CANBERRA, Australia – Australia's prime minister on Friday denied he was impersonating President Donald Trump during an off-the-record speech he gave at Parliament House, describing his performance as "lighthearted and affectionate channeling."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has attempted to limit any diplomatic fallout from the speech he gave on Wednesday night at an annual charity ball hosted by the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery after an Australian television network on Thursday broadcast excerpts recorded with a phone.
Turnbull made fun of both Trump and the Australian government's dismal opinion polls in an animated performance.
"Donald and I, we are winning and winning in the polls. We are winning so much. We are winning like we have never won before," Turnbull said in a speech that has now attracted international attention.
"We are winning in the polls. We are, we are — not the fake polls, not the fake polls — they're the ones we're not winning in. We're winning in the real polls, you know, the online polls. They are so easy to win," he added.
"Did you know that? I know that, did you know that? I kind of know that. I know that. They are so easy to win. I have this Russian guy, believe me it's true, it's true," he said.
Turnbull told Seven Network television on Friday that he was making fun of his own poor polling performance since his conservative coalition barely scraped back into government in elections last July.
"I don't actually do impersonations, that was not an impersonation. I was speaking on my own behalf, but perhaps a little bit of lighthearted and affectionate channeling," Turnbull said.
"I was sending up my own singular performance in opinion polls and I was the butt of my own jokes," he added.
Turnbull's relationship with Trump has been a subject of speculation. Turnbull's first telephone conversation with Trump in January over a refugee resettlement deal was, in Trump's words, "testy." But the two leaders made a public show of solidarity and friendship when they met for the first time in New York in May.
Turnbull is rarely critical of Trump in public and says they share a bond as wealthy businessmen who entered politics late in life.
Unnamed government lawmakers have told The Australian newspaper that Turnbull's speech could damage the bilateral relationship and demonstrated the prime minister's lack of judgment.
Turnbull said on Friday the speech had to be seen in its Australian cultural context.
"We are all larrikins," Turnbull said, using an Australian term for an unconventional and lovable troublemaker.
"We don't take ourselves too seriously," he added.
Turnbull said his speech got mix reviews. "I don't think it demonstrates that I'm up for 'Saturday Night Live' yet," Turnbull said, referring to the U.S. television show in which Alec Baldwin won acclaim through his Trump impersonations.
Asked if he followed Trump on Twitter and was checking Trump's feed for reaction to the speech, Turnbull replied: "I think the whole world follows him on Twitter."
U.S. charge d'affaires to Australia, James Carouso, was among the 600 who attended the ball.
The U.S. Embassy said in a statement: "We understand that last night's event is equivalent to our White House Correspondents' Dinner. We take this with the good humor that was intended."