Turnbull on Border Controls & Relationship with Trump
Turnbull’s address to the National Press Club was supposed to set out his policy agenda for 2017. Perhaps the first thing to note is that his text made no mention at all of the election of Trump as the new President of the US and the possible need for Australia to change some of its policies as the result of the major changes being implemented by Trump. This was surprising if only because of the importance of the US as a world power and our alliance with this country. But also because Trump appears to be reversing many of the major policies pursued by Obama, some of which have implications for Australia’s.
Perhaps that was because there appeared to be some uncertainty as to whether Trump would hold to the assurance he had given in his conservation with Turnbull that the US would accept the asylum seekers now on Nauru and Manus Island. Yet when, after his address, Turnbull was interviewed on 7.30 on the same day he told the interviewer ( a new man of Aboriginal descent who seems better than Leigh Sales) he had received confirmation earlier that day. He also told the interviewer that their resettlement would first be subject to a rigorous vetting by the US which, he claimed, is also true of Australia’s treatment of refugees. That this was not included in the text of his address seems passing strange as it could well mean that some of those on Nauru/Manus Island will not be accepted by the US.
Less passing strange is that the Washington Post has reported that Trump claimed the refugee resettlement deal formerly struck with Obama was “the worst deal ever”, before abruptly ending the 25-minute phone call. Trump reportedly accused Turnbull of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers” to the US, and complained that the deal was going to kill him politically. He reportedly said “I don’t want these people” while discussing the resettlement deal. This suggests that the vetting will likely to be rigorous!
Presumably reflecting also the wider controversy over Trump’s immigration policy, Turnbull did not say that Trump is adopting the same policy as Australia in “restoring integrity” to borders. Protesters in America and other countries (including Australia) have objected to the apparent temporary banning of entry from seven Middle East countries (and indefinite banning re Syria) and the resultant inclusion of some who hold US passports/visas or green cards. But such conclusions seem largely incorrect, possibly because the announcement was unclear. As pointed out by Times journalist Melanie Phillips “ Access to the US by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims will remain unchanged. The order doesn’t target people for their religion or nationality. It is aimed solely at countering the terrorist threat to America. The temporary seven-states ban allows for more rigorous vetting of individuals from those countries who are seeking entry to the US. The threat from these states is acute. Last November a radicalised Ohio State University student, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, ploughed a car into a campus crowd and stabbed people with a butcher’s knife. He was a Somali refugee who came to the US in 2014”. Phillips also refers to examples of immigration restrictions/bans under previous US governments, including Obama.
One of Trump’s Executive Orders also involves a tightening of controls on the US’s southern borders with Mexico, where Trump says he intends to strengthen the wall which covers part of the border. It is possible that Australia may at some future time tighten controls over additions to PNG residents seeking to cross the Torres Strait.
Some Other Aspects of Turnbull’s Address
It is hard to escape from Trump’s implementation of what Turnbull promised –“exciting times” – but has failed to deliver. Indeed “Essential” polling suggests that the Coalition is on a TPP debit of 46/54, with a primary vote of only 35 and the One Nation vote on 10 (see Bolt on Turnbull & Shorten). The last Newspoll had a debit of 48/52 in December. By comparison, and despite the protests which receive so much media coverage, a Rasmussen poll in the US shows that 56/34 support Trump’s policies (see Bolt on Trump). In short, Turnbull is losing ground in circumstances where “conservative” policies in the US are being supported.
Of course, it is early days and the “excitement” in the US is unlikely to last as the difficulties of implementing Trump’s policies become more apparent. But with such polling, Republican majorities in both houses are likely to run with the wolves. For Australia, Bolt and Sloan refer to the limited nature of the policies given play in Turnbull’s address. There is very little there that will attract attention from the electorate or the media.
Thus Bolt talks of Turnbull “spruiking child care and business tax cuts. He too talked of a crackdown on politicians’ expenses, but that was it … he staked out what will indeed be a big battleground until the election: electricity prices. Turnbull attacked Labor’s insane promise to triple the renewable electricity it will force Australians to use by 2030 — a promise of a 50 per cent renewable energy target costing an estimated $50 million. But the two big parties are satisfied if they just beat the other”. Sloan argues that Turnbull’s address was “ predictable, unenlightening guff. It was also gutless. Soaring rhetoric about opportunity and hand-ups doesn’t really cut it when the policy cupboard is so bare… We learnt very little in terms of any new policies from a leader who comes across as a classic insider while weirdly denying that he is a political hack. That the world may have moved on doesn’t seem to have dawned on him” (see Sloan on Turnbull).
If the Coalition allows Turnbull to continue as leader it now seems very likely that it will lose the next election and that, assuming she can attract suitable candidates, Pauline Hanson will win more seats in the Senate as well as in the Queensland elections, which could be held this year. Whether the LNP can become government in Queensland (it is currently on a TPP debit of 49/51) may depend on whether it forms a coalition of some form with One Nation, which has named 36 candidates for the next election there. Its effect at the Federal level may depend on how well it fares in Queensland but it does not seem to be a party that could help persuade the electorate to adopt the type of policies that are missing from the present Coalition ie the latter needs to dramatically lift its policies by changing leaders asap.
The Coalition’s “missing” policies include workplace relations (not mentioned in T’s address); defence policy (no indication by T of support for Trump’s executive order to destroy ISIS and no acknowledgement of the growing threat from extremist Islamic groups); climate change policy (no indication by T of any review of the dangerous warming thesis, of any possible reduction in Australia’s renewable or emissions targets and implied acceptance of the Chief Scientist’s extremely faulty preliminary report on the electricity sector); budget policy (T said savings on family tax benefit reductions would be spent on increased child care and gave no indication of a program of reducing middle class welfare).