might leave staunch proponents of the US alliance, such as former ambassador to the US Kim Beazley, in a bind, as it’s not something they will want to flag to Trump. He routinely criticised the underwriting of militaries in both NATO and Asian countries during his campaign last year.

The issue is all the more pressing as the Guardian today dug up a podcast from only months ago where Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, said there was “no doubt” that the US and China would be fighting a war over the islands in the South China Sea within the next ten years.

Bannonology appears to have overtaken Kremlinology as the sport of pundits, but it’s impossible to shrug off the words of Trump’s top adviser, who was present on the Turnbull phone call, and appears to be working hard to shape Trump’s instincts into a more coherent ideology.

In the face of such a radical and cantankerous new order in Washington, Australia’s stance towards the two giants ought to be firmly settled. But perhaps the first question is whether our current parliament is even capable of facing up to it.

Today’s links

  • The plight of refugees second to politics, as always, it’s not just the US that has dictated terms to us this week. The government of Nauru has said it will not allow a pregnant asylum seeker to be transferred to Australia for her potentially life-threatening delivery.
  • The High Court has officially ended the parliamentary career of former One Nation senator Rod Culleton, with his seat remaining vacant until there is a recount in WA.
  • Teenager Dylan Voller, whose treatment in juvenile detention sparked a royal commission, has been released to an outback rehabilitation program.
  • One of the AFL’s top players has said he is prepared to go on strike as negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement with the game’s governing body drag on. Would the modern Labor Party support such a move?
  • Finally, as the world can’t look away from the man, Donald Trump’s doctor has revealed the secret to his distinctive hair.

Elle Hardy

Elle Hardy is an Australian journalist based in the United States. She can be found at


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