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April, 2019 1:10 AM



Aust avoids Trump wrath after rocky start

Aust avoids Trump wrath after rocky start

Two years after Donald Trump's famous fiery call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia has arguably fared better with him in the White House than any other nation.

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By AAP 29.01.2019 01:09 PM

It was the phone call that sent violent tremors from the White House, through US Congress and all the way to Parliament House in Canberra.

The tone of the call was such a surprise it sparked a skit on Saturday Night Live and late-night talk show hosts took turns poking fun at it.

"Who the hell would have guessed we'd have a problem with Australia?" Jimmy Kimmel, to laughs from his live audience, asked in his opening monologue.

Monday marked the two-year anniversary of US President Donald Trump's infamous phone call with then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Trump, who had just spent his first week in the White House, had a long list of calls to make on January 28, 2017.

He had chats with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and, unlucky last, Turnbull.

The Trump-Turnbull call was scheduled to last an hour but Trump cut it off after just 25 minutes.

The Australian PM did not hold back early in the call, forcefully persuading Trump to accept a refugee deal hatched during previous president Barack Obama's administration.

Trump was not happy.

"I think it is a horrible deal, a disgusting deal that I would have never made," Trump huffed and puffed, according to a transcript of the call obtained by The Washington Post.

The leaders were yet to talk about Syria or North Korea but the president was done.

"As far as I am concerned that is enough, Malcolm," Trump said.

"I have had it.

"I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day.

"Putin was a pleasant call.

"This is ridiculous."

The fiery call was kept secret for four days until The Washington Post published the transcript.

Trump was not concerned, telling a prayer breakfast the morning after the Post story broke: "When you hear about the tough phone calls I'm having, don't worry about it ... we are taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually".

A major damage-control campaign led by senior Republicans on Capitol Hill, John McCain, Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham, was launched.

Then White House spokesman Sean Spicer, in one of his car-wreck media briefings, attempted to douse the fires by stressing the president respected "Mr Trumble".

Australian Ambassador to the US Joe Hockey rushed over to the White House for an evening chat.

It worked.

Two years later, Australia (and perhaps Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea) has arguably fared better with Trump in the White House than any other nation.

Trump accepted the refugee deal.

When Trump unveiled heavy aluminium and steel tariffs on friend and foe nations last year Australia was spared.

Only Australian citizens can obtain special E3 visas to work in the US but last year Ireland launched an aggressive campaign to get in on the action.

Ireland failed.

This week, Hockey will host a dinner in Washington DC for Arthur Culvahouse, a White House insider, political legal eagle and Trump's pick to be the next US ambassador to Australia.

Culvahouse will provide a strong link between the White House and Canberra.

"We have half the White House coming and a number of members of the cabinet," Hockey, discussing the dinner, told AAP.

"It just shows you the regard they have for us."

Hockey admits it has taken a lot of hard work to maintain the US-Australian bond in the Trump era.

He says one key is the Australian government, unlike other allies, choose not to be "judgmental" about Trump.

Trump is also transactional and Australia benefits the US in many ways across multiple sectors.

"The bottom line is we have military personnel in 34 states, we are one of the biggest purchasers of military equipment in the US, our intelligence relationship is deeper than any other country in the world and they are the biggest investor in our country," Hockey said.

"We are not judgmental about the Trump administration.

"I think that is what separates us from everyone else."

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