Q&A: How should Australia deal with Donald Trump's America?

By Dan Colasimone

Donald Trump is the President-elect of the United States and this appeared to provoke a sense of general unease among some members of the Q&A audience.

On Monday’s show, the panel wrestled with the issue of where Australia stands in this new world order.

Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, Labor frontbencher Terri Butler, author and columnist Benjamin Law, playwright and performer Nakkiah Lui and foreign affairs editor of The Australian Greg Sheridan fielded questions on our way forward in this post-Brexit, Trumpian reality.

There was a lot to talk about.

Could Trump happen in Australia?

Mr Trump’s victory came as a shock to many, and the panel discussed what effect it could have on Australian politics, and life in general. Could a similar upheaval occur here?

Mr Sheridan:

“All professional politicians around the world are saying maybe there’s a key here to turning out what used to be a stable group of voters and turning them into a swing constituency. So of course the Government is using Trump rhetoric, and so is the opposition.

“One thing Trump does show you is to speak in direct language like John Howard did.”

Mr Abetz:

“The simple fact is at the last election we lost 1.7 million votes to more right-wing parties than ourselves. In NSW, the Orange by-election, the National Party lost votes, not to the Greens, not to the Labor Party, but to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, a more right-wing conservative party.

“So Turnbull is right to be concentrating on budget repair, strong borders, ensuring the rule of law in the building and correction sector and so the list goes on. So I believe the PM is heading the country in the right direction by concentrating on those core policy issues that, in fact, are the bread and butter of a centre-right politics.”

Ms Lui: “Australia already rejected Trump’s policies under Abbott. We like healthcare, public schooling, we are vested in our social institutions.”

Should Australia continue to follow the US into conflict?

Former prime minister Paul Keating said recently Australia should “cut the tag” with American foreign policies, focussing more on relationships in Asia. The panel disagreed on whether this advice should be followed.

Mr Sheridan:

“We don’t want to normalise the abnormal things he says but we do want to normalise him in his behaviour if we possibly can.


“Australia has always been completely independent but it’s been in Australia’s interests to have an alliance with the US.”

Ms Butler:

“That doesn’t mean we don’t support the alliance. Of course we support it. Being true friends means speaking the truth to each other and seeking to influence each other.”

Mr Abetz:

“But having said that, there is a good relationship for us to be had with China and with the Asian countries. That’s what we’re doing.

“We can be friends with both without prejudicing Australia in any way and, in fact, advancing her cause.”

Mr Law:

“Trump has advocated torture, Trump is someone who has advocated for the killing of civilians related to terrorists, there is no reason to believe that he doesn’t still stand by them coming into becoming president as well.

“I think it’s completely within our rights and prudent, if not even conservative, for us to reassess our alliances to the US as time moves on over the next four or even eight years.”

How can young people have any confidence in democracy?

A high school student in the audience expressed a sense of exasperation that the choice at election time often seems to be between two evils. How can people be empowered to believe they are not just bystanders in the political system?

On this point some panelists argued that politics is the way to change the world, while others suggested different forms of activism can be just as effective.

Ms Lui:

“The majority of his voters were upper middle-class educated college men who voted for him on the basis of his campaign for racism, homophobia, for sexism, for discrimination, right?

“So we need to remember and so how he won was that the Democrats, people who voted for Obama, a lot of those didn’t go and vote because it felt like what did you have to choose from?

“Like choosing who will be king shit of turd island.”

“Understand you do have a voice and your voice may not be at play within the kind of democracy that is so part of the moment that it feels like it loses touch with the Australian public, but eventually the politicians will have to come to you. And we have powers in numbers.”

Mr Sheridan:

“It’s not very hard to take over a branch of either party and in five minutes you’ll find yourself in Parliament.

“I urge you, pick a party of your choice and be its candidate in 10 minutes time.”

Mr Law: “I’d be terrible at it. For all of my grievances about politicians I do really respect the job they do. It’s not an easy one.

“When you have to go through the finer details of policy, as we’ve been doing in preparation for tonight for instance, it’s not always the most rewarding or pleasant task. So I do have a lot of respect for what they do. I just wouldn’t be able to do it myself.

Ms Butler: “You would be able to do it yourself.”

Mr Law: “Are you trying to court me?”

Ms Butler: “I’m going to need a successor some time soon.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

© 2016 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here