While it may be too soon to make accurate predictions about what a Trump Presidency will mean, there is a very real prospect of a substantive shift in US foreign policy. The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated Mr Trump’s win as one of its top ten global risks alongside continued fragmentation of the EU and conflict in the South China Sea. While that assessment is probably based on a worst-case scenario, it is a reminder that we should not be naïve in this period of uncertainty.
Most observers discounted that Mr Trump could win. We should now know better than to simply discount that he might do what he promised.
We are at a change point, and face the possibility of a very different world and a very different America. Our collective task now is to carefully and dispassionately consider Australia’s foreign policy and global interests over coming months, and how best to effect these within the alliance framework
First, we must acknowledge that Mr Trump’s campaign rhetoric expressed views that run counter to what are core values for most Australians. The bipartisan criticism of some of his comments reflects this fact. For Labor, the fact that the alliance with the US is central to Australia’s foreign and security policy has never meant that we trade away our values – values like respect and equality for women, racial and religious tolerance, and economic and social openness.
There is, and will continue to be, strong bipartisan support for the US alliance. As Labor repeatedly emphasised over the course of the US election campaign, the alliance is bigger than any one individual. In the period ahead, the alliance must continue to transcend personality politics in both the US and Australia.
The alliance also must continue to be defined by the principles that have always underpinned it – the same principles and shared values that have shaped our post-war world order – democracy, freedom and human rights. Our common interests with the US include support for a strong alliance system in Asia; a liberal, open, global trading system; and a commitment to deal collectively with global threats and challenges.
Some of the views espoused by Mr Trump in his campaign stand in contrast to these principles. It is worth restating that the alliance has not and cannot mean reflexive agreement with all that is espoused by one individual. It is in Australia’s interest to continue to assert our values and interests and we should always be prepared to make clear our disagreement with political leaders who undermine them.
Malcolm Turnbull’s initial response to the election result has been at times reminiscent of the chest-beating approach to global events championed by former Prime Minister Abbott. Whilst the Opposition supports constructive engagement with the President-elect and his transition team, it is disappointing that Ministers and the PM have been unable to resist outbreaks of domestic partisanship. Australians are entitled to expect more at a pivotal moment in global politics.
Rather than engaging in partisan point scoring, the Government should be asking itself the questions that matter right now – how best to maintain our relations with the US and Australia’s place in Asia, and how to adapt to the changing world order.
In the changing global context, we need to work harder in our region. Australia’s foreign policy interests and the values we project in Asia matter now more than ever.
We need to step up our engagement on economic and development priorities. We need to consider how we create stronger partnerships and dialogue on human rights, as well as deepening security co-operation. We need to consider the possibility of an American approach to the region that prioritises economic transactions rather than soft power, inclusiveness, cooperation and multilateralism.
And we need to work with our regional partners during this period of uncertainty to identify areas of common interest and jointly seek to influence US thinking on these. First amongst these is continued constructive US engagement in our region.
Put simply, Australia needs a better road map in Asia, and the Foreign Minister’s forthcoming foreign policy white paper should urgently seek to provide that frame.
Defining an independent foreign policy within an alliance framework is now a more complex task. It is one for which we need to consider a broader range of scenarios than was previously within contemplation. For whatever Mr Trump is, orthodox he is unlikely to be.
It is also a task which demands clarity of purpose and firmness of values. Australian interests and Australian values call for the pursuit of openness, tolerance and co-operation. Now more than ever these principles should underpin our approach to the world.
This Opinion Piece was first published in The Sydney Morning Heraldon Wednesday, 16 November 2016.