The Department of Foreign Affairs has refused to release any analysis done on the policies of US President Donald Trump before his election last year, warning it could hurt Australia’s international relations and national security.

Australia’s relations with the United States have come under intense scrutiny over the past fortnight after The Washington Post revealed a tense call between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Trump over a deal Turnbull had made with former US president Barack Obama for the transfer of 1250 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru to the US. 

Trump labelled it a “dumb deal”, and the bad blood got worse when White House press secretary Sean Spicer not once but three times called Turnbull “Trumble”, and later the White House confused his job with that of a president, and left his name off a list of people Trump had spoken to.

[The Turnbull-Trump phone call transcript]

So what analysis did the government do on the potential impact of Trump’s policies, like the immigration ban, or pulling out of the TPP, or pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, on Australia? The government is refusing to say.

Just after Trump’s victory in November last year, Crikey filed a freedom of information request seeking access to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade analysis of Trump’s policies during 2016. The department initially delayed providing a response on the grounds of the Christmas break, and then rejected providing any of the documents when the extended response date was reached last week.

“I …consider that the release of the material in question would or could reasonably be expected to damage Australia’s national security and international relations,” Lucienne Manton, the assistant secretary in the United States branch of DFAT, said in a letter to Crikey

[Hard lessons for Turnbull: Trump doesn’t do diplomacy]

The department refused to disclose the exact documents it was blocking, but said documents assessing Australia’s bilateral relationship with the United States, other countries and international organisations were included.

DFAT also blocked some documents created for briefing Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for cabinet on the grounds it would reveal cabinet discussions. The department consulted the cabinet secretariat in reaching this conclusion.

Crikey has appealed the decision.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey