Malcolm Turnbull is learning first-hand that dealing with the White House under the new Trump administration is going to be anything but easy.
And on a day he had planned to present his big picture for the nation, the Prime Minister was left trying to explain whether a refugee deal between Australia and the US is still going ahead, and how much money he has donated to his own party.
The refugee agreement, struck between Mr Turnbull and former US president Barack Obama late last year, would see the resettlement of 1250 refugees currently on Manus Island and Nauru.
But after assuring the Prime Minister he would honour the deal, the newly inaugurated Donald Trump is now said to be still considering it.
And after deflecting questions about his party donations throughout his first National Press Club address of the year earlier on Wednesday, Mr Turnbull eventually revealed to ABC’s 7.30 that he and his wife Lucy gave $1.75 million in the lead-up to the election.
“I’ve always been prepared to put my money where my mouth is. Now, here’s the difference: I put my money into ensuring that we didn’t have a Labor government,” he said.
“I put my money into the Liberal Party’s campaign.”
Refugee deal confusion
Australia’s refugee relocation deal with the US was initially reconfirmed between Mr Turnbull and Mr Trump during a phone call last Sunday.
The Prime Minister was jubilant in letting Australians know the resettlement plan was still going ahead, despite an executive order signed by Mr Trump suspending the US’s refugee program.
The four-month suspension, which was signed before the Trump-Turnbull phone call, temporarily bans entry into the US by people travelling on passports from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Many of the refugees awaiting transfer on Manus and Nauru are from the banned countries.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer initially said the deal would go ahead, but hinted that tough conditions might result in the actual numbers of refugees allowed into America being considerably less than 1250.
“There will be extreme vetting applied to all of them,” he said.
“That is part and parcel of the deal that was made, and it was made by the Obama administration with the full backing of the United States government.”
The ABC subsequently reported that Mr Spicer spoke in terms of “if” the deal would be honoured.
Asked about the deal’s status during his address to the National Press Club, Mr Turnbull expressed confidence in the President’s word.
“As you’ve heard from the President’s own spokesman this morning, the Trump administration has committed to progress with the arrangements to honour the deal, if you like, that was entered into with the Obama administration,” he said.
“And that was the assurance that the President gave me when we spoke on the weekend.”
But flagging the possibility of the number of refugees being reduced from what was in the initial agreement, Mr Turnbull pointed to the vetting process being necessary.
“It’s understandable and to be expected that the new administration will want to make sure that it was very, very rigorous,” he said.
“Ours is too, by the way, extremely vigorous. We don’t cut corners or compromise on keeping Australians safe, and the United States government has exactly the same attitude.
“So, vetting will always be rigorous and that has always been part of the agreement.
“Naturally, it’s the United States government that determines who goes into the United States. The Australian government determines who comes into Australia.
“And they will do their own extremely rigorous vetting of people that are the subject, or potentially the subject, of the agreement.”
Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong said there remained too many unanswered questions over whether the refugee deal was still alive.
“Does the Prime Minister actually know what the agreement is and whether it will be implemented?” Senator Wong said.
“It appears there are very mixed messages.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had criticised Mr Turnbull after he declined to name the amount he had donated during his speech to the National Press Club.
Mr Turnbull said the amount of his donation was not included in Australian Electoral Commission political funding disclosures for 2015/16, released on Wednesday, because they were made in the current financial year.
— abc730 (@abc730) February 1, 2017
When challenged on why he had not released the details of his donations earlier, Mr Turnbull told 7.30: “I think Australians are more interested in what I am doing with their money than what I am doing with my own.”
He said he and his wife Lucy had always been generous because they had done well in life and “believe it is part of our duty to give back”.
“And Bill Shorten wants to go after me all the time and he says I’m Mr Harbourside Mansion,” Mr Turnbull said.
The AEC figures showed the Liberals received $80.2 million over the year while Labor received $61 million.
Mining magnate Paul Marks, a friend of former prime minister Tony Abbott, was the biggest single donor to the Liberal Party, contributing $1.4 million.
– with ABC/AAP