What happens to Australia’s international responsibilities during the Trump Presidency?
The global consequences of the Trump Presidency are already beginning: he’s set to rip up key international trade deals, he’s signed an executive order that will jeopardize women’s health worldwide, and he’s promised to push ahead with building that wall.
But there’s another repercussion of Trump’s leadership that we need to be more conscious of locally: the influence his decisions and actions have on the Australian government’s own responsibilities internationally.
Sure, we expected Trump to shake things up quickly on international issues like the environment and climate change. It took less than two days for his team to erase all mention of climate change on the White House website. Barack Obama’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement vanished from sight only to be replaced by Trump’s own novel concept of ‘An America First Energy Plan’. A policy predicated on the revival of America’s long-forgotten coal industry. This action was hardly surprising for a man who once tweeted that: ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S manufacturing non-competitive.’
What we didn’t anticipate however, was the effect this would have on Australia’s own environmental stance. Already, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has come under fire from his own party for not agreeing to pull the plug on the Paris Climate Deal, given President Trump’s expected withdrawal. The Australian reported that several conservative members of the coalition, were in favour of ditching the agreement. Liberal MP Craig Kelly, for instance, posted on Facebook that Paris was now ‘cactus,’ while George Christensen tweeted “With #ParisAgreement my vote would’ve been no.”
While Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, tried to defuse the situation, telling ABC radio“We have an agreement, we’ve signed [it] and we’re honouring that agreement,” he also criticized current renewable energy targets of 23 per cent by 2020 as “romantic” and capable of threatening overall energy security. His effort to neutralise the situation backfiring with such a contradictory response.
It’s unsurprising that Turnbull wanted to stick with the deal, but by doing so, he’s copped a fair amount of flack. Bill Shorten argued that the election of Donald Trump should have made Turnbull realise that “the Trans-Pacific Partnership was dead.” And, that pursuing the partnership on the hopes that Trump would backflip on the issue was “the peak of delusional absurdity.” Members of the Liberal Party echoed a similar (though not so emphatic) position. Former trade minister, Andrew Robb argued that without the United States, the capacity to reconfigure the deal effectively or to bring another country in, would “be a very difficult task.” A task so difficult perhaps, that it’s worth forgetting altogether?
What we know for certain is this: So long as Donald Trump is President, arbitrary and hasty decisions will continue being made. He is a man with no political experience, resting on the laurels of a narrow and divisive ideology. So far, Turnbull has held strongly to his own agenda. But, for how long? His control within his own government is fragile and fractured, and he is not unfamiliar with backflips.
Australia is a country accustomed to following the lead of its’ big American brother. But, when that brother turns rogue, when that brother snaps and snarls and makes all the wrong decisions, it’s time for us to look elsewhere.