POLITICS

Turnbull Desperately Wanted A Distraction From Same-Sex Marriage. He Got One.

As they say, be careful what you wish for.

04/08/2017 11:35 AM AEST | Updated 04/08/2017 11:57 AM AEST
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CANBERRA -- All week Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been wanting to talk about anything but same-sex marriage and charges his government is failing to address the current inequity in Australia.

Amid his weeklong tour of Western Australia he's chastised media types asking about how and why his MPs and senators won't stop talking about the issue.

"It's distracted you and it's distracted a lot of reporters," he told ABC South West host Geoff Hutchison on Thursday. "But in the course of my visit here, to the best of my recollection, only one person has raised the issue with me out of hundreds."

On Triple M South West, Turnbull wanted on Thursday to speak for the listeners: "I think they probably want us to talk about other things."

"Now can we -- do you want to move onto some other issues -- or are we going to keep talking about this?"

Be careful what a Prime Minister wishes for.

Turnbull is desperate for clear air and never, ever, ever seems to get it. It's usually Tony Abbott sucking up the available oxygen, but Donald Trump's leaky White House has smothered the PM with the excruciating details of a private chat between two leaders that was never supposed to be made public.

Neither leader smells fresh and lovely after the Washington Post's overnight airing of THAT infamous first chat after Trump was inaugurated.

Turnbull gets points for standing up to Trump when it was made explicitly clear the "really, really important to Australia" refugee deal struck with presidential predecessor Barack Obama was unpalatable and going to, in Trump's words, "kill" him politically.

And Trump saying he is the "greatest person in the world" is in no way breaking news, so boasting he is "the world's greatest person that does not want to let people into the country" is just a new variant of The Don.

But, oh. As distractions go, may not be welcome.

It is evident Trump needs other world leaders to agree with him and be nice to him, with this to the Australian PM: "This is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous".

Indeed, there were troubling moments for the PM.

There's Turnbull telling Trump the U.S. only had to go through the motions on the refugee deal. That they really could accept none. The much vaunted deal could have been made with thin air.

Then there's Turnbull admitting that the refugees languishing for years on Manus Island and Nauru could be the "best people in world," they could be "Nobel Prize winners," and they are not people wanted by Australia.

Then Trump admired Australia's zero tolerance border controls: "That is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am." This is a man who has partially shut down Muslim immigration, introduced "extreme vetting" and threatened to build a wall bordering Mexico. Being "worse" than that is hardly complimentary.

And Turnbull agreeing with Trump that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had turned her country into a "mess" through taking in one million refugees doesn't exactly read well on paper, either.

Yes, they said it. And it is all normal chit-chat between world leaders on a private call and astonishing that the transcripts have been sent out for all and sundry to read. But there's little that is usual about the Trump administration. We ought to know that by know, even part way through the first year.

Now Malcolm Turnbull has something else, other than governing, to talk about. He tried overnight, with his office announcing that he has summoned energy company heads to Canberra next Wednesday to find ways to do something about skyrocketing power bills.

The Prime Minister intends to remain focused on hip pocket concerns and control the narrative, but he must be feeling like the world is conspiring against him.

Trouble is, they are his words, in black and white.

Perhaps now, Turnbull wants to talk about same-sex marriage again. He's been firm on current government policy. That is, to hold a plebiscite to "let the Australian people have a say". Well, Turnbull will be talking same-sex marriage very soon, in an emergency Monday afternoon Liberal party room he has called to thrash out the issue.

The Turnbull/Trump transcript may soon seem a distant memory if that debate leaks out.

It is hardly a comfort, but there is one thing out of the transcripts that many weren't expecting: that initial report of a Trump hang up on Turnbull really was fake news.

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