Scott Morrison says he admires Donald Trump as a “very practical” leader “who’s not going to waste a day” in office, and has told an American newspaper he and the US president share an instinct to help those forgotten by the forces of globalisation.
“I think we both get it,” Morrison told the New York Times, of their common understanding.
Spruiking the kind of populist credentials that swept Trump to power, Morrison said many people in both the US and Australia feel left behind by the powerful economic forces of globalisation, which have brought massive wealth to some but left others feeling poorer and disenfranchised.
“That’s what we get. The president gets that. I get it,” the prime minister told the Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Australia escaped the worst of the vicissitudes of the global financial crisis – sparked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers almost exactly 10 years ago – that savaged America’s economy, and sent the world into the largest recession of a generation.
But while Australia weathered the crisis better than almost any other developed economy, the US recovery has been stronger.
In Australia, while company profits are strong – approaching record levels – wage growth has been stubbornly anaemic, and cost-of-living pressures, particularly around housing and power, have left millions feeling poorer, rather than better off.
Trump and Morrison spoke by phone the day after Morrison ascended to the prime ministership, discussing the Australia-US relationship and alliance.
Morrison described Trump as “very practical” and as someone “who’s not going to waste a day”.
“I like that about him. I like that about him a lot, actually.’’
The pair discussed the president’s passion for golf, Morrison conceding he was a “rubbish golfer”.
“I’m not sure if that phrase is well known and I think he thought I meant I was a good golfer because he started going ‘Oh, what’s your handicap?’ And I said ‘No, no, no, it means I’m not very good at it.’ He’s passionate about it. He knows all the Australian players.”
Trump has weathered tempestuous international relations with allies.
He and the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, fell out over US-imposed tariffs.
Trump criticised the British prime minister, Theresa May, and her Brexit plan, and gave succour to her political rival Boris Johnson.
He described the European Union as a “foe” of America and railed against Nato, saying the military alliance was failing and casting doubt on the principle of collective defence.
Trump has shown more affinity with autocratic leaders, holding, in his words, a “very good” meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, expressing admiration for Chinese president Xi Jinping’s abolition of term limits – “maybe we’ll want to give that a shot someday” – and insisting Vladimir Putin’s Russia was not responsible for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, in defiance of his own departments of homeland security and justice.
But Trump had a solid, if occasionally fractious, relationship with Morrison’s predecessor as Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull, a merchant banker before entering politics, moved in similar circles and had a mutual friends with Trump, including former golf world number one-turned businessman Greg Norman.
But in a heated phone call in January – the full transcript of which was later leaked – Trump and Turnbull argued over Australia’s controversial refugee deal with the US.
The deal obliged the US to consider for resettlement refugees sent by Australia to offshore processing centres on remote islands of Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island.
Trump described the arrangement as a “dumb deal … that will make us look awfully bad” but ultimately honoured the commitment brokered by his predecessor Barack Obama. The deal has seen several hundred refugees resettled so far.
“Why have you not let them into your society?… You are worse than I am,” Trump told Turnbull.