Australia US Relations


October 16, 2017

I am pleased to be able to speak to this motion on the Australian-US relationship and alliance. I echo the member for Grayndler, who pointed out quite rightly that this is a motion put forward by a government backbencher and yet they haven’t even been able to find enough speakers on their own motion. Nonetheless, it is good to hear some of the bipartisan views around support for the relationship between our two nations.

We have heard from many of the speakers this morning about the relationship and that it has stood the test of time. That is certainly true. For all of those milestones in our histories, and there are many over the last 100-odd years, one of the most significant—and we know it, particularly on this side, and the government side should note and acknowledge it as well—is that seminal moment in World War II when Prime Minister Curtin said:

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.

What is less often quoted is the line that preceded this famous quote, when Prime Minister Curtin said:

The Australian Government, therefore, regards the Pacific struggle as primarily one in which the United States and Australia must have the fullest say in the direction of the democracies’ fighting plan.

It is worth quoting because it was part of that significant shift in Australia’s perspective and longstanding connection to Great Britain that we all know. Among other parts of Prime Minister Curtin’s genius and leadership was the timing of this—the importance of the timing. If you look at some of President Roosevelt’s personal letters to Eleanor Roosevelt, he has spoken of how great a leader Prime Minister Curtin was. As well as the work that they did together to lead the democracies’ fight against the Nazi regime and the Japanese in the Pacific, Prime Minister Curtin was someone President Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt looked to during World War II for guidance.

Of course, our relationship has endured through many wars. Our soldiers have fought side-by-side, and so many thousands have paid that ultimate sacrifice throughout the past century and into this century. This has been something which has been a constant in the relationship. It has bonded Australia and the US, but it goes even deeper than that. It is part of something deeper. There are those shared values that many speakers this morning have pointed to: we are both great democracies, and that is certainly true; we have shared cultural values and similar world views; and we prioritise—we put first—democracy, the rule of law, equality before the law, freedom and liberty. It’s something that has bonded the relationship even beyond the formalities of the ANZUS Treaty.

Other speakers have also mentioned the importance of people-to-people relationships. I certainly had the good fortune of living and working in the United States for a number of years. I was at Brookings in Washington DC, and I worked in the private sector in New York. I remember having the opportunity to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when former President Obama was a junior senator and former Vice President Biden was also a senator. At the end of that hearing, I remember going back to Brookings and telling all the people whom I worked with: ‘Wow! This guy is going to be the future President of the United States.’ This was in 2005. They all laughed at me and said: ‘You’re just an Aussie who doesn’t understand US politics.’ I wish there had been a TAB around the corner, because he was at about 200-1 back in 2005. Everyone thought Hillary Clinton would win the next nomination. Those people-to-people relationships are critically important.

The cultural links are also critically important. We know and we heard, too, this morning of our concern with particular administrations. I will say this about that: our two countries don’t interfere in each other’s domestic politics. Whether it has been a Republican or Democrat administration or a Labor or Liberal government, the relationship has endured. No one individual leader or even one particular party can derail the deep foundations of that relationship; it is very difficult to do so. It is probably worth quoting Abraham Lincoln, who quite prophetically said over 150 years ago—and I hope that he is not right about this:

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

That was a very important warning to future leaders in his own country. Whether it be Abraham Lincoln, Roosevelt or any of the great leaders that we have looked to, I think they have been an inspiration to us as well, as Australians. And we as Australians have been an inspiration to Americans—let’s not forget that.