Originally published in the Daily Telegraph, 29 November 2016
With the world coming to terms with the reality of President Trump, former Treasurer Joe Hockey suddenly finds himself with the most important job in the country.
As our man in Washington, it falls to Joe to make sense of where the United States is going under a Trump administration.
And while getting the President-elect’s mobile number from Greg Norman was a good start, there is a big job ahead.
Trade agreements, commercial interests, security treaties like ANZUS, our involvement in the Middle East, attitudes to China and Asia more broadly are all at issue.
Ambassador Hockey is our front line in understanding it all. He has to forge links with people we expect will have key roles in the new administration. He has to establish a rapport with the Trump team.
In other words, relationships matter and it’s going to be up to Joe to ensure Australia is kept top of mind in Washington.
We may have enduring links and a great alliance but in an atmosphere of foreign policy isolationism we can’t afford to be complacent.
Back here in Australia, all the government does is make Joe’s job harder.
Every member of Cabinet and every backbencher seems willing to put their speculation as to what a Trump Presidency could mean for Australia out into the public domain. The second-guessing has fed the media machine for weeks. This of course comes after the on-the-record criticisms of candidate Trump by senior members of the government before the election.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described some of his comments as “loathsome”. They were. Senior minister Josh Frydenberg called him "a dropkick" and his colleague Christopher Pyne said Trump’s movement was “terrifying”.
And now Trump is president-elect and the Prime Minister needs to be clear about how we will work with the Trump administration.
In the PM’s first address to the nation once the election result was known, the overly verbose style of the former barrister was again on show. He spoke in generalities, papering over his previous concerns and missing the opportunity to set the tone for our future engagement.
German leader Angela Merkel chose a different path, showing how to offer congratulations and stay true to your beliefs. She talked about common values and the dignity of each and every person – “It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation.”
And still, the earlier remarks of our political leaders remain on the public record for Trump to muse over.
Love him or loath him, Trump is Trump and from January he will be President. How best to find a way through all this and ensure Australia’s national interests are preserved?
To paraphrase our Prime Minister, there’s never been a better time to know the people in the know.
Over to you, Ambassador Hockey.
Alex Malley is chief executive of CPA Australia