Former foreign minister Gareth Evans has launched a scathing attack on Donald Trump, urging Australia to reduce its dependence on the US alliance and accept China as a legitimate "global rule maker".
Mr Evans labelled Mr Trump as "manifestly the most ill-informed, under-prepared, ethically challenged and psychologically ill-equipped president in US history".
The former senior member of the Hawke and Keating Labor governments also called on the government to put "more bucks" into defence spending, potentially including nuclear-powered submarines, to be more self-reliant.
"Less United States does not mean walking away from the alliance, from which we, of course, profoundly benefit in terms of access to intelligence and high-end armaments," Mr Evans, now Australian National University chancellor, said in the speech to the National Press Club on Thursday.
"But less reflexive support for everything the US chooses to do is long overdue."
Mr Evans said Australia's support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the immediate backing of last week's American missile strikes against Syria were examples where Australia had been too quick to back the US.
"My own experience strongly suggests that periodically saying 'no' to the US when our national interests are manifestly different makes for a much healthier and [more] productive relationship, [rather] than one of craven dependence," Mr Evans said.
He accused the Turnbull government of "absolute capitulation to US pressure" on nuclear disarmament efforts. Australia and other US allies recently walked away from United Nations talks that seek to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.
Echoing calls from former prime minister Paul Keating, Mr Evans argued Australia needed to increase its efforts in Asia.
"In the case of China, it means essentially recognising the legitimacy of China's claims to be a global rule maker and not just rule taker, and to have some strategic space of its own," he contended, warning that the re-emerged superpower was sensitive to policies intended to contain it.
However, he said Australia should not be Beijing's "patsy", and should make it clear that China should not abuse human rights or overreach in the South China Sea.
Mr Evans also wants more military independence, but accepts the protection benefits of the alliance with the US, the world's only military superpower.
"This certainly means building defence capability that involves not only more bucks than we are usually comfortable spending but getting a bigger bang for each of them," he said.
This could include the major step of developing a program to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
Mr Evans' speech took place at the launch of a book by former diplomat and adviser Allan Gyngell, Fear of Abandonment: Australia in the World Since 1942.
The story 'The most psychologically ill-equipped president in US history' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.