Australian political leaders need to change how they engage with the United States and better follow the example of British and Canadian governments, according to a new report from the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

Written by Alliance 21 research fellow Dougal Robinson, the report offers a blueprint for how the government should retool its political engagement in Washington during the Trump presidency. It recommends that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and senior ministers compensate for the reduced effectiveness of bureaucratic communication with the US government by investing more personal time engaging with key stakeholders in the administration and Congress.

"The idiosyncrasies of the administration and President Trump's aversion to reading briefs will likely limit the effectiveness of Australia's bureaucratic engagement with the US government, especially on the most important bilateral and regional issues," Robinson said.

"Prime Ministers Theresa May and Justin Trudeau and their senior ministers have prioritised meeting representatives and senators from the outset of Trump’s presidency. Australia has missed out on a significant opportunity."

In the report, Robinson outlines a series of policy recommendations, provides key insights into the inner workings of the Trump administration, and details the benefits of personal engagement with US cabinet figures and Congress.

Key points

  • The US State Department is institutionally very weak under Trump and there are few Trump-appointed senior staff in place across the US government, reducing the utility of traditional communication methods with the US administration.
  • The prime minister and senior ministers should substantially deepen their outreach to US Congress, which is playing an outsized role in shaping US international engagement under President Trump.
  • Every time Australian political leaders visit Washington, they should hold multiple meetings with key US senators and representatives, including those in the new Friends of Australia Congressional Caucus.

View report

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