JULIE BISHOP: Thank you for gathering here this afternoon. The vote for the 45th President of the United States is continuing. The polls have just closed in Hawaii and they are still to close in the 50th state, Alaska, so the count is ongoing. At this stage, it would appear that Donald Trump is the most likely to claim the Presidency, and as I have said for many months now, the Australian Government is ready and prepared to work with whomever the American people, in their wisdom, choose to be their President. A Presidential Election in the United States is always a momentous occasion. In this instance, it has been a particularly bruising, divisive and hard fought campaign. However, the new Administration will have a number of challenges, including in our region, and we want to work constructively with the new Administration to ensure the continued presence and leadership of the United States in our region.
Australia has a number of economic and security interests that we wish to continue to pursue. The United States is our major security ally. The United States is our largest foreign direct investor and our second largest trading partner. The United States is also the guarantor and defender of the rules based international order that has underpinned so much of our economic and security issues and interests. So, at this stage it's too early to call, but it would appear most likely that Donald Trump will become the President of the United States.
JOURNALIST: In the event of that outcome, do you think Australia and its allies can convince Donald Trump not to be isolationist and not to expect Japan and South Korea to pay for their own defence?
JULIE BISHOP: At this stage, it is too early to say what a Trump Administration foreign policy would look like. We can judge from some of the statements and the speeches made during this very long Presidential campaign, but it will be a responsibility of the Australian Government and other governments in the region to impress upon the new administration the importance of US leadership in our region, the importance of the United States continuing to maintain a strong presence in the region, and, of course, the United States is the security partner and ally of a number of countries in our region.
We have been preparing for either a Clinton Administration or a Trump Administration. We have been reaching out to both the Clinton teams and the Trump teams, and we are prepared and ready to work constructively with either administration. There will be opportunities for us to engage with representatives from the United States at a number of high level international meetings that will be occurring, but I do point out that over the next 73 days President Obama has the full constitutional and executive authority as President of the United States. So we will continue to work with the Obama Administration.
JOURNALIST: Do you anticipate that there will be any impact on a Trump Presidency to trade deals that Australia has already signed with the United States?
JULIE BISHOP: I don't expect there to be any change to the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement. It hasn't been mentioned, it has been in place for 10 years, and Australia runs a trade deficit with the United States. The United States has a significant trade surplus with Australia, so I can't envisage a circumstance where the Australia-US Trade Agreement would be disturbed.
JOURNALIST: Ms Bishop, you mentioned on Sky that it appears the Republicans have won the control of both Houses, and you see that as a good thing in so far as it could break these gridlocks. One of those could be over the TPP. Donald Trump does oppose the TPP, but have you any indication that you may be able to get him and the Republicans to change their mind and have Congress ratify the deal if it doesn't do it in the lame duck period?
JULIE BISHOP: The point I was making was that should there be a Donald Trump Presidency, then the likelihood that there could be a majority of Republicans in the House and the Senate increases. If that were to be the case with Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, we could see the end of the gridlock that has bedevilled United States politics for such a long time.
In relation to the Trans Pacific Partnership, it's my understanding that the Obama Administration intends to pass the TPP into law during the transition period, that so-called ‘lame duck period’ between 9 November and midday on 20 January. So, we are hopeful that the Obama Administration, through President Obama, can pass the TPP, but I point out both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have not supported the Trans Pacific Partnership in its current format and so we would have to see how their trade policy evolved after 20 January. But we see the Trans Pacific Partnership as an important economic manifestation of the United States' presence in our region. Should the TPP not go ahead, then the vacuum that would be created is most likely to be filled by RCEP, the free trade agreement that comprises the ASEAN countries, China, Australia and others, at its core.
JOURNALIST: Are you surprised by Hillary Clinton's likely loss? Does it set back the progress of women in politics as world leaders?
JULIE BISHOP: From the moment Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, I have been anticipating that it would be close and that he would be competitive, and so that's why the Australian Government has been preparing for either a Clinton Administration or a Trump Administration, notwithstanding the polls and the pundits.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you mentioned that Australia is, of course, prepared to work with either President, and it does look like Donald Trump, in a constructive manner but does a Trump Presidency make that a harder task considering he has been quite strong on a number of issues. He has launched quite a bit of vitriol to a number of people and has made some very damaging comments. Is your task now harder?
JULIE BISHOP: I think one of the challenges for the new President will be to unite the people of the United States. It has been a divisive and bitter campaign, both candidates have acknowledged that. It has been bruising and, in many instances, one of the most deeply divisive that we have seen. So, I think the challenge is for the new President and the new Administration to bring the people of the United States together. And from our perspective, Australia is considered a strong and reliable ally of the United States, and I expect that a Trump Presidency would continue to regard Australia in that light, and we most certainly are reaching out to the Trump National Security Team, the transition team, to ensure that Australia's interests – economically, strategically, national security, defence – are made known to the Administration very early on.
JOURNALIST: Have you been given, in those initial things with the transition team, have you been given any in-principle assurances that they are…on regional…their engagement in the region?
JULIE BISHOP: We have received very positive responses in relation to the US-Australia alliance. It is long-standing, it is the bedrock of our security interests and we've certainly had nothing that would lead me to be concerned about the US-Australia alliance. It will be incumbent upon all countries that have deep interests with the United States to ensure that they press upon the Administration their concerns, their interests, but that's my expectation over the transition period. Mind you, the transition team, whomever is the President, has a significant task ahead of them putting together an Administration – there are about 4000 politically nominated positions that have to be filled. So we will continue to work with the Obama Administration during the transition period but remain closely engaged, as much as we can, with their transition teams, to look at issues of foreign and domestic policy that would affect Australia.
JOURNALIST: Ms Bishop, Mr Trump can appear to be an incredibly volatile and often belligerent character, that's how he often comes across at least. What would your message be to Australians tonight who are wondering at this outcome? Are we heading for a greater risk of conflict?
JULIE BISHOP: We work with many different global leaders of different qualities, characteristics and traits. The Australian people can be assured that the Coalition Government is prepared and ready to work with whomever becomes the President of the United States in a positive and constructive way that will further our national interests.
JOURNALIST: Economists have warned of a trade war with China, perhaps, if there were - in the case of a Trump Presidency, how would Australia respond?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia welcomes China's peaceful rise. We also acknowledge that the United States has been the guarantor of peace and security and stability in our region, and we would certainly appeal to any incoming Administration for the United States to maintain that role.
JOURNALIST: Just given everything that you’ve said, would it be a fair assessment that Australia will have to play a muscular or more robust role in terms of engaging with the US and encouraging it to stay in the region given some of the positions that Mr Trump has taken?
JULIE BISHOP: This would depend very much on the formal foreign policy positions and when we have a better understanding of who is likely to be the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defence we will then be in a better position to judge what changes, if any, there will be to US foreign policy. I don’t think that we should assume that should Hillary Clinton become the President that it would be the status quo. A President Clinton, for example, may well have different foreign policy positions from the Obama Administration. So that’s why we are prepared and have done a lot of detailed work and analysis on working with either a Trump President or a Clinton President, and the respective Administrations. So Australia is always deeply engaged with the United States and we work with the hand that we are dealt, and if there are more challenges we will rise to them, and of course the Australian people can be assured we are prepared and ready to work with Trump Presidency or a Clinton Presidency should that eventuate.
I do point out that there have been close US Presidential Elections in the past, there have been false calls – the election of 2000 springs to mind – and so of course we are being very careful not to pre-empt the outcome of the US Election.
JOURNALIST: Was Bill Shorten ‘barking mad’ to call Donald Trump ‘barking mad’?
JULIE BISHOP: I think Mr Shorten will find himself in a rather embarrassing situation and this exposes the folly of a leader of an Australian political party making personal, and indeed offensive, comments about a candidate for an election in another country. It’s not something I would do and Mr Shorten will of course have to answer for his own behaviour.
JOURNALIST: Was it as silly as John Howard likening Obama to ‘al Qaeda’s candidate of choice’? Was that on that level?
JULIE BISHOP: I’ll leave the commentators to analyse the scenarios. Thank you.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555