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Australian Politics

‘Trump has a very big personality’: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reflects on heated phone call

Trump blasted a refugee resettlement plan agreed to by predecessor Barack Obama, calling it a “dumb deal”

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 9:26am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 9:29am

US President Donald Trump has a “very big personality” with a “very big job,” according to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“We’ve had several conversations now, they’ve been constructive, frank and forthright,” Turnbull, 62, said on Tuesday in a Bloomberg Television interview in Sydney.

He said his government’s approach to dealing with the White House had not changed with the election of Trump.

We pursue our national interest methodically, calmly, consistently, we make our case very frankly, and forthrightly
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

“We pursue our national interest methodically, calmly, consistently, we make our case very frankly, and forthrightly, when we’re speaking to our American friends,” Turnbull said. “As you’d expect, with good friends, we are fairly circumspect about what we say in public.”

An important ally of the US in the Asia-Pacific, Australia has for years walked a line between supporting American interests in the region and engaging with China, its biggest trading partner.

But Turnbull’s relationship with Trump got off to a rocky start. In early February, Trump blasted a refugee resettlement plan agreed to by predecessor Barack Obama, calling it a “dumb deal”. That came after The Washington Post reported that Trump berated Turnbull in a phone call and then “abruptly ended” their conversation.

Trump later moved to patch things up, dispatching two top advisers to reassure Australia’s ambassador of American support for the alliance, and told business leaders in Washington “I love Australia as a country”.

“We give very frank advice and frank exchanges with our American counterparts, but we don’t do it, we don’t, you know, lecture them through the media,” Turnbull said in the interview.

Trump ‘unbelievably disappointed’ by Australia refugee deal, but White House says it’s still on

Australia has fought in every major conflict with the US since the first world war, and is flying combat missions in Syria. Obama heralded Australia as a vital link in his administration’s economic and military focus on Asia, a policy that was seen as a counterpoint to China’s rising influence. In late 2011, Obama secured a deal to base as many as 2,500 Marines in the northern Australian port of Darwin.

Winston Churchill once said that politicians complaining about the newspapers is like a sailor complaining about the sea
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

“We have a very deep engagement with the American administration, with every American administration,” Turnbull said.

“The Australian-US alliance, relationship, is very deep, it’s built on over a century of fighting side by side in every major conflict, it’s an alliance, it’s an economic partnership, and it’s built on millions of people to people links and family links.”

Still, Turnbull couldn’t resist warning Trump last week that he’s wasting his time complaining the media is spreading “very fake news” about his administration. That came after Trump used a 77-minute news conference to criticise the press, which has reported about alleged dysfunction in the White House.

“A very great politician, Winston Churchill, once said that politicians complaining about the newspapers is like a sailor complaining about the sea,” Turnbull told reporters in New Zealand on Friday. “There’s not much point. It’s the media we live with, and we have to get our message across, and we thank you all in the media for your kind attention.”

Turnbull previously called on Trump to respect the pledge made by Obama to resettle about 1,200 refugees blocked from entering Australia and now residing in offshore camps. Trump’s advisers have now signalled US authorities will process them, albeit with “extreme vetting”.