Feb 3, 2017

Transcript of television interview – AM Agenda, SKY News

Subjects: Donald Trump, US refugee resettlement deal

KIERAN GILBERT: With me is the senior Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese. Mr Albanese, thanks for your time. We’ve seen this extraordinary phone call and the fall out between the President and the Prime Minister, is it a bit much for Labor to be saying that the Prime Minister’s responsible for a rant that was delivered by the US President?

ALBANESE: Well Labor is not saying that, Kieran. The President is certainly responsible for his own behaviour and I think that what all Australians, whether they be politicians or not, will be surprised about is the extent to which the President of the United States has conducted some of the diplomatic discourse through Twitter. I, as a politician, often say to people you can’t have a sophisticated policy discussion through Twitter – through 140 characters – and that is going to be an ongoing issue that the President will have to think seriously about because there will be ongoing issues created if this diplomacy-through-Twitter approach continues from the President of the United States.

GILBERT: And given his rude treatment of the Prime Minister, as described by Mr Carr, the former Labor Foreign Minister; given that rude approach to our Prime Minister, and what Mr Carr says is a lack of respect to our leader of our nation, whether it be Labor or Liberal, do you then give Mr Turnbull some credit for still securing an agreement by Donald Trump. It’s clearly annoyed him but he has still said he is going to honour the refugee deal. Do you give him some credit for securing that in the face of what was a pretty volatile phone call?

ALBANESE: What’s absolutely critical here isn’t the ego of any particular politician, what’s critical is that a solution is found for those people who’ve been on Manus and Nauru for far too long. These are people who have been found to be genuine asylum seekers; those people need to be settled.

And Labor has, of course, supported the arrangement with the United States. It was a government-to-government arrangement, Australia and the United States, as very close allies, and Labor and, certainly, everyone I think in Australia, would expect that agreements are honoured between our two nation states that are far more important, that relationship, than the relationship between any individual.

GILBERT: That’s always said, but this is obviously a severe test of that relationship. I know that everyone says it’s bigger than individuals, but when the individual leads the other country and isn’t going to honour a deal and says we’re taking advantage of the US, which is pretty much what he said overnight, despite the fact we’ve fought alongside the US in every war since World War Two. He boxes the Australian alliance in that same group; taking advantage of the US. This seems to me to be a very severe test of the relationship between Washington and Canberra.

ALBANESE: That’s why in terms of, as close allies, that Australia does need to stand up for Australian interest, within the alliance. That is why we need to have a three pillars of foreign policy; engagement with our ally, the United States, engagement in our region and also engagement through multilateral forums including the United Nations. And Australia must always, always stand up for our interests. But we’re also good friends, and we’ve been good friends of the United States for a very long time, since that alliance was forged during the Second World War. We expect that arrangements that are made between Australia and the United States are honoured.

GILBERT: With the alliance though, as we look ahead, Kim Beazley said in the last 24 hours that this won’t do lasting damage within and of itself, one phone call, but he said if Trump and the White House pull out of the deal than that could damage the relationship. Do you agree with that assessment?

ALBANESE: Certainly it’s the case that when you have arrangements between sovereign nation states; Australia and the United States, in the context of the alliance, it’s expected that it will be honoured. We certainly expect that this arrangement will be honoured, as I said, not just in the interest of the alliance, but importantly, in the interest of those people on Manus and Nauru, who have been found to be genuine asylum seekers who need to be settled and need to have that certainty that they’ve been denied over the last few years.

It was never intended, never, that people would be on Manus or Nauru for this period of time. It was always envisaged that they would be processed then resettled in third countries and this Government failed to do that during their entire first term. They then came up with the resolution with the United States, that must be said, they were very critical when it was suggested that they could be settled in first world countries, but the Government changed its position on that. That’s a good thing that the Government changed its position last year and came up with this agreement with the United States.

Quite clearly, there’s no doubt that the friendship has been strained by, firstly the revelations of what was a private conversation essentially between the leaders of our respective countries and that showed, I think, a lack of respect, not just for Malcolm Turnbull, but Malcolm Turnbull is of course the Prime Minister of Australia. It’s important that those offices be respected, whatever people in Australia might think about the characteristics of Donald Trump, we’ve said that we respect the fact that he is the elected President of the United States and we certainly respect that position.

But we expect it to be mutual, we expect it firstly that conversations between the two countries won’t be leaked in order to play some domestic political card, and secondly, we also expect that the President of the United States needs to be somewhat more cautious about conducting sensitive, diplomatic issues through Twitter, because you can’t do that through 140 characters. Twitter is good for many things. I tweeted out that I was about to have this interview with you, it’s good to alert people that it’s happening and I’m sure people have woken up as a result and switched onto Sky..

GIBLERT: But not foreign policy.

ALBANESE: But you can’t conduct foreign policy through Twitter.

GILBERT: No that’s right. I think that most people watching this morning would be concurring with that, Mr Albanese, thanks for your time.

ALBANESE: Good to be with you Kieran.