Release type: Speech


Response To Deputy Secretary Of State John Negroponte

Remarks To The State Department Dinner For The Australian American Leadership Dialogue, Washington DC - 24 June 2008

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak tonight to the Australian American Leadership Dialogue. It is an additional pleasure for me to speak in the company of Ambassador Negroponte, who has taken on some of the most difficult and challenging tasks in this Administration, at the United Nations in New York and in Baghdad, at the Directorate of National Intelligence and here at the State Department.

Both of us are celebrating tonight a quite distinctive institution, the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, a blend of the public and private sectors, a body which has, for more than a decade and a half, provided an invaluable forum for a substantial dialogue that crosses party lines and embraces, government, business, academic and other expertise.

The Dialogue illustrates the depth and breadth of the relationship between Australia and the United States: not only is it a friendship between Governments, it is a friendship between peoples.

I speak for all us in thanking those who founded the dialogue and, in particular, thanking and acknowledging the unstinting effort of its convenors, Anne Wexler and Phil Scanlon.

On occasions like this, in places like the State Department, among friends like you, our custom is to celebrate our relationship. We emphasise, rightly, the ties that bind us, the alliance which unites and protects us, the trade and investment links which help to underpin our prosperity and the mutual friendship which provides a solid foundation for all the work we do together. So we should. We all have much to celebrate, and much to be grateful for, in the relationship between the United States and Australia.

No accident of geography, nor no history of settlement or conquest, brings us together. What unites us is friendship between our peoples and the values we share and seek to promote – at home and in the world.

The bedrock of that relationship is the US-Australia alliance, which was signed 57 years ago, but which reflected the judgments – clear, accurate, brutally frank judgments – of an Australian Labor Prime Minister a decade earlier.

Everyone in this room will be familiar with John Curtin’s declaration in December 1941 about the need for Australia to "look to America". Tonight, I want to refer us to another statement by Curtin as well, one made a few weeks earlier, on 8 December 1941, the day after Pearl Harbour. Then Curtin explained to the people of Australia the imperative need to defend our land, our continent, "as a place where civilisation will persist".

Our entwined military history goes back further, back beyond those campaigns in the Pacific.

The fourth of July this year is the ninetieth anniversary of the first time the United States and Australian troops fought together - in the battle of Hamel in northern France in 1918.

And the fourth of July was no accident. It was chosen by the commanding officer, Sir John Monash, as a mark of respect to the American soldiers fighting side by side with Australians for the first time.

These combined forces prevailed on that day utilising ground-breaking combined air and land-infantry-tank strategy. It is historically acknowledged as a significant departure from the orthodox trench warfare tactics of the day and as a significant step towards German defeat.

Our unique military partnership started at this battle during the First World War and has continued through every major conflict since that time.

In fact, Australia is the only nation to have fought side by side with the United States in every major conflict since World War One.

We are committed, as successive Australian governments have been, to ensuring Australia will remain – as Curtin described - "a place where civilisation will persist". We define our civilisation in the terms which matter most to us – in terms of justice for the Aboriginal people of Australia, in terms of a fair go for all Australians, in terms of economic and employment growth which will benefit all Australians, in terms of opportunities for our young people and for those who come from overseas to make Australia their home and in terms of Australia’s standing as a force for good in the world.

Civilisation means all of that for us, all of it put together in a characteristic and distinctively Australian way.

In the world we try to help to build – in the civilisation we want to persist and prevail - the United States has a unique role. In Australia, there is no argument whatever about that proposition. Our alliance is bigger than any person, bigger than any party, bigger than any government, bigger than any period in our history together. That alliance is enduring and indispensable.

In terms of US-Australia friendship, this is a room full of committed advocates, of true believers – to use an Australian phrase. Beyond us stand hundreds of thousands of people of the same conviction, on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. No matter where they meet – whether in a law firm in New York, on a movie shoot in Hollywood, backpacking in the Greek islands or serving alongside each other in Afghanistan – Australians and Americans just seem to click.

Beyond this most elegant room, beyond this great capital city, those people are working to build the links between Australia and the United States. They might have family on the other side of the Pacific, as a result of those movements of people which began with the arrival of Australian war brides in the United States during the 1940s. They might have studied in your universities or ours. They might have opened up new markets or taken the risk to establish new investments. They might have visited as tourists, surprised to find another nation full of people not quite like them but inspired by the same ideals and aspirations, stirred by the same sort of emotions, dedicated to the same kind of way of life.

All those people – on both sides of the Pacific - contribute, day after day, to the ties which bind us. I celebrate them – their informal, human, personal links – just as I celebrate the formal, legal, national treaties which tie our futures together.

Together, we can work to help build a world "where civilisation will persist". That is a noble task and a tough one. We in the Australian government have set ourselves ambitious goals in global affairs, in development of an Asia-Pacific community, in ways to address the challenge of climate change, in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. On all those issues, we look forward to working closely and constructively with the US Administration. We will engage on each issue as friends should – frankly, warmly, maturely and constructively – disagreeing from time to time, but agreeing more often.

John Curtin coined his phrase about civilisation in a dark and desperate time for Australia. He set the bar high. We owe it to his memory and to the Australians and Americans of today to make the most from this relationship. In that spirit, I am proud to toast the enduring and indispensable friendship of the Australian and American people.