You call that a friendship? Turnbull needs to stick it to Trump
The “close friendship” between the United States and Australia is looking pretty shaky, following an explosive phone exchange between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
According to sources quoted by The Washington Post, a reportedly livid Trump hung up on Turnbull following a discussion about the Obama Administration’s agreement with Australia to resettle more than 1200 refugees currently residing on Manus and Nauru in the United States.
Calling it the “worst deal ever” Trump accused Turnbull of attempting to export the “next Boston bombers,” and at one point told the Australian PM that despite other calls he’d had with world leaders that day, (including one with Vladimir Putin) this was the “worst call by far”.
The leaked conversation left Turnbull red-faced and floundering in a press conference. When probed to comment on the situation, he said“I’m not going to comment on a conversation between myself and the President of the United States other than what we have said publicly.”
“You can surely understand the reasons for that. I appreciate your interest, but it’s better that these things – these conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately. If you see reports of them, I’m not going to add to them.”
Unfortunately for Turnbull, Trump had a different read on the situation. Later in the day the President tweeted: Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!
And just like that Turnbull’s leadership, like a wobbling Jenga tower, lost one more crucial brick.
Now, no one is discounting the thin tightrope of diplomacy, particularly concerning national interests. The world is volatile right now and Australia can’t chuck tantrums willy-nilly. But at the same time, where do we draw the line? Surely Turnbull can’t play dead as Trump wreaks havoc?
There’s a reason that famous speech from ‘Love Actually’ in which Hugh Grant (the British PM) sticks it to Billy Bob Thornton, (The American President) resonates so strongly. Viewers the world over have watched that scene in delight, longing for their own leaders to show a modicum of Hollywood courage.
Indeed, such courage has never been more critical.
So far, Turnbull’s remained tight-lipped on President Trump and his daily warfare. He refused to comment on the reasonable despair many Australians felt when Trump was elected and said nothing about the President’s controversial immigration ban. Now, he’s stayed quiet on this latest scandal despite Trump openly humiliating him on the world stage.
It’s not good enough, but sadly we expect it.
We expect it because Turnbull’s leadership has never been dynamic. He’s fallen decisively short of our collective hopes. If he resigned tomorrow, he would leave little in the way of legacy: An embarrassing election, a few stuttering speeches and some monumental backflips on marriage equality and climate change.
But he has time to shift gears. Standing up to Trump will prove to Australians that Turnbull deserves the shot he’s been given. It will prove that he may just be a worthy leader, a ballsy leader—one we can be proud of.
And, if he doesn’t?
Well, playing dead with Trump is a reckless little strategy.