Opinion: Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard: ‘There is a reason the world always looks to America’
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Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to remind.
Washington, of course, knew that Julia Gillard became Australia’s 27th prime minister and the first female to hold that office last June.
When Americans think of Australia, as they have during this year’s awful floods, the assumption with Aussies is that we’re good friends, chums, mates, having gone through World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan together, even if our seasons are reversed.
Yes, yes, Gillard’s the leader of Australia’s Labor Party. But Tony Blair came from Britain’s Labour Party and he turned into a domestic demigod in North America. Margaret Thatcher, of course. Before her, Winston Churchill.
Born in the same year of 1961 and both the offspring of immigrants to the land they now rule politically, President Obama and Gillard met during those ubiquitous G-something-or-other meetings that seem to occur in some fancy resort every six or eight weeks.
But Obama’s appearance with Gillard on Monday involved mere mutual statements; No Q and A for Gillard to show her stump stuff.
So Wednesday’s rare address by the Australian leader to a....
...joint session of Congress -- reserved for genuine American friends -- was really her public coming-out party in this nation’s Capitol. She blew them away.
Speaking with a heartfelt tone and, near the end some voice-wavering emotion (full text below), Gillard’s 30-minute speech won 16 outbursts of applause, six of them standing. According to those in the House chamber, there were too some moist eyes at the end.
Americans pretend they are self-centered, dubbing baseball’s annual championship the World Series, as if anyone beyond North America cared. Abroad, Americans can appear ignorant stumblebums: The president of the United States not knowing that Canada has no president or that Austrians speak German, not Austrian.
But few foreign leaders realize that deep down in their collective continental heart, Americans secretly yearn to be liked. Gillard gets that. Or her speechwriter does. But the Australian’s emotion recalling her childhood awe at being let off school to watch Americans walk on the moon could not be faked.
Americans, she said she thought then and still today, can do anything. And even if it’s not true or no longer true, and U.S. astronauts will be renting seats on Russian rockets soon, Americans love to hear their assumed indomitability confirmed by others.
Gillard hit all the right bases, touched all the right notes, recalling joint sacrifices and expressing a level of official appreciation that Congress has not heard at home for a very long time, even though Gillard stressed she was speaking for Australians to Americans.
Probably back home her critics will say Australia’s national leader sounded a bit obsequious toward the Yanks. But for this audience on this day in this place of Washington, the lady from Down Under ruled supremely.
Barack Obama like George W. Bush before him promised to change the harsh partisan tone of Washington. American voters, especially the younger ones, fall for that line every time. Such a vow is, of course, silly. No one person or party can change Washington because the city and its behaviors so keenly reflect the larger divisions and behaviors of the nation that elected their representatives and is so quick to pass judgment on them, rather than themselves.
How refreshing and fortuitous then that a friendly foreign leader in a bright red coat can come along at a time of deep domestic distrust and in the sad absence of strong, principled presidential leadership remind American political combatants of another time and tone that others clearly saw from afar -– and perhaps still do.
Do yourself a favor and read the speech.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Address to a joint session of Congress
Mr Speaker. Mr President Pro Tempore. Distinguished Members of the Senate and the House. Distinguished Guests. Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am the fourth Australian Prime Minister to address you here assembled. Like them, I take your invitation as a great honour. Like them, I accept it on behalf of Australia.
Since 1950, Australian prime ministers Robert Menzies, Bob Hawke and John Howard have come here.
Speaking for all the Australian people through you to all the people of the United States they each came with a simple message. A message which has been true in war and peace, in hardship and prosperity, in the Cold War and in the new world. A message I repeat today.
Distinguished members of the Senate and the House ...
You have a true friend Down Under.
For my parents’ generation, the defining image of America was the landing at Normandy. Your ‘boys of Point-du-Hoc’ ... risking everything to help free the world.
For my own generation, the defining image of America was the landing on the moon. My classmates and I were sent home from school to watch the great moment on television. I’ll always remember thinking that day: Americans can do anything.
Americans helped free the world of my parents’ generation. Americans inspired the world of my own youth. I stand here and I see the same brave and free people today. I believe you can do anything still.
There is a reason the world always looks to America.
Your great dream – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – inspires us all. Those of you who have spent time with Australians know that we are not given to overstatement. By nature we are laconic speakers and by conviction we are realistic thinkers.
In both our countries, real mates talk straight.
We mean what we say. You have an ally in Australia. An ally for war and peace. An ally for hardship and prosperity. An ally for the 60 years past and Australia is an ally for all the years to come. Geography and history alone could never explain the strength of the commitment between us.
Rather, our values are shared and our people are friends. This is the heart of our alliance.
This is why in our darkest days we have been glad to see each other’s face and hear each other’s voice. Australia’s darkest days in the last century followed the fall of Singapore in 1942. And you were with us.
Under attack in the Pacific, we fought together. Side by side, step by bloody step. And while it was Australian soldiers at Milne Bay who gave the Allies our first victory on land in the Pacific War, it was American sailors at the Battle of the Coral Sea who destroyed the fear of an invasion of Australia.
Distinguished members of the Senate and the House, Australia does not forget.
The ultimate expression of our alliance, the ANZUS Treaty, was not signed until 1951. But it was anticipated a decade earlier. In the judgments – the clear, frank and accurate judgments – of an Australian prime minister. And in the resolve – the extraordinary, immovable resolve – of an American president.
In the decades since, we have stuck together. In every major conflict. From Korea and Vietnam to the conflicts in the Gulf.
Your darkest days since Pearl Harbour were 10 years ago in Washington and New York. And we were with you.
My predecessor John Howard was quite literally with you and he came to this Capitol when you met on September 12 to show you that Australians would be with you again.
And after 50 years, under a new prime minister and a new president, the ANZUS Treaty was invoked.
Within Australia’s democracy, John Howard and I had our differences. But he was and is an Australian patriot and an American friend, a man who was moved by what he saw here in that terrible September.
When John Howard addressed you in 2002 we were already with you in Afghanistan. And we are there with you today.
I want you to know what I have told Australia’s Parliament in Canberra - what I told General Petraeus in Kabul - what I told President Obama in the Oval Office this week. Australia will stand firm with our ally the United States.
Our friends understand this.
Our enemies understand this too.
We must be very realistic about Afghanistan’s future. Australia firmly supports the international strategy led by President Obama and adopted at Lisbon last year. Australia is doing our part – in Uruzgan province in particular and across the country as a whole.
The government of Afghanistan must do its part too. We know transition will take some years yet. We must not transition out only to transition back in.
From my discussions with your country’s leaders in Washington, my meetings with our generals in Afghanistan and my time with our troops, this is my conclusion:
I believe we have the right strategy in place, a resolute and courageous commander in General Petraeus, and the resources needed to deliver the strategy. I am cautiously encouraged by what I have seen.
Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith is Australia’s most recent Victoria Cross winner – our equivalent of your Medal of Honour. Ben is a veteran of five tours of Afghanistan and first went there in 2006. When we met recently, his words to me were compelling:
‘There are hard days ahead.’
I flew to your country the day after attending the funeral of a young Australian who served in Afghanistan. Sapper Jamie Larcombe was from my home state of South Australia, from a small community with the most perfectly Australian name, Kangaroo Island.
Jamie’s life’s ambition was to serve his country. He was a long way from Kangaroo Island when he made the ultimate sacrifice. We will remember.
I know very many young Americans have served their country and lost their lives in Afghanistan too. As a friend we share your grief. As an ally we share your resolve.
Afghanistan must never again be a safe haven for terrorism.
Just as our security alliance is one for war and peace, our economic partnership is one for hardship and prosperity. In hard days, we work together. Our societies share a deep understanding of the human importance of work.
We believe life is given direction and purpose by work. Without work there is corrosive aimlessness. With the loss of work comes the loss of dignity. This is why, in each of our countries, the great goal of all we do in the economy is the same to ensure that everyone who can work does work.
In turn, this is why each of our countries took early and strong action in the face of the greatest threat to the world’s economy since the Great Depression. And we did not just act locally or individually. We worked together when hardship came.
New global realities and the emerging economic weight of countries like China, India and Brazil meant the vital forum for the global response was the leaders of the G20 nations.
My predecessor Kevin Rudd worked hard to ensure this was so. The world needed a global response to the economic crisis and global leadership was vital. Together, the G20 co-ordinated $5 trillion in fiscal stimulus for the global economy. While there has been very real pain, that global response averted true economic disaster.
Economic stimulus has been crucial – to limit the worst effects of the downturn. Economic reform is crucial now – to deliver the best hopes for a strong recovery.
Like you, I am a leader in a democracy. I know reform is never easy. But I know reform is right.
The global economic outlook remains fragile and uncertain. Global economic imbalances persist and we must address them or risk future instability.
Your leadership in the G20 is still needed to ensure we make the reforms which will keep the global economy on the path to strong, sustained and balanced growth. And that is the path to growth in America as well.
We worked hard with you during the global economic crisis to resist protectionist pressures. This only built on our decades working together to promote free trade in the world.
I know many of you worked hard to achieve the Australia-US Free Trade agreement. Thank you. Our FTA experience shows the benefits of free trade.
And we aim for even larger benefits from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a great economic opportunity for our two countries and seven of our regional partners.
And we have other opportunities to promote trade and jobs together as well. I am looking forward to your country hosting the APEC Leaders’ meeting later this year. We will work closely together there.
Australia is also working for an ambitious and balanced conclusion of the WTO Doha Round as soon as possible. And we look forward to your Congress passing a 2012 Farm Bill that advances free trade rather than distorting it ... and that through free trade, creates jobs.
We know the equation is simple: trade equals jobs. Our societies share a deep understanding of the human importance of work. And our societies share a deep commitment to the value of education. We understand education’s transformative power.
We know education is the future for every child who learns. We also know education is the future for our economies.
Our future growth relies on competitiveness and innovation, skills and productivity ... and these in turn rely on the education of our people.
Australia and America are partners in a globalised world, where open societies flourish and competitive economies thrive. This is why I went to a school in Wakefield, Virginia with President Obama this week. The President and I not only saw children learning.
We saw the future of your people and the future of your prosperity as well. Australians are deeply grateful to your ‘Greatest Generation’ for their mighty deeds. This week I have seen a new generation of Americans .
I genuinely believe they can be greater still.
Achieving prosperity while sharing its benefits requires far-sighted educational reforms. In the same way, achieving growth while caring for our climate requires far-sighted economic reforms.
Breaking the link between economic growth and emissions growth is a difficult challenge for our economies and we can only achieve it by working together.
Our co-operation in key international forums and in research and development is making an important contribution. We must work together to achieve an historic transition to high technology, high skill, clean energy economies.
Shared values are the basis of our security alliance and shared values are the basis of our economic partnership as well. Through hard work and education, we can deliver a strong economy and opportunity for all.
Americans are great optimists and Australians will always ‘have a go’.
So, conceived in the Pacific War and born in the Cold War, adapted to the space age and invoked in the face of terror, our indispensable alliance is a friendship for the future. It is this year’s sixtieth anniversary of the signing of our Treaty that occasions your invitation to me today.
For that I am grateful. As I said to President Obama, it is an alliance sixty years young with so much future to share. And this is a timely opportunity, not so much for reflection on our past, as for discussion of our future.
The bipolar world in which our Alliance was signed has long disappeared. I am not sad about its passing.
Hundreds of millions of people have a better life today, democracy and human dignity have spread wide in the world in the last twenty years. We have seen this from Eastern Europe to East Asia in recent years and we are seeing the hope of it in the Middle East now.
We understand that nothing is certain. There is still much for the people of the Middle East to do and the governments of the world will be called on to help them do it.
Yet I believe what we are seeing is unchanging realities of human nature finding a new expression and in a new way. For Australia’s part, we will do what we can – and work with you – to support orderly transitions to democracy. To foster human rights and religious freedom within the countries of the Middle East. And to secure a lasting peace between them.
A peace where no nation threatens another, which is why we join you in condemning Iran’s nuclear program. A peace where Israel is secure, and where Palestinians have a state of their own, which is why we join you in calling on all parties to negotiate in good faith.
Our Alliance was signed sixty years ago in the Cold War and it lives in a new world today. And momentous as the changes in the Middle East are, I believe it is in the Asia-Pacific where the global order is changing most.
We admire India’s example as a true democracy. We never forget Indonesia’s transition to create the world’s third largest democracy in the world’s largest Islamic country. And we applaud China’s lifting some 500 million people out of poverty.
The centre of global strategic and economic weight is shifting to this region. The rise of the Asia-Pacific will define our times.
Like you, our relationship with China is important and complex. We encourage China to engage as a good global citizen and we are clear-eyed about where differences do lie.
My guiding principle is that prosperity can be shared. We can create wealth together. The global economy is not a zero-sum game.
There is no reason for Chinese prosperity to detract from prosperity in Australia, the United States or anywhere in the world. America has always understood this principle of the economy - that everyone can benefit when everyone competes.
And for sixty years your leadership in the Asia-Pacific has showed this. Your commitment to free trade and investment fuelled the growth. Your presence and network of alliances ensured the stability.
You were indispensable in the Cold War and you are indispensable in the new world too. So your growing engagement with key countries in the region – like Japan, India, South Korea and Indonesia – is enormously welcome.
We will work closely with you to strengthen the fabric of these relationships and underpin regional stability. Strengthening regional institutions so that the countries of the Asia-Pacific increasingly manage the frictions of a growing and changing Asia-Pacific.
This is why your nation’s decision to join the East Asia Summit is such good news. The Summit brings the leaders of the region’s major powers together and has a mandate to deal with the whole range of economic, political and security issues our countries face.
Our relationship is evolving to meet these new challenges: from defence and intelligence to diplomacy and trade. Australia in the south, with South Korea and Japan to the north, form real Asia-Pacific partnerships with the United States. Anchors of regional stability.
An alliance which was strong in the Cold War ... an alliance which is strong in the new world. In both our countries, true friends stick together. Our nations do this, and our people do this as well.
Nothing better tells this truth than the story of two fire fighters. Many Australians and Americans worked together in the late 1990s to be ready to protect the 2000 Sydney Olympics from possible terrorist attack.
One group of Australians spent two months in New York training and working, including a long time with New York’s Fire Department Rescue 1. They worked hard together and became more than colleagues - they became mates.
So when it was time to go home the Australian commander gave Rescue 1’s chief his Australian Army ‘slouch hat’ .and the chief presented the Australians with a battle scarred fire helmet.
Dated December 1998 and signed by members of the Rescue 1 crew, including Kevin Dowdell. Three years later, Kevin Dowdell was one of the hundreds of New York firefighters killed when the towers came down.
Kevin led his men in. His remains were never found. But that helmet was found ... in Australia. And Aussie firefighter Rob Frey found Kevin’s sons.
James Dowdell is one of New York’s bravest, a firefighter like his father before him. Patrick Dowdell is wearing his country’s uniform in Afghanistan.
Rob came to America to give James the helmet his father signed. A precious possession. A last link to a father lost.
And I give you their story. A precious possession too.
These two men are here today.Rob, James - good on you.
We are so proud of what you represent, your story says it all about the friendship between Australia and the United States. Together in the hardest of times. Friends for the future.
When our alliance was signed sixty years ago, the challenges of the space age were still to come. The challenges of terrorism were still to come.
For sixty years, leaders from Australia and the United States have looked inside themselves and found the courage to face those challenges. And after sixty years, we do the same today.
To protect our peoples. To share our prosperity. To safeguard our future.
For ours is a friendship for the future. It has been from its founding and remains so today.
You have a friend in Australia. And you have an ally. And we know what that means.
In both our countries, true friends stick together ... in both our countries, real mates talk straight.
So as a friend I urge you only this: be worthy to your own best traditions. Be bold.
In 1942, John Curtin – my predecessor, my country’s great wartime leader – looked to America. I still do.
This year you have marked the centenary of President Reagan’s birth. He remains a great symbol of American optimism. The only greater symbol of American optimism is America itself.
The eyes of the world are still upon you. Your city on a hill cannot be hidden. Your brave and free people have made you the masters of recovery and reinvention.
As I stand in this cradle of democracy I see a nation that has changed the world and known remarkable days. I firmly believe you are the same people who amazed me when I was a small girl by landing on the moon. On that great day I believed Americans could do anything.
I believe that still.
You can do anything today. ####