Australian broadcast media gave roughly twice as much coverage to the US election as it did to the country’s own election earlier this year, according to media monitoring company Isentia.
But while Australians’ interest in the vote is clear, their thoughts on a President Trump are less so, with answers depending not only on who you ask, but when you asked them.
Earlier this year a poll by think tank the Lowy Institute, based in Sydney, found support for Hillary Clinton at close to 80 per cent, with 45 per cent saying ‘Australia should distance itself from the United States if it elects a president like Donald Trump’.
But a 9News internet poll conducted on the day of Trump’s victory showed Australians preferred Clinton by only a 53 to 47 per cent margin, increasing to 55 per cent a few hours later.
Senator Pauline Hanson, leader of her One Nation Party and often accused of racism (she worries Australia is in danger of “being swamped” by Muslims, a charge she laid against Asians in the 1990s) congratulated the Republican candidate before the results were announced, via Twitter.
Former Liberal member of Parliament Bronwyn Bishop, a mentor of ousted socially conservative PM Tony Abbott was at a celebratory Aussies for Trump event in Sydney, along with former Liberal MP Ross Cameron, who told the Australian Associated Press: “I feel fantastic. I feel delirious. I’m virtually in tears.”
Whether Trump will follow through with his pre-election rhetoric is not clear. Having threatened throughout his campaign to jail opponent Clinton, Trump took a notably different line during his victory speech, thanking “Secretary Clinton” for a tough campaign and for her service to America. Absent was the angry rhetoric and in its place a plea for the nation to come together.
For Australia this could be important. The United States is Australia’s most important ally and a turn away from the region by the US, or a pullback from Japan and Korea as Trump has earlier suggested could be on the cards would have strategic implications for Australia.
Similarly, his pledge of a 45 per cent trade tariff on Chinese goods into the US could damage the Chinese economy enough to have a serious knock-on effect in Australia, where the economy depends heavily on the volume of commodities shipped to China. The US, however, is the biggest investor in Australia and there is some 1.5 trillion dollars worth of two-way trade and portfolio investment.
Former Labour foreign minister Bob Carr said that a trade war with China would be bad for Australia in an interview with A Current Affair. “I don’t think Australia wants to be a kissing cousin with this new American president... we can maintain some distance.”
Greens leader Senator Richard DiNatale also wanted Australia to rethink the alliance.
Last month, before Trump’s win, former ambassador to the United States Kim Beazley told the SCMP: “When you go through Trump’s foreign policy what you see is the most profound ignorance of just about every facet of contemporary American engagement and it’s really quite confidence-shattering in its approaches to the structure of American alliances. Trump seems scarcely aware of the consequences of his activities.”
But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was more upbeat following Trump’s win, assuring Australians that: “We have no stronger relationship whether it’s on the battlefield or in commerce, than we have with the United States.”