Donald Trump has no better friend than Australia

President Donald Trump has been quick to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is unlikely to honour the refugee-swap deal negotiated with President Obama. Photo: AP

President Donald Trump has been quick to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is unlikely to honour the refugee-swap deal negotiated with President Obama. Photo: AP

COMMENT: Donald Trump has been US President for less than a week but such is his un-boundaried, orange-hued power, he is already casting a shadow over Australian politics.

He is monstrous, but also pretty useful, it turns out.

He provides cover for Australian politicians – of all stripes – to dog-whistle on protectionism, to grand-stand on border protection, and even, in the case of Fred Nile, to grasp at relevance after years of political obscurity.

But while Australian politicians try to ape him, Trump seems indifferent to our interests. 

The US State Department sent us a "Happy Australia Day" message saying "the US has no better friend than Australia", but the reverse doesn't seem to be true. He has rejected the Trans-Pacific Partnership and he looks set to reject the refugee-swap deal negotiated with his predecessor.

Treasurer Scott Morrison didn't hesitate to filch the jingoism of Trump's inauguration speech, in which the Short-Fingered One declared "America First will be the major and over-riding theme of my administration".

The slogan has troublesome connotations – America First was the name of an anti-Semitic isolationist pressure group founded in 1940, which lobbied to keep the US out of World War II. One of its chapter leaders famously branded Winston Churchill "half Jew". He didn't mean it as a compliment.

But such historical unpleasantness didn't bother Trump, and nor did it trouble Morrison, who declared on Wednesday his government would pursue an "Australia first" economic agenda.

To be fair to the Treasurer, he used the phrase when explaining that Australia would continue to pursue open trade, the opposite of the protectionism espoused by Trump. 

So why did Morrison feel the need to mimic this nationalistic Trumpian phrase? Because the government is fully aware of its vulnerability to charges from Labor that our liberalised, de-regulated, globalised economy has left the little guy behind.

That little guy, Labor intimates, is not served by the Trans-Pacific Partnership the government is pushing, despite Trump's rejection of it. That little guy will, soon enough, be voting in the West Australian and Queensland elections, and both parties need to lure him away from the false promises of One Nation. Even if it means making some false promises of their own.

Which brings us neatly to Opposition leader Bill Shorten. Unlike Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he has the luxury of being able to openly criticise Trump the man. Shorten has had the moral gumption to condemn Trump for his misogyny, calling him "unsuitable to be the leader of the free world", and "barking mad" and his comments "disgusting". Turnbull cannot go that far, although one suspects he wouldn't sit any woman he loves next to Trump at a state dinner (who would?).  

But Shorten has to be far more cautious when it comes to Trumpian jobs policy. The Labor party has a strong and proud history of protectionism. Parts of the labour movement have routinely failed their members by clinging on to the fiction that subsidising dying industries will stave off the forces of globalisation. This fiction is precisely what propelled Trump to the White House.

Trump's rhetoric about re-creating "real" jobs – by which he means male jobs, jobs making stuff you "can drop on your foot", in the words of economist Saul Eslake – provides the perfect environment for Shorten to champion the working rights of the blue-collar man who has traditionally voted Labor, but whose eye has lately been wandering.

In a speech on Wednesday night Shorten appealed to these voters by promising to uphold Sunday penalty rates. Shame he didn't say how he would be able to do so – but under the cover of a Trumpian eco-sphere, perhaps there is no longer any need.

Labor also condemned Trump's abortion "gag-order" decree on US foreign aid, the invidious and immoral stop on funds to organisations which provide the world's poorest women with reproductive choice. Labor "called upon" the Coalition to promise they wouldn't follow in Trump's footsteps, which was right-on, except no such thing has ever been threatened by the Turnbull government.

On Wednesday the US President issued an order for an "impassable physical barrier" to be built along the US/Mexico border. He said that Mexico would "absolutely, 100 per cent" reimburse the US for the wall. Mexico has repeatedly said it will do no such thing.

No matter – assertion is the new truth.

An aggressive stance on so-called border protection, of course, is the one area in which Trump can take his lead from Australian politicians. The Coalition government brought the word "illegals" into common usage in this country, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has linked Lebanese Muslim migrants to terrorism, and our border protection policy is the practical equivalent of a giant wall, albeit one that we pay (dearly) for.

But while Trump is in lock-step with us on his rhetoric on refugees, he is not going to co-operate with us on the issue, and is unlikely to honour the refugee-swap deal our government negotiated with President Obama. 

As our federal politicians scrambled to adjust and readapt their messages to the new Trumpian order, there was one shining exception.  

Modest, unassuming Gladys Berejiklian is the ultimate Trump anti-matter. She is apparently devoid of ego or vaingloriousness. She is the daughter of immigrants. She couldn't speak English when she started school. She's a hard worker, not a big talker.

She is a pro-choice woman who, upon her elevation to Premier, was questioned on the emptiness of her own reproductive fruit bowl, so to speak.

On ABC Sydney radio this week, Richard Glover remarked to Berejiklian that she was made the 45th Premier of NSW a few days after Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President.

"That's where the similarities end … please stop … please stop," she begged him.

If only we could have some more of that. 

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