POLITICS

The Turnbull Call, North Korea And The Alt-Right: How Donald Trump's Election Rocked Australian Politics

One year on, Trump's election win changed Australian politics.

09/11/2017 1:57 PM AEDT | Updated 09/11/2017 2:00 PM AEDT
REUTERS/HUFFPOST
It's been a 'uuuuge 365 days.
I will study this dumb deal!"

With one tweet in February Donald Trump further destabilised the already tenuous grip on power of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The pair's first phone call in January, revealed in February by the Washington Post just hours before Trump's tweet, had focused largely on a deal inked by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, where the United States would take a small number of refugees from Australian-run detention centres in the Pacific.

The deal to take the refugees, many of them from Middle Eastern countries like Syria and Afghanistan, seemed in direct opposition with Trump's Muslim ban and extreme vetting policies, and he was livid.

He eviscerated Turnbull, leader of arguably the most steadfast and reliable of U.S. allies, saying their conversation was "the most unpleasant call all day" and "crazy", hanging up after just 25 minutes of a scheduled one hour chat.

Getty Images
"Dumb deal."

The experience -- an embarrassing phone call, an embarrassing leak of the call to an international audience, and then the "dumb" tweet -- was Australia's first direct brush with President Trump, and it set the tone for how the federal government dealt with the unconventional, unpredictable, short-fused American leader.

A year on from Trump's election, the influence of the former reality TV star has snaked worldwide, permeating through every aspect of global politics and society, forcing quick and uncomfortable reassessments of how diplomacy and policy operates on both national and international platforms.

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The leaders later claims reports about the phone call were "exaggerated" and "fake news".

Most tangibly for Australia, Trump wanted to blow up the refugee deal, and his opposition to it scuppered any hopes that Turnbull and his immigration minister Peter Dutton might have had that the U.S. arrangement might have been the silver bullet to solve its offshore detention centre issues.

In announcing the deal with Obama in late 2016, Turnbull steadfastly refused to name a specific number of refugees that would be taken from Manus Island and Nauru to be resettled in America, but obviously hopes were high that the number would be substantial.

It was later revealed that the U.S. had agreed to take up to 1250, but a year on from Trump's election, just 50 refugees -- 25 each from Manus and Nauru -- have been accepted.

Stringer . / Reuters
Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea in 2014

Pressure is mounting for Australia to either encourage the U.S. to vastly increase its spaces for refugees, or to urgently find another third-country option after the Manus centre closed and left hundreds of men living without power, water or food. Still, Turnbull is sticking to the U.S. deal, rebuffing advances from New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern to take 150 Manus refugees despite no public indication from Trump that he wants to take any more.

"We have an arrangement with the United States... We are pursuing those arrangements at the moment and that is our commitment," Turnbull said last week.

"So we want to pursue those, conclude those arrangements and then in the wake of that, obviously we can consider other ones. The priority right now is the U.S. arrangement."

The drama and headache may have been a factor in Turnbull giving a humorous Trump impression at the press gallery's Midwinter Ball in June. At what was supposed to be an off-the-record event, the PM got up and joked about "fake news" and Russian interference, but video was leaked and spread online like wildfire.

'Rocket Man' And Tension In Asia

Elsewhere, on a more regional scale, Trump has set alarm bells ringing for diplomats and security experts in the Pacific. As he has escalated his rhetoric against North Korea and leader Kim Jong-Un, the hermit kingdom has been showing off its military arsenal and testing nuclear weapons.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency.

While the range of North Korea's missiles may not extend to the U.S., it is in the range of a key American ally -- Australia.

In an October statement, North Korea's state-run news service warned Australia "will not be able to avoid a disaster" if the country continued following American military and economic pressures, including trade and aid sanctions.

Trump's administration has seen some commentators and experts claiming Australia is now making even faster moves and more vigorous attempts to further align with Asia, rather than America.

AFP/Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un at a performance dedicated to nuclear scientists and technicians, who worked on a hydrogen bomb

Trump, Milo And The 'Alt-Right'

The rise of The Donald has also seen the "alt-right" phenomenon travel Down Under, with a series of far-right websites popping up to spread white nationalist sentiments, racist rhetoric and 'fake news' in its original sense.

While these sites are as yet little-read, unprofessionally run and lack anything coming close to the influence of Breitbart, the growing community of websites, podcasts and social media pages has received boosts through the attention of overseas alt-right identities and infrastructure.

Rebel Media has an Australian offshoot helmed by controversial former politician Mark Latham, while Milo Yiannopoulos is a regular guest on right-wing television and radio, and is headed to Australia next month for a speaking tour.

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Conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos will bring his toxic brand of politics to Australia in December.

Australia has also seen the import of other Trumpisms, as terms like 'fake news' are adopted by our own politicians in response to legitimate news stories they simply don't like, and the growth in anti-authoritarian, 'outsider' and anti-expert sentiment from those who should know better.

'Fake news' was taken up with enthusiasm by members of the government, using the term in derision to shrug off unflattering or embarrassing media reporting. We've seen it all year, uttered by politicians from Scott Morrison and Craig Kelly to recently dumped One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts.

On the subject of One Nation, the resurgent far-right party was one of few to celebrate the Trump win. Pauline Hanson famously popped a bottle of bubbly on the forecourt of Parliament House on election day last year, claiming "I can see in Donald Trump a lot of me and what I stand for in Australia". Hanson later claimed she was invited to Trump's inauguration ceremony, but it was later embarrassingly revealed that she had instead asked the Australian embassy to find tickets for her.

One Nation's surge in Queensland has been put down in part to the 'outsider' wave led by Trump, and Hanson and her candidates have shamelessly jumped on the bandwagon in instantly trying to drum up support for his policies to be instituted in Australia -- chief among them, and most controversially, Hanson pushing for a Trump-style "Muslim ban" here.

Despite their support, Trump's administration embarrassingly called One Nation "a threat to religious freedom" in a report released in August.

The 'outsider' push has also no doubt inspired the movement of Cory Bernardi to split from the Liberal Party and launch his own Conservatives party.

It's been a year on from Trump's election win, and he still has three years left in his first term. Australia is still working out how to operate in a post-Trump world, but even when The Donald is long gone, it's likely his influence will be felt in domestic politics for some time to come.

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