When a man as spineless as Turnbull has to negotiate with someone as cut-throat as Trump, Australians should be very worried. In his much-publicised gaffe, if Sean Spicer had referred to our PM as Mr Tremble instead of Trumble, we could have been forgiven for thinking it wasn’t even a mistake. It would describe the man perfectly.
For someone who had considerable success in merchant banking, Mr Tremble seems to have difficulties making deals without giving out major concessions. I make this comment based on his complete capitulation to the ultra conservatives in his party and his inability to make deals with either the Nationals or the cross bench, without giving up everything he stood for.
I am not actually planning on writing much about Donald Trump’s policies on this site, as they are being breathlessly analysed all over the world. However the revelations of the conversation between Trump and Tremble over refugees were frightening. I am far from the only person to be concerned with how this conversation panned out, but there was one significant aspect of the discussion that I thought might have raised more concern than it did.
Now I don’t for one minute disagree that these detainees that our government has imprisoned for years are our responsibility. There is no consistent economic, humanitarian or border protection reason for keeping them imprisoned any longer. I would like to see them brought to Australia, but given that seemed unlikely, I was cautiously in favour of the agreement struck with the Obama administration. But although it seemed to capture the majority of attention and coverage in relation to this issue, the fact that this deal seemed in jeopardy once more was not my biggest concern.
I also wasn’t completely surprised by Tremble’s silence in a time when many other world leaders were speaking out about the unconscionable travel ban. Aside from not wanting to upset the far right of his party, perhaps he felt he could handle the condemnation, if that was what it took to rid himself of the serious political difficulties his government faces over refugees (remember when New Zealand offered to take several hundred of them and Dutton rejected the offer). After all, we have already seen Tremble appears to value his job above anything resembling his values or his dignity.
But it wasn’t going to be that easy. President Trump has made it quite clear he is very unhappy about accepting any refugees, describing them with his typical lack of class as “the next wave of Boston Bombers.” Yet as I write this the deal lives on. One wonders why. There has been some discussion and analysis suggesting it may still go through, which makes Trump’s bluster look more like a deliberate bargaining strategy. Sickening as it sounds, they were basically haggling over the fate of these asylum seekers the way we haggle over the price of a used car.
By publicly slamming the agreement, Trump could be preparing the ground to ask for something more in response, whether it be now or in the future. Reportedly this may include military activities, such as a freedom of navigation exercise in the South China Sea. This is what really alarms me. Surely our Prime Minister would not put Australian servicemen’s lives in danger and at the same time antagonise China just to rid himself of a domestic political trouble? Would he?
What scares me is that it isn’t even hard to believe that he would. The Coalition has a strong recent history of relying on ‘national security’ to deflect attention from their incompetent management of the economy, backwards social policies and outright corruption. According to the then US ambassador to Australia, Tremble’s predecessor, Abbott was reportedly itching to send soldiers to Syria a few years ago too. For someone as notoriously bad at making deals to be using our military as a bargaining chip is not just an affront to the courage and dedication of our servicemen. It is downright scary.
Recent history may have tied our foreign policy to the United States, but as Trump has bluntly showed, we are entering a new era of realpolitik and we must ensure Australia is making foreign policy decisions in the nation’s best interest. With our American ally increasingly erratic and unpredictable, Australia cannot assume action taken today will mean anything tomorrow. It would be irresponsible and foolish to anger a regional neighbour as important and powerful as China, especially with Trump showing no sign that we can rely on American support in anything that does not benefit the USA.
I should add that the Prime Minister has actually come out publicly and said there will be no quid pro quo, but he has said a lot of things and not many people place much faith in his words. This was most likely already a bargain of some sort- remember we paid Cambodia several million dollars to settle three refugees in 2015. The question is whether the terms of the deal have shifted further in America’s favour. If America does end up resettling some of these unfortunate human beings, and then sometime down the track our soldiers are committed to a conflict that has little bearing on our national interest, we give political support the USA at cost to our own multilateral relationships, or we agree to favourable trading conditions for our larger ally; it would not be hard to believe the two events were connected.
The refugees in offshore detention are not a problem for Australia. They are a problem for the Coalition government though. Allowing them into this country would actually be of benefit both from a financial perspective and our international reputation. As such, for our Prime Minister to make concessions at the cost of the Australian people for purely his own and his party’s benefit is morally indefensible.
To borrow a line from Andrew O’Keefe, the words Tremble needs to remember are, “No Deal!”