Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Was that a future Ambassador Morrison meeting a soon-to-be again President Trump?

With an election looming in the United States and one not that far away in Australia, it’s an easy scenario to imagine.

Remembering old times, or a sign of things to come? (@ScoMo30/X)
Remembering old times, or a sign of things to come? (@ScoMo30/X)

After the week gone by, it’s pretty easy to see the world of differences that we might encounter should Peter Dutton become Australia’s next Prime Minister and Donald Trump win back the White House – and the changes this might bring in foreign policy.

Australia casting the opposite vote in the UN General Assembly, for example.

Dutton to Anthony Albanese in parliament on Tuesday: “Why did the Prime Minister make a captain’s call to Palestine’s bid for United nations membership, breaching faith with our Jewish community and decades of bipartisanship and putting us at odds with allies, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada?”

An angry phone call from the Lodge to Xi Jinping over jet flares being fired into the path of an Australian military chopper.

Dutton, also on Tuesday: “Why hasn’t the Prime Minister shown strength of character to call the Chinese president? Why can't you stand up for our country?”

Flocks of sheep still herded onto cargo ships for live export overseas without a looming deadline to end the controversial trade.

Dutton at the weekend: “This ideological and reckless decision to shut down this industry will kill country towns and jobs across regional Western Australia.”

A “no vacancy” sign with deeper cuts to Australia’s immigration rate.

Dutton on Thursday: “Problems have only worsened and now around 1.7 million people are coming into our country when building activity is at an 11-year low. Will the Prime Minister admit that his weak leadership and bad decisions over three budgets have made it harder for Australians to buy or to rent a home?”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, when defence minister in 2022 (Brett Sherriff/Department of Defence)
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, when defence minister in 2022 (Brett Sherriff/Department of Defence)

From the American side, change is equally obvious. For instance, a future Trump administration will be determined to punish China even beyond the 100% tariff announced this week on electric vehicles and solar panels. (Trump on Tuesday: “They have to do it on a lot of other products. Because China’s eating our lunch right now.”)

Perhaps, too, an expectation that Australia, as an American ally, should apply the same. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine a MAGA mindset that asks, “Why does Australia prop up China’s economy with billions of dollars worth of iron ore anyway?” Trump II could bring pressure on Australia to cut its own China trade.

Peter Navarro, Trump’s former Director of the White House National Trade Council, on priorities for the next president: “[The] glut of Communist Chinese exports in turn depresses world prices and pushes foreign rivals out of the global market – steel is a major example.”

Perhaps Scott Morrison took a spirit of bipartisan national interest along to Trump Tower on Tuesday night in a reassuring bid to persuade Trump that former Labor leader and now Australian Ambassador Kevin Rudd isn’t all that “nasty”. Rudd generously launched Morrison’s new book on Thursday in Washington, after all. But a betting market would give long odds that this was the main tenor of the Morrison-Trump conversation.

It’s not hard to imagine a MAGA mindset that asks, “Why does Australia prop up China’s economy with billions of dollars worth of iron ore anyway?”

Dutton, for his part, won’t be expected to carry towards Rudd and his position in Washington the same kind of magnanimity that Tony Abbott displayed towards another former Labor leader turned ambassador, Kim Beazley. So who knows, maybe Morrison could wind up in the job.

Abbott in 2012: “One of the treats of being in Washington was spending time with our ambassador, Kim Beazley, who is surely one of the finest prime ministers Australia never had, at least from the Labor side, and exactly the kind of representative Australia needs in a capital where personality counts” …
 

Dutton on Rudd in 2024: “If you’ve got an administration who says that they can’t work with a particular ambassador, then there’s a long history of those people being recalled.”

Much is being read in the meantime into how Trump will regard the AUKUS pact to sell nuclear-powered submarines. He might remember past disagreements with Australia over “dumb deals” signed by his predecessor, and perhaps want to put a personal stamp on the subs arrangement. Maybe by renegotiating the price tag? He regards himself as a master deal-maker, and he is obsessed with allies “paying their bills”.

All these potential reversals and challenges in policy we can infer from the experience of just a few days. This is before bringing in climate change and environment, the Russia invasion of Ukraine, technology transformation, take your pick. How long the coming four years might feel.




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