Gareth Evans on Australian self-reliance

April 13, 2017

In a speech to the National Press Club on Thursday, former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans lambasted US President Donald Trump and called on Australia to become more self-reliant. Evans described Trump as “manifestly the most ill-informed, under-prepared, ethically challenged and psychologically ill-equipped president in US history”.

Evans, who is chancellor of the Australian National University, was speaking at the launch of Allan Gyngell’s book Australia’s Fear of Abandonment: Australia in the World Since 1942. Gyngell is adjunct professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy and a former director-general of the Office of National Assessments.

In an interview after his speech, Evans tells Michelle Grattan that Malcolm Turnbull should handle Trump “rather more diplomatically than I did today”.

“I fully acknowledge the reality that when you’re dealing face-to-face with these people you’ve got to go through the motions of decency, however indecent you think their behaviour has been,” he says.

“I think the very important thing is for Turnbull to give, as he apparently did in that famous phone conversation, some pretty clear messages about what Australia’s interests are and how they might be distinct from those of the United States.”

Reflecting on Trump’s strike against a Syrian air base last week, Evans has a “complicated response”.

“Half of me, or maybe a bit more than half of me is absolutely applauding, saying ‘wow, yes’ … when we see an overtly humanitarian response to catastrophic behaviour of the kind that we saw from [Syrian president] Assad, your first instinct of course is to cheer.

"But, and there are quite a few buts you have to add up, will this be effective in at least stopping chemical weapons? Well, if it is, that’s good but there’s a lot of other deaths being perpetrated, and will it be possibly counter-productive in terms of bringing this impossibly protracted war to a diplomatic conclusion?”

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