Turnbull’s Meeting with Trump & the Short Time Span for Replacing Him
Trump’s agreement to meet with Turnbull this coming week (an appointment which appears to have taken longer than expected) provides an opportunity to confirm the importance of the US alliance in the context of celebrating the vital role played by the US in the defeat of the Japanese in the Coral Sea battle 75 years ago in 1942 (see press release on meeting). It also means Turnbull will obtain more photo-ops. He will doubtless also attempt to convey to the Australian electorate that his meeting with Trump reflects another acknowledgment by him of the view of right-wingers.
Following his announcement of citizenship tests, Turnbull is also now presenting his decision to control the export of gas as “an Australia first policy” ie implying a parallel with Trump’s “America first” policy. But the basis of Turnbull’s gas policy is open to serious question. In his press release it is claimed that “gas companies are aware they operate with a social licence from the Australian people. They can’t expect to maintain that licence if Australians are short changed because of excessive exports” (see Export Controls on Gas. Note that this press release is not on Turnbull’s published list). Apart from the adverse implications such an approach has for foreign investment, it also implies an autocratic government prepared to control in detail the operations of companies. How will it determine what is an excessive list of exports by a company which has concluded agreements with overseas buyers or plans to do so?
A possible alternative to export controls would be to threaten reduced grants to the states of NSW & Victoria which are preventing the development of their considerable gas reserves unless they eliminate or substantially reduce their controls on gas development. Arguably, those states are pursuing policies which are inhibiting national economic growth.
The Turnbull government could accompany such action with a major change in its policy requiring increased usage of renewable. That policy is increasing the usage of gas to replace the reduced usage of coal. Such action could draw on the recent attached article by highly regarded Canadian economist Ross McKitrick, who argues that “the same computer models that say global warming is a problem also say that Paris will not fix it. If one were to graph the standard warming projections over the next century with and without Paris, the two lines overlap almost exactly. Whatever greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration we would have reached in the year 2100 without Paris, we will reach it shortly thereafter with. For all its costs, the Paris treaty will have almost no effect on global warming, and by depleting global income it will make it harder for countries to adapt and innovate in response to whatever changes occur. Thus not only does Paris not solve the problem, it arguably makes it worse”.
More generally, the question remains as to whether any apparent move to the right by Turnbull would be sufficient to restore the Coalition’s and Turnbull’s polling. In his latest assessment as a Dis-Con, John Stone repeats his view (with which I agree) that a Coalition with Turnbull as leader will not be electable even two years hence and concludes that by mid-year a new leader must be elected if there is to be a chance of an election win. He suggests that a new leader would produce a stream back into the Liberal voting camp which would “become a flood were the new Leader to be Tony Abbott, but anyone from the Right (Peter Dutton?) will still move many Dis-Cons back to their former fealty” (see full text of assessment published in Spectator in the first attachment). It is certainly close to a tipping point for establishing a newly elected leader of the Coalition.
Defence Against Missile Attacks
In a radio interview Turnbull has responded to the threat by NKorea that it is prepared to attack Australia with a nuclear missile by indicating that, while “their threats can appear to be theatrical and over the top and the subject of satire”, the government “takes the threat … very, very seriously.” He acknowledged, however, that “Australia right at the moment does not deploy a THAAD – this is the anti-missile system that is being deployed in South Korea” –and “does not …see the need to do so”. Our present policy is to support “extensive sanctions, economic sanctions, which are designed to bring North Korea to its senses and urging North Korea’s neighbours to bring its considerable leverage to bear on North Korea to change its ways”. He acknowledged that this “ has not been enough to date because … the reckless threats and conduct by the North Korean regime has continued.”
The apparent speed in NK’s development of missiles does not appear to have reached or be about to reach a serious threat. Indeed, the most recent trial resulted in an almost immediate disintegration of the missile. But bearing in mind that missile threats could also come from other countries either directly or from their submarines, serious consideration needs to be given to how to handle the potential threat in the future. An ASPI expert has pointed out to me that even the US does not have a missile defence system and we could scarcely afford to install one in the near future. He refers to a paper published by ASPI a few years ago which discusses the issue and most of which, he says, is still relevant (https://www.aspi.org.au/publications/ballistic-missile-defence-how-soon,-how-significant,-and-what-should-australias-policy-be ). For the present we presumably have to rely primariy on our alliance with the US, which appears currently to be having some success in persuading China to modify its hitherto “friendly” relations with NK. This is a matter which Turnbull could raise at his meeting with Trump.