After US President Donald Trump spoke to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on January 28, the White House announced their conversation “emphasised the enduring strength and closeness” of the two nations.
However, the transcript of their telephone exchange, released by Washington Post, reveals a completely different narrative. The two leaders repeatedly clashed over a deal signed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, under which the US would agree to settle refugees on Nauru and Manus Island — Australian policy dictates that they do not accept refugees who arrive by boat, in an attempt to check human smuggling and drowning at sea.
Trump claimed the deal would make the US “look bad”.
“I just called for a total ban on Syria and from many different countries from where there is terror, and extreme vetting for everyone else…It looks like 2,000 people that Australia does not want and I do not blame you by the way, but the United States has become like a dumping ground,” he said.
Turnbull tried to explain that the deal required the US to vet and take only those refugees that it chooses. He also told Trump that the refugees were not from conflict zones and were fleeing poverty.
However, Trump seemed fixated on why Australia had not let them in.
“Look at what has happened in Germany. Look at what is happening in these countries. These people are crazy to let this happen. I spoke to (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel today, and believe me, she wishes she did not do it. Germany is a mess because of what happened,” he said.
Turnbull kept explaining that the deal meant that US taking in the refugees was at its own discretion. Trump, instead, went on a completely different tangent.
“I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people and I agree I can vet them, but that puts me in a bad position. It makes me look so bad and I have only been here a week,” he said.
Turnbull patiently explained the number of refugees was actually quite lower — it was 1,250.
But Trump said, “I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people.”
He also called the deal “stupid” which would “make me look terrible”. He also repeatedly brought up Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev — the Boston bombers — till Turnbull was forced to interrupt and point out that the brothers were from Russia.
However, Trump’s response was, “They were from wherever they were.”
Trump also kept going back to why Australia was not accepting refugees off boats, despite Turnbull explaining to him time and again. At one point, the transcript says Trump said “this is crazy” and called it “the most unpleasant call of the day”.
In the end, a thoroughly irritated Turnbull signed off thanking Trump and saying that he could count on him.