What does a Biden Presidency mean for Australia?

09/11/2020 | 3 mins

This article by Gavin Butler originally appeared on Vice and has been republished with permission.

It’s official: Joseph Biden has usurped Donald Trump as the President of the United States of America.

That’s according to the national vote count, at least, of which the Democratic presidential candidate secured a clear majority after days of high pressure ballot counts.

Trump and a number of Republicans are still crying “electoral fraud” based on zero evidence and attempting to derail Biden’s victory via a series of appeals to the Supreme Court—and it’ll be a little while before we see whether any of those efforts actually get off the ground. But for now, the American people have spoken: and they’ve elected Joe Biden as their 46th president.

It’s a major political development that’s certain to have global ramifications. Biden takes the helm of a deeply-divided nation that, for all its internal conflicts, remains one of the world’s most dominant superpowers.

So what does a Biden win mean for one of the US’s closest diplomatic allies, Australia?

“I think victory by former Vice President Joe Biden in this presidential race is a good thing for Australia—and to understand that you have to look beyond the bilateral relationship,” Professor Gordon Flake, the founding Chief Executive Officer of the Perth USAsia Centre at The University of Western Australia, said

The reality is that over the last four years, I think no government on the planet has done a better job of managing the chaos of the Trump administration than Australia has. [But] to be very blunt, the Trump administration's America First policy has often meant America alone."

Professor Flake
Professor Gordon Flake


Professor Flake explains that it is this growing culture of American isolationism, “America alone”, that led to the US pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord and becoming increasingly hostile to multilateralism “in all its forms—whereas Australia is probably the world's most full throated supporter of multilateralism.”

“So a Biden victory,” he notes, “means that the scope of cooperation—the scope of shared strategies, priorities and policies for Australia and the United States—expands exponentially.”

Beyond the spheres of diplomacy and politics, there are a number of ways in which Professor Flake believes a Biden presidency will benefit everyday Australians in significant ways too.

“One, we’ll get our minds back,” he laughs. “We won't wake up every single day reading about the latest Trump outrage, and politics can go back to being boring as opposed to the most popular reality show on Australian media. That's a remarkable thing. But behind that almost flippant statement there's also some really important things.”

Mostly these are to do with the ripple effects of an afflicted America. Insofar as the US is Australia’s most important alliance partner, the latter has a deeply vested interest in the strength and wellbeing of the former. And the former seems to be waning under the Trump Administration in terms of both strength and wellbeing.

Professor Flake points out that the US under President Trump is sicker, weaker, less respected and less influential globally than it will be under President Biden. Even with the nation in a state of division and crisis, a Biden presidency is likely to make the US healthier, economically stronger and internationally more respected—and all of these things are “unquestionably good for Australia.”

“Australia is a democratic society,” he adds, “and so weakness in democratic societies anywhere—whether they be in Brexit or Bolsonaro’s Brazil—is not good for democratic societies everywhere. It'd be really nice for us to have America back on side when it came to human rights, freedom of the press and the full spectrum of issues.”

The ripple effects don’t stop there, though. Perhaps the most immediately relevant influence that will come from a changing of the guard across the Pacific is in terms of political ideology.

Professor Flake points out that the end of Trump may very well herald the end of Trumpism, which over the past four years has sewn division in a number of countries around the world—including Australia, among both its citizenry and political class.

“Obviously there are those [in Australia] who take their cues—in tone, in tenor, in language and in approach—from Donald Trump,” he says

“And having him in a position as leader of the free world that can be in the White House with a megaphone: it does have negative impacts on our own policy and our own civility. And I'm hoping that will fade.”

In spite of the worryingly narrow margins of victory, Professor Flake offers a definitive conclusion: Biden’s win is a good thing for Australia.

But it isn’t until he describes what another four years of Trump would have looked like that he really emphasises how high the stakes were.

“I actually think that we underestimate how cataclysmic that would be [if Trump had won],” he says. “There is a false sense of security that because Australia survived four years we could survive eight—and I think that's a mistaken assumption. A re-elected Trump would have been an unimpeded Trump, with his own dictatorial tendencies. And an Australia which has emerged relatively unscathed from the previous four years would not necessarily remain unscathed from the next.”

“The big thing here is that not just Australia but all of America's economic partners have been hedging their bets for the last four years, under the assumption that this was just an aberration of this archaic American Electoral College; that it was a mistake; that it’s not who America is. Under a second Trump term all these countries would fundamentally have to re-evaluate.”

Media references

Anna-lee Harry (UWA Media and PR Adviser), 08 6488 7975

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