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Byron Shire
March 3, 2021

Thus Spake Mungo: Turnbull turns a trick on Trump’s tariffs

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Yet another triumph for our indefatigable prime minister. Now he has saved the nation – maybe the world – from the scourge of The Donald’s dastardly tariffs on steel and aluminium.

Through diligent persuasion, remorseless argument and irrefutable logic Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues have explained that because Australia has followed America into a few military adventures together, because we have shared values like the rule of law and respect for women – well, some women – and above all because of the shared mystique of mutual mateship Australia, along with a lot other countries, will be exempted from the onerous duty. Cheering, fireworks, dancing in the streets.

There is, of course, another version, which is that the result should never have been in doubt. Why, just a few days ago in Washington Trump and Turnbull collaborated in a cosy love-in and POTUS promised, in front of witnesses, that if there were to be any tariffs – and of course he was not saying there would be – then certainly they would not apply to Australia.

And yet our relieved leader had barely touched down in Canberra before Trump announced that not only would there be tariffs, but there would be no exemptions. This was war, Trump implied – a full-scale trade war. ‘Trade wars are good, and easy to win,’ he enthused.

And given that piece of braggadocio, there was an understandable reaction from the proposed victims. China, the main one, must have been a little puzzled; after all, it may be a huge exporter to the United States, but only a tiny part of that is metals. However, having been designated a target, it felt compelled to respond, although at this stage it is not clear how serious or widespread any reprisals might be.

The European Union, on the other hand, is a big exporter of both steel and aluminium, and would thus be collateral damage to the Trump campaign: it too has threatened to retaliate, and if those two giants get into the stoush, things could be vey nasty.

Turnbull begged, implored, grovelled, he negotiated on his knees, not to change the mind of his great and powerful friend, but just to urge him to stay consistent for a couple of weeks.

Turnbull went through his ritual affirmation of free trade all round, but from a domestic political point of view it was vital that Australia should get the favourable treatment it was promised. So he, Julie Bishop, Steve Ciobo and anyone else who could be roped in pleaded for Australia to be made a special case: like Canada and Mexico, it could – nay, it must – include security considerations, thus avoiding possible sanctions from the World Trade Organisation.

But mainly, it was just because it was Australia – America’s most loyal ally. And to show just how loyal we could be, Turnbull begged, implored, grovelled, he negotiated on his knees, not to change the mind of his great and powerful friend, but just to urge him to stay consistent for a couple of weeks.

It worked, naturally; it was always going to. Much of what Trump announces is in the nature of ambit claims, all-embracing proclamations on Twitter, which frantic bureaucrats have to sort out before they can be transformed into policy. So although the world economy may well still be in trouble, Turnbull got the concession he needed.

But only at the price of a humiliating, even desperate, series of entreaties which proved just how flaky the president’s word can be. We do not yet know what the quid pro quo will be, but, Trump being Trump, it’s a very safe bet that there will be one and if China remains the primary objective of Trump’s tantrums, it may not be a pretty one for Australia. As Henry Kissinger once observed, America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.

And at this stage of its history, America’s interest is focussed unremittingly on Donald Trump and what he may do next. And as has just been shown, this may not be predictable, logical or even entirely sane. Perhaps, as some foreign affairs analysts are starting to consider the unthinkable: we may have to have a hard, cold look at just how we may be pulled into the mix as The Donald charges wildly into an uncertain world.

But for the moment we are back to the same old domestic reality as Turnbull tries to salvage a last, lingering week of the autumn session of parliament before disappearing into the entrails of the next budget – and probably the last one before a federal election.

He says he will definitely go to 2019 (perhaps hoping to make it more than 60 losing Newspolls in a row: is there no end to his ambition?) But to hold things off until after the budget would involve a certain manipulation with numbers and dates, and that kind of trickery did not turn out too well in 2016.

So yet again we are searching for a reset, a circuit-breaker, just something that works. But it looks as if we are facing more of the same: brutal and ruthless personal attacks on Bill Shorten, now extending to his family, staff and acquaintances, and more innumerate waffle about the wonder and beauty of corporate tax cuts.

Repeated experiments have shown that the voters are not impressed; they would probably prefer a few more verses of The Ballad Of Bonking Barnaby, as this endless soapie meanders into ever more bizarre trails. And the commentariat apparently believes that the answer is more conservative (meaning, in many cases, reactionary) ideology, a conclave of philosopher kings (themselves, naturally) to revive the heart and soul of what they laughingly call the centre-right – the time when the coalition ruled unchallenged and the voters knew their place.

The problem is that those days are gone forever – and a cursory glance towards Washington (or perhaps Mar-a-Lago) is all that is required to prove it. In this febrile atmosphere, Turnbull’s triumphs are likely to be both transient and illusory – what is need is a precisely the nimbleness and agility Turnbull once aspired to in those giddy days when people still believed in him.

The Trump presidency is still a work in progress, but we will be stuck with it for nearly another three years at least – more likely seven. It will certainly outlast the Turnbull prime ministership. Kow-towing for crumbs from the table is, perhaps, one tactic to end a pseudo-crisis; it is not a re-election strategy. But then, nor is anything else Turnbull has turned up.


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11 COMMENTS

  1. Mungo, Turnbull has turned-up another sick show. Check out… Turnbull Government
    ‘RATTLES THE TIN’ FOR ADANI – via “Backdoor Funding”, the EFIC. The Australian
    Marine Conservation Society – AMCE – has put out an alert & Fairfax media has it as
    well.

    • Stefanie – efic – abc – doomsday – why don’t the scientists stop puttering around with their diesel, might make a diff; amcs – their site looks like armani on a bad hair day – also, I answered the invitation a sinner can’t refuse …
      we might not know the end
      we forget our part
      inbetween there’s many
      wanting our heart
      the world and life is
      circular
      and we’re lost at the start

  2. Given the current shower of shite masquerading as a government OR opposition I don’t know how Mungo still finds the will to write anything half non-suicide inducing.
    Seriously, does anyone imagine that Labor will be ‘better’ – as distinct from “less appalling” – if/when it slithers into office?
    If we have learned nothing else since the GFC it is that both Tweedledumb & Tweedledumber are utterly complicit and have no ability or even understanding why we, the People, are so mightily pissed off?
    More than 30% of the electorate refuses, on pain of a fine, to vote for T1 or T2 yet it bothers them not a whit.

  3. YEP! Mungo… Robot… & all me old dears. I could even be dead
    but I won’t lie down. No! Think about what’s bred in our bones…

    The Dust Devil family
    Spins like atop,
    Kicks like
    A mule
    And won’t
    Ever forsake
    The past
    For last…

  4. Yes, not prone to proneness myself, except in the face of my own issues …
    we read to reach beyond
    the middle age
    our individuation
    another stage
    and just as the future is
    reading right
    we turn the next, confusing page

  5. There has been a drift, amongst responses to these articles, toward a non-market economy, and despite what is said about simplistic theory, this is the divide still. To Hayek or not to Hayek. Of course anomolies in their thousands in either system. Look to the aged giving control of their assets to a home; it’s happened at least thrice in my family. We white Australians, if I can still say that, don’t figure well with extended families, despite what intentions. And the Socialists want no aspect of a market at all, just theory, and stop short of revolution. Iceland had almost anarchy for a while – it’s in their history – and the party accepted there would still have to be distribution. One chicken for me, two eggs for you. Personally, I admit the welfare system does me no favours, really, I don’t have to struggle to earn or repay. I am oiled free of charge. It is not a system I would propogate though. We lose any proportion of market forces and it is proportionate to personal choice. Self interest as Smith said. This is still the crux of economic theory.

  6. Oh! My Giddy Aunt’s not prone
    to prone-ing away
    the sway
    of slow cooked chicken
    livers that slither
    ‘cross the here & thither
    where the tweeds
    & dumbs play…
    ‘home-on-the-range’
    [or rivers]
    as if
    we factor
    as matter.

  7. readily, apologies
    my bile is not meant bad
    too many years
    forgotten
    my grandfather also
    had a violin, stored away
    I never heard him play it
    instead
    we played chess,
    he’d say ‘John, think!’
    so I do, or try

  8. Me dear robotic Robot… I ‘tried’ to think super-fish-illy and
    passed out. Hope to see you at The Adani Library showing
    in Lismore on the 22nd. Remember… “water” is the most
    important item in order to survive – clean water, that is.
    Adani plans to use much of it as well. [no pun]. Hell, the
    WORLD’S WATER DAY – world wide – is the focus all
    this week. Pity there’s no water on Mars.

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