Will the diplomatic aggravation and reputational damage to Turnbull and Australia have been worth it?


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Let us turn to Shakespeare for guidance to describe the predicament in which Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, finds himself in his interactions with a bullying American president, damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

– Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3.

In one of Shakespeare’s most oft-quoted passages Polonius is providing his son, Laertes, with some advice before he embarks for the bright lights of Paris.

It might be a stretch to compare Turnbull and the hot-headed Laertes; he is more like Hamlet in his indecision, it might be said. But in a transactional space he has placed his government in an invidious position by outsourcing a domestic political conundrum.

Neither a borrower nor lender be …

The Trump administration may well honour an agreement struck with the previous Obama administration in its lame-duck phase to take up to 1,250 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island. But the question will remain: will the diplomatic aggravation and reputational damage to leader and country have been worth it?

Turnbull’s spokespeople have been assiduous in their efforts to persuade us that an Australian prime minister stood up to the bully in the White House, and that rather than suffering a humiliating rebuff he gave a good account of himself.

That may be true, as far as it goes. But the point is, we should never have been in a position in the first place where we were relying on America’s good graces to salve an Australian domestic political problem at a moment when an American election was being fought on the refugee issue.

Let’s repeat: a deal of questionable probity was struck with an outgoing American administration in contradiction with the policy impulses of an incoming replacement.

No purpose is served now by arguing that few expected Donald Trump to prevail. That is one argument you cannot take to the bank.

If there is a reasonable explanation for Trump’s behaviour towards a friend and ally it is that he is being asked to sanction an arrangement that is antagonistic towards policies on which he was elected.

Whoever dreamed up this slithery refugees-for-politics arrangement in the prime minister’s office, or that of the immigration minister or the foreign minister, should be held to account for placing Australia’s reputation in hoc to an administration untethered form normal diplomatic niceities.

This proposed refugees-for-politics transaction might be characterised as an attempted end run around various United Nations refugee conventions.

My colleague at The Conversation, Michelle Grattan, has suggested that Turnbull cut his losses, tell Trump the deal is off, and offer those incarcerated on Nauru and Manus a “one-off” amnesty to come to Australia.

If Labor had the guts it would support such a course. But its position is even less principled than that of the government, if that is possible.

Labor both criticises its implementation and runs dead on such a transaction at the same time. This puts it in the position, discreditably, of both borrower and lender in this argument.

None of this is to suggest border controls be loosened, or that measures in place to counter unauthorised arrivals be relaxed. It is simply an argument to deal with an existing problem that has caused enormous rancour in Australia, and one that could be resolved if separated from politics.

Unfortunately, and in the case of a government bereft of an appealing political narrative, the “stop the boats” refugee mantra provides a port in a storm, it might be observed.

This brings us to the broader question of how countries like Australia might deal with a White House like no other in living memory.

If it is any comfort to Turnbull in his mendicant state as far as the refugee deal is concerned, leaders of comparable countries like Canada are faced with the same dilemma, and it is this. To what extent does Turnbull, or Justin Trudeau of Canada, or Angela Merkel of Germany, or Theresa May of Britain, assert their country’s values and at the same time criticise Trump at a moment when America’s own values are being trashed?

Trudeau perhaps provides the better model for an Australian prime minister seeking guidance about how to deal with the Trump phenomenon. Inside and outside the Canadian parliament, Trudeau has avoided direct criticism of the Trump administration, but he has made his views known via social media.

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No such public sentiments have emanated from an Australian prime minister hostage to his party’s unsentimental refugee policy, and a supplicant on the issue to a new American administration.

For her part, Merkel did not dissemble, as might be expected, and in contrast to others, including Turnbull. Her spokesman said:

The chancellor regrets the US government’s entry ban against refugees and citizens of certain countries. She is convinced that the necessary decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin and a certain religion.

Finally, a word about the Battle of Hamel, of July 4, 1918. In the welter of words written about the Trump-Turnbull contretemps, in which an American president allegedly hung up on an Australian prime minister, much has been made of Australia having been America’s most steadfast ally from the first world war on.

It is true that American troops served alongside Australians under the command of then Lieutenant General John Monash. But it is also the case America’s commander, General John J. Pershing, whittled back American involvement on the ground for operational reasons.

In the end, a relatively small number of American soldiers were involved in what proved to be a successful operation in efforts to defeat the German army on the River Somme.

Like the reduced American commitment at Hamel, a Trump administration may seek to minimise its intake of refugees in what has proved to be an exercise in Australian diplomacy that has brought little credit to those involved.

The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

US embassy says refugee deal stands, but Trump casts new doubt in tweet


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Update

Donald Trump has lashed out at Australia’s refugee deal with the US in an inflammatory tweet.

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Earlier story:

The American embassy in Canberra has been forced to reaffirm that President Donald Trump’s undertaking to honour the refugee deal stands, after new doubt arose following an explosive story in the Washington Post.

Malcolm Turnbull refused to be drawn on a Washington Post report that Trump “blasted” him over the refugee deal in their weekend conversation, which the president told him was his worst call of the day.

Turnbull’s silence was taken as an effective broad confirmation of the Washingon Post story.

“‘This is the worst deal ever’, Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honour its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention centre,” the Washington Post reported.

“Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was ‘going to get killed’ politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the ‘next Boston bombers’,” the story said.

“At one point Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – including Russian President Vladimir Putin – and that, ‘This was the worst call by far’.”

The report said Trump had abruptly ended the call after 25 minutes when it had been expected to go for an hour.

It said Trump had told Turnbull it was his “intention” to honour the agreement. Turnbull told Trump that to honour it the US wouldn’t have to accept all the refugees, but only to allow each to go through the normal vetting procedures.

“At that, Trump vowed to subject each refugee to ‘extreme vetting’,” the Washington Post said, citing a senior US official who spoke to the paper.

One of the article’s two authors, Philip Rucker, said the sources for the story were “US officials who have been briefed on the specific details of the conversation”. Rucker is the White House bureau chief of the Washington Post. The other author, Greg Miller, covers the intelligence beat for the paper.

On Monday Turnbull described the conversation as “constructive”.

Peppered with questions at his Thursday news conference in Melbourne called to talk about energy, Turnbull repeatedly refused to be drawn. “I’m not going to comment on these reports of a conversation,” he said.

He did add that: “Australians know me very well. I always stand up for Australia in every forum.”

He repeated that he had received Trump’s assurance that the deal, negotiated with the Obama administration, would be honoured.

A US embassy spokesperson later said: “President Trump’s decision to honour the refugee agreement has not changed and [White House] spokesman Spicer’s comments [confirming this] stand. This was just reconfirmed to the State Department from the [White House] and on to this embassy at 13:15 Canberra time.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Turnbull should “talk straight to the Australian people” about what was going on. “We don’t want to find out our news from the Washington Post. We should hear it first from our prime minister.”

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What has Turnbull agreed to do for Trump?


Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

Let’s hope it’s worth it. Malcolm Turnbull has sacrificed whatever remaining credibility he may still have had as a small-l liberal in a desperate effort to save his tawdry asylum-seeker deal with the US government.

Those hoping for great things from Turnbull will be disappointed but unsurprised, perhaps. What looked like a brilliant political ploy to resolve the running sore of offshore detention has now come back to bite him.

It’s hard to summon much sympathy for his plight. The reality, however, is that it could – and still may – have been so much worse. If the unpredictable xenophobe who currently runs the US and much of the rest of the world shows any consistency, there is no way the asylum seekers on Naru and Manus Island ought to be allowed into the land of the free. After all, most of them are from the countries that have been hit by Trump’s blanket ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries.

The question is what Turnbull had to say or even promise in his 25-minute phone call with US President Donald Trump to persuade him to honour an agreement forged with his predecessor.

Given that Barack Obama was routinely dismissed as being weak on terrorism, border protection and unambiguously naming supposed threats to American security, getting Trump to agree is no small achievement – if he actually follows through on it. At the very least the would-be asylum seekers will be subjected to “extreme vetting”, which many may not pass.

One assumes that Turnbull must have pointed out the immense political damage that reneging on this deal would do to him personally and to perceptions of the alliance relationship with the US more generally. For the first time in recent history there is a serious debate about Australia’s alliance with the US, and a repudiation of the deal would have been a political nightmare for Turnbull.

It would have been extremely difficult for him to mount a continuing defence of a relationship that is regarded in such a cavalier, instrumental and seemingly expendable fashion by the US.

Trump’s “transactional” approach to allies is entirely dependent on what benefit they bring to the US, not the stability of the international system, much less the wider collective good. It is not even clear whether Trump or many of his key advisers would actually recognise the idea of a collective interest at the international level as a meaningful concept.

The question, therefore, is what Turnbull had to offer as his part of a deal between two famously successful businessmen.

Not criticising the Trump regime would be a given in such circumstances, and Turnbull is dutifully fulfilling his part of the bargain, tacit or otherwise. Giving a running commentary on the domestic policies of other governments is not part of his job, apparently – something the likes of Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte will be delighted to hear, no doubt.

More immediately, has Turnbull given an explicit or in-principle commitment to support the Trump administration in whatever actions it may decide to take in the “war on terror”, or – more consequentially for Australia – “standing up to Chinese aggression”, as key Trump advisor Peter Navarro might put it?

The stakes here could hardly be higher, especially for Australia. It is not simply because Australia is bound to be adversely affected by any deterioration in the bilateral ties between our principle strategic and economic partners, but because there is the very real possibility that the relationship could descend into actual conflict.

Despite the fact that Australia could make absolutely no real difference to the outcome of such a conflict, there is every chance that it could get sucked into it as a compliant, ever-reliable and obliging American ally. Australia’s propensity to do America’s bidding is high at the best of times.

The worry is that Turnbull has, as the Americans say, doubled-down on our implicit strategic obligations with a renewed commitment to act – whatever policy the Trump regime embarks on. It is the very least Trump would expect in return.

The asylum-seeker problem is nightmarishly complex and offers no easy solutions. While it is possible to have some sympathy for a problem that wasn’t entirely of the Turnbull government’s making, it is difficult not to see the “American solution” as yet another illustration of the dangers of strategic dependence. It reeked of dubious political expediency under Obama; it is fraught with dangerous uncertainty under the Trump regime.

The growing band of critics of the alliance will feel vindicated and emboldened. If the relationship with the US causes Australia to become embroiled in yet another questionable and unnecessary war on behalf of our supposed protector, it can only be a question of time before wider public confidence in the relationship is eroded, too. That really would be a problem for the Turnbull government.


This piece was originally published on John Menadue’s blog, Pearls and Irritations, and is republished with permission.

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull news conference an exercise in avoidance and obfuscation


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

There were several takeouts from Malcolm Turnbull’s rather odd Monday news conference, which followed his Sunday telephone conversation with Donald Trump.

First, Australians are still not to be given any detail about the agreement – forged under the Obama administration and now confirmed by Trump – that the US will take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

Second, Turnbull appears to want at all costs to avoid criticising the Trump crackdown on the entry of nationals from the seven nominated countries. This is despite widespread international criticism of the bar. Presumably Turnbull is substantially driven by fears that forthrightness might jeopardise the refugee deal.

Third, Turnbull could not or would not give an indication of what the suspension might mean for Australian dual citizens from these countries.

The press conference, held jointly with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, saw Turnbull opening with very similar lines to those put out about the phone call by the government on Sunday on an unattributable basis. They had a “yesterday’s story” feel about them.

Turnbull looked as though he was on the podium reluctantly – his head was often down, he seemed dejected.

His refusal to provide any further information in relation to the refugees the US is supposed to be taking off our hands is cynical and unacceptable. Turnbull has won favourable headlines in the wake of having Trump reconfirm the deal. But as we don’t know the fine print – for starters, the rough number of people likely to be accepted, and when they could start to leave – we can’t judge how much praise Turnbull deserves for either the deal or the confirmation.

This is media manipulation at its worst. There is no legitimate justification for that secrecy; Turnbull’s suggestion that it’s all a matter for the US sounds a fob off.

When Turnbull was pressed to express an opinion about aspects of the Trump executive order, he simply slid around the issue.

It wasn’t his job to run commentary on the domestic policies of other countries, he said. Australia’s border arrangements were the envy of the world. “If others wish to emulate what we’re doing, they’re welcome to do so.” Is he equating Trump’s measures to Australia’s? But then he added “Our rules, our laws, our values are very well known,” including “our commitment to multiculturalism, our commitment to a nondiscriminatory immigration program. … So that’s where we stand.”

As for the urgent matter of how Australian dual citizens might be affected by the executive order, Turnbull was unenlightening.

“If those issues arise in respect of Australian citizens we will, and we are, taking up that issue with the Administration. Can I just say to you, we have a very close relationship with the United States, and when we want to engage in discussions of this kind, we do so privately and frankly.”

Yet Britain has already set out the position of its dual citizens.

A statement dated January 29 from the British Foreign Office said: “Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has today held conversations with the US government and as a result we can clarify that:

“The presidential executive order only applies to individuals travelling from one of the seven named countries.

“If you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply to you and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth.

“If you are a UK national who happens to be travelling from one of those countries to the US, then the order does not apply to you – even if you were born in one of those countries.

“If you are a dual citizen of one of those countries travelling to the US from OUTSIDE those countries then the order does not apply to you.

“The only dual nationals who might have extra checks are those coming from one of the seven countries themselves – for example a UK-Libya dual national coming from Libya to the US.

“The US has reaffirmed its strong commitment to the expeditious processing of all travellers from the United Kingdom.”

It was left to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to say later: “I have directed our officials in Washington DC to work with US officials to ensure any preferential treatment extended to any other country in relation to travel and entry to the United States is extended to Australia”.

The work should have already been done and Australia should have had a statement out when the UK did.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Donald Trump’s ban will have lasting and damaging impacts on the world’s refugees


Phil Orchard, The University of Queensland

US President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration fundamentally alters decades of bipartisan US practice. It blocks immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and stops all refugee resettlement for at least 120 days.

Trump’s justification for the order is:

… the US must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles.

The first element includes blocking any immigration from seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – for at least 30 days.

The first day after the order was approved dual citizens and US permanent residents – usually called green card holders – were prevented from boarding flights to the US and even detained on arrival. A temporary injunction has provided at least some protections, though it is being applied patchily and only to those people who have already entered the US.

The order also suspends all refugee admissions for a minimum of 120 days. After that the US will still admit only nationals of countries where the government has “procedures [that] are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the US”.

In a continuation of current congressional practice, the US will also prioritise refugee claims based on religious-based persecution, where the person is a member of a minority religion in their own country. And no Syrian refugees will be admitted until the US refugee admissions program aligns with the national interest.

Finally, the US will limit the number of refugees it admits in 2017 to 50,000. So, what does this all mean for refugees?

What does it mean for refugee acceptance?

The UN Refugee Convention provides refugees with a strong set of rights. However, it applies only when a refugee is within a signatory country’s territory or jurisdiction. The convention does not oblige any signatory to accept other refugees.

However, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers resettlement to be one of three “durable solutions” for refugees, alongside voluntary repatriation and integration in a host community. These solutions enable refugees to live their lives in dignity and peace.

The UNHCR has determined, in most cases, that the people awaiting resettlement are refugees. Resettlement is used especially in cases where a refugee’s:

… life, liberty, safety, health, or fundamental human rights are at risk in their country of refuge.

Thus resettlement can be critical to provide refugees with protection.

Resettlement also has important geostrategic implications. It helps, as several former US government officials have noted, support the stability of allies that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.

Similarly, in a call with Trump on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly argued that:

… the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin or a certain religion.

The US resettlement program has long had strong bipartisan support. But it is also critical to global refugee resettlement. The US takes in by far the most resettled refugees of any country. Canada and Australia are a distant second and third.

Top ten countries for refugee resettlement in 2015.
IRIN News

The justification for the shutdown is to improve the US’s own security measures by introducing, as Trump has previously argued, “extreme vetting”.

But this already exists for resettled refugees. As part of the Refugee Admissions Program, individual refugee cases are screened through a seven-step process, including security and background checks, personal interviews with agents from the US Department of Homeland Security, and other measures. This process can take up to two years.

This system has worked; virtually no terrorist attacks on US soil have been caused by refugees. As a September 2016 report by the Cato Institute, a right-leaning think-tank, noted:

The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is one in 3.64 billion per year.

Similarly, in 2015, a State Department spokesperson said of the nearly 785,000 refugees admitted to the US since 2001:

Only about a dozen – a tiny fraction of 1% of admitted refugees – have been arrested or removed from the US due to terrorism concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the US. None of them were Syrian.

The wider effects

Trump’s ban will also have two wider effects.

It appears not to be affecting the November agreement between Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island in the US in exchange for Australia accepting a group of Central American refugees. Many of those on Nauru and Manus Island come from Iran, Iraq and Somalia.

The Australian government remains keen for the deal to go ahead. But US Republican politicians have previously been critical of the deal. Republican congressman Brian Babin said earlier this month he was confident that Trump:

… will do everything in his power to put an immediate stop to this secret Australian-US refugee deal that should have simply never happened in the first place.

But in a phone call between Trump and Turnbull on Sunday, Trump appears to have given assurances the deal would still go ahead. The order gives the power to the secretary of homeland security to continue to admit refugees for resettlement on a case-by-case basis, irrespective of the wider shutdown.

Globally, the shutdown will have lasting and detrimental effects for refugees. In the Middle East, it may prove to be a boon to the Islamic State. The terrorist group has long sought to disrupt refugee movements.

The ban will also put more pressure on refugee-hosting countries. About 90% of the world’s refugees are in the developing world. The international refugee system works through burden-sharing: host countries know that at least some refugees will be resettled and that they will receive financial assistance for the refugees from the UNHCR and other organisations and governments.

Trump’s move challenges this directly, and will likely lead to further restrictions on the ability of refugees to receive basic protections.

The Conversation

Phil Orchard, Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies and International Relations; Research Director at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A ‘tougher’ citizenship test should not be used to further divide and exclude


Alex Reilly, University of Adelaide and Mary Anne Kenny, Murdoch University

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton recently raised the prospect of changing the law around acquiring Australian citizenship.

He acknowledged the vast majority of migrants are well-integrated, and should be fast-tracked for citizenship. However, Dutton would like to see criteria tightened to deny citizenship to those who have not integrated into Australia. While details are unclear, he referred to people involved in serious crime, those who are welfare-dependent, or who have links with extremism.

Dutton was also concerned about people who don’t undertake English lessons or prevent their children from being educated.

What’s the point of citizenship?

Permanent residents in Australia enjoy almost the full range of civil and political rights as citizens. They have access to the welfare system (after initial waiting periods), Medicare, and education.

Citizens alone are able to vote and have a greater security of residence. They are subject to removal only if they have fought for the armed forces of an enemy country or, since 2014, if they are involved in activity defined to be linked with terrorism.

Citizenship is important for people to feel fully connected and committed to Australia. For some – in particular refugees – the increased security of residence is of extremely high importance, given they are unable to return to their countries of origin for fear of persecution.

For those who came to Australia by boat, citizenship is the only pathway to sponsoring family members to join them.

The pathway to citizenship

Citizenship is the final step in a process of becoming a full member of the Australian community. There are many checks along the way.

When Australia admits permanent residents, the expectation is that they will stay permanently and take up citizenship at some point in the future. When permanent residents become citizens it is a marker of their successful integration.

Knowing that permanent residents are likely to be future citizens, Australia makes difficult policy choices around the balance of skilled, family reunion and humanitarian migration.

The government sets a target for the maximum number of new residents each year, and visa-holders are subject to rigorous checks to ensure they meet the criteria for those visas. These checks include detailed security and character assessments.

By the time a permanent resident is in a position to apply for citizenship, they must have lived in Australia for four years and have remained of good character during that time. If they do not remain of good character, their visa may be cancelled and they can be removed to their country of origin.

The immigration minister regularly exercises this power – even, controversially, in relation to long-term permanent residents with children in Australia.

Also, as part of eligibility for citizenship, a person must be of “good character” and must provide national police checks. The Department of Immigration can also request Interpol and overseas police checks.

Are citizenship tests the best way?

In 2007, the Howard government introduced a citizenship test to help determine whether applicants satisfied two further requirements for citizenship. They must have:

  • a “basic knowledge” of English; and

  • “an adequate knowledge of Australia and of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship”.

Citizenship tests are not well-suited to testing an applicant’s “values”. They are also a crude measure of an applicant’s level of English.

Australia’s test no longer contains questions about cricketer Don Bradman, after it was reviewed in 2008. It now focuses on knowledge of the institutions of government, and of basic constitutional values such as free speech.

Being able to rote learn these values is not an indication that a person lives by them. And the language of values and rights is complicated, and not a useful test of basic English literacy skills.

Can we test for ‘integration’?

Questions remain as to whether it is possible to test for successful integration into Australia.

A recent Productivity Commission report framed integration as both economic integration and social inclusion. It is not just the skills and efforts of individual migrants that are key to promoting integration, but the societal attitudes, and government policies and programs that support settlement and removing barriers to integration.

The most important benefit of citizenship for migrants is the sense of inclusion and acceptance into their adopted community. Requirements for citizenship should therefore promote inclusion, not exclusion.

Discussions that focus on exclusion have the potential to alienate sectors of the community. They are a hindrance to people obtaining a sense of connection in Australia.

As Dutton observed, there are good reasons to encourage permanent residents to take up citizenship: for one, it enhances their integration in the community.

To the extent that poor English and poor understanding of Australian values is a barrier to this integration, the government needs to increase its efforts to educate prospective citizens – not look for ways to exclude them.

The Conversation

Alex Reilly, Deputy Dean and Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide and Mary Anne Kenny, Associate Professor, School of Law, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.