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Labor urges US-Asia foreign policy balance

AAP logoAAP 15/11/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Labor says the United States is important for global security but has cautioned Malcolm Turnbull over putting too much emphasis on defence to curry favour with US president-elect Donald Trump.

The warning came as the prime minister accused Labor of putting Australia at risk and being factionally divided over America's importance.

The election of Mr Trump has dominated political debate in Australia over the past week, touching on issues from immigration to freedom of speech and defence.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Australia and the US shared similar values.

"But we are not exactly the same as the United States," he told reporters in Mackay on Wednesday

"So when people talk about the future of the American alliance, I am optimistic about it, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't also be engaging in Asia."

He said Labor's "three pillars" of foreign policy were the American alliance, deeper engagement in the Asia-Pacific region and respect for multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.

Labor foreign policy spokeswoman Penny Wong said there was a danger Mr Turnbull - who received new US-developed surveillance aircraft in Canberra on Wednesday - could emulate Tony Abbott in taking a "chest-beating" approach to global events.

She said the policy focus should shift to the region.

"We need to work with our regional partners during this period of uncertainty to identify areas of common interest and jointly seek to influence US thinking on these," Senator Wong said.

"First among these is continued constructive US engagement in our region."

Mr Turnbull said Senator Wong was sending a message from Labor's Left wing which "has always been uncomfortable with the alliance ... and the United States".

"You have Penny Wong wanting to move away from our most trusted, most enduring ally ... (and) put our country at risk," he said.

"On the other hand you have the Right of the (Labor) party trying to back away from where she has gone - Labor is hopelessly divided on national security and border protection."

Mr Trump campaigned on new investment in the US military, which Mr Turnbull said Australia supported and was mirroring with a commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on new navy ships, aircraft and other capabilities.

"A stronger United States means a safer world. The United States is entitled to expect its allies to make a significant commitment to their own defence and to that partnership," Mr Turnbull said.

Former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr said the federal opposition was right to question a global military build-up.

"Why do we want to tip the world into a ruinously expensive arms race?" Mr Carr asked on Sky News.

"Are there differences between America and China that rather can be resolved by negotiations?"

He said China was engaged in diplomacy with its neighbours and had become more accepting of international rules.

A federal cabinet meeting in Melbourne on Tuesday received briefings from several ministers, including defence, defence industry and foreign affairs, on how the new US administration could impact Australia.

Government ministers are talking down the chances of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact surviving beyond Barack Obama's government.

With Mr Trump having campaigned against the TPP, the Greens will bring a motion to parliament next week seeking it be dumped.

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