Election Interpreter 2016
Fairfax's Daniel Flitton today identifies four important areas of foreign policy difference between Labor and the Coalition: the East Timor boundary dispute, nuclear abolition, freedom-of-navigation exercises in the South China Sea, and Israel-Palestine.
I wonder if we saw a fifth factor open up yesterday with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's criticisms of Donald Trump: 'I have to say that if I was in America I'd be voting for Hillary Clinton...Whoever America elects we'll deal with, but there is no doubt in my mind that Trump would be very difficult, I think, to deal with.'
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop responded in what struck me as rather unwise terms, by putting herself in the position of seeming to defend Trump: 'Mr Shorten should explain the precise areas of difficulty that he believes would arise from a Trump presidency.'
I suppose Shorten could start with Trump's comments on Japanese nuclear weapons. But really, the point is not so much policy as it is character, temperament and basic suitability for high office. Australians have made it clear through Lowy Institute polling that they share these doubts about Trump, with 45% saying 'Australia should distance itself from the United States if it elects a president like Donald Trump', so Shorten is on pretty solid ground (unlike John Howard, who was pulling against the prevailing mood when he criticised then-Senator Obama in 2007).
The US-Australia alliance has always been more than a practical arrangement for common security; it is also based on deep cultural affinities and historical ties. But as I've argued previously, in Australia in recent years it seems to have evolved (or perhaps calcified) into an ideology, a political totem before which anyone with pretensions to being politically mainstream must genuflect.
Yesterday we hosted Greens leader Richard Di Natale, who made made some stinging criticisms of the alliance. I have a number of reservations about the Greens' foreign policy ideas (I mentioned one in my question to Di Natale yesterday; listen from listen from 37:23), but the unhinged reaction to Di Natale's remarks from sections of the media, and Bishop's response to Bill Shorten's comments, reinforce the point about the totemic status of the alliance.
If there is a silver lining to the Trump phenomenon for Australia, it may be that this ideology will be subjected to some overdue scrutiny.
Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images