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Emmanuel Macron

Australian foreign minister hits back at Trump over Brigitte Macron remark

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 July, 2017, 2:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 5:21pm

The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, has assured voters that the refugee swap agreement between Australia and the United States is still intact, despite US officials abruptly departing Nauru on Friday, two weeks before they were due to leave.

She has also criticised the US president, Donald Trump, for telling the first lady of France last week that she was in “such good shape”.

“I wonder if she could say the same of him,” Bishop said on Sunday.

The viability of Australia’s refugee swap arrangement with the US has been questioned after US officials left the Nauru detention facility abruptly on Friday, halting screening interviews with detainees.

They were scheduled to be on the island until 26 July but their sudden exit, with a fraction of detainees having completed US processing, appeared to throw the operation into doubt.

Washington announced last week the US had reached its annual refugee intake cap of 50,000 people.

Bishop assured Australian voters that the US government was still upholding the refugee swap agreement, saying the Turnbull government had been given assurances by Trump and the vice-president, Mike Pence, that the agreement would be adhered to.

“The United States, like Australia, has a quota each year for the refugee intake,” Bishop told the ABC’s Insiders programme on Sunday. “I understand that the quota has been fulfilled for this year. It kicks over again on October 1. I have no doubt that the agreement is progressing as the relevant US authority confirmed this morning.”

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist on Manus Island, said the announcement of the US deal had brought hope to detainees last year, so news the US had reached its cap was “frustrating”.

“The US deal has already been clouded with uncertainty and worry that it is just part of a cruel game,” he said.

Turnbull confident Australia-US refugee swap despite Trump tightening up on immigration

If the refugee swap deal is indefinitely postponed it would have significant repercussions for the Turnbull government’s pledge to close a second detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island on 31 October.

But, despite the uncertainty, the closure of the Manus camp has continued. Detainees have been told to move out of sections as they close, closing down facilities including the gym and shutting off utilities.

Australia struck its one-off refugee swap deal with the former US president Barack Obama last year to provide refuge to up to 1,250 asylum seekers but it ran into trouble earlier this year when Trump raged publicly at the “dumb deal”, telling Turnbull in a private phone call it was the “worst deal ever”.

Trump’s administration has since said it will only honour the deal to maintain a strong relationship with Australia, and then only on condition that the refugees satisfied strict checks.

Australian PM Turnbull mocks Trump in off-the-record speech to room full of journalists ... and someone leaked audio

In exchange, Australia has pledged to take Central American refugees from a centre in Costa Rica, where the US has taken in a larger number of people in recent years.

Bishop was also asked on Sunday what she thought of Trump’s comments about the physical appearance of France’s first lady last week.

Trump was filmed looking at Brigitte Macron, the wife of the French president, when he was standing with her in the marbled hall of the Hôtel national des Invalides in Paris on Thursday, during his first state visit to the country.

“You’re in such good shape,” he told her. He then turned to her husband, the newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, who was standing beside him, and repeated: “She’s in such good physical shape.”

Bishop said she would be “taken aback” if Trump said something similar to her.

“It’s a rather interesting comment to make,” she said. “I wonder if she could say the same of him.”