Remarks at the 75th anniversary of Australia US relationship

  • Speech, E&OE
14 October 2015

Friends of Australia. Friends of the United States.

This event this evening marks a significant milestone - the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries. Australia and the United States have a relationship like no other. Indeed, I can't think of two other countries that can claim to be as close in diplomatic, defence, security, economic, trade, investment and cultural ties.

Indeed, the experience and the ideals of the United States had a profound impact on our democracy and our system of government.

As Ambassador Kim Beazley reminded Minister Payne and me yesterday at the AUSMIN conference in Boston, were it not for the War of Independence, Britain would not have to find alternative accommodation for those serving at His Majesty's pleasure!

Indeed in the 1860s the Civil War helped influence the case against the federation of the Australian colonies. But at the dawn of the 20th century when our states did come together to form a nation, we again turned to the United States and principles like the separation of powers was implied in the Constitution. That is unusual for a government in the Westminster tradition.

Freedom of religion was guaranteed in our Constitution reflecting the US 1st Amendment. In fact, the design of our Parliament itself with the House of Representatives and a Senate, with equal representation from each State, was modelled on the United States.

So our relationship from the outset can be seen to be based on shared ideals and values.

Back in 1908 when the US Navy's Great White Fleet came into Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and it captured the attention of the Australian public, it was the pre-cursor to our purchase of our first war ships and the establishment of our own Navy.

Tonight, as much as we celebrate our shared history, it's our contemporary relationship that we celebrate, and that was formalised in 1940 just after World War II began.

Australia was prompted to establish diplomatic relations outside our framework with Great Britain, and then Prime Minister Robert Menzies, decided to send our first diplomatic envoy to Washington, because the United States was our highest priority.

Indeed our man came to Washington, and this was a pivotal moment, a watershed in the way Australia engaged with the rest of the world. For thereafter we looked less to Europe and more to the Asia Pacific.

Our first diplomat was Richard Casey. Indeed he took up residence right here in 1930. I hope he was as good a foreign minister as he was a realtor because this is an extraordinary piece of property.

He did become a most distinguished foreign minister, but from his early days in Washington he proved that he had a natural talent for the job. He established personal relationships and friendships with his counterparts. He had very good access to President Roosevelt. He is said to have had a list of priorities, which rings true for our diplomats today.

He first informed himself as much as possible about what was going on in the United States at that time. The second was to inform the State Department of Australia's view of the world and to attain as much information as he could from the Administration.

He sought to keep the Australian public informed and he did that through a series of public speeches and he sought to keep the American people informed of Australia's perspective and he travelled widely outside of Washington.

He was a foreign minister ahead of his time for he saw very clearly before many others the importance of the Asia Pacific – a region that is so fundamental to our peace and prosperity today.

In the early days of his foreign ministry he signed the ANZUS Treaty in San Francisco in 1951, which to this day, underpins Australia's security policy. And since that time we have stood together. We have been with the United States in virtually every conflict in which the US has been involved.

In the dark days after September 11, we invoked the ANZUS Treaty and made a statement that we would provide the US with all the support we could to ensure that such a tragedy didn't happen again.

This relationship, this partnership, this alliance is not rhetoric. We have demonstrated a true commitment to each other. Whether it's in times of peace, in times of conflict or if we're meeting new challenges. As we discussed at the AUSMIN dialogue yesterday, Australia and the United States standing together in the face of the threat posed by Da'esh and other terrorist organisations and being together in seeking to combat violent extremism and terrorism wherever and whenever it exists.

Ten years ago we signed a Free Tree Agreement – the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement - and since that time trade and investment between our two countries has grown exponentially. Recently we successfully negotiated together, and with ten other countries, the Trans Pacific Partnership, and this truly is a major breakthrough in terms of the dream of an Asia-Pacific free trade zone.

The TPP will bring enormous benefit to our respective countries but to our region as a whole and again with the US-Australia leading the way.

We have certainly supported the US re-balance to the Asia-Pacific. In 2011, we welcomed US marines to Darwin and in 2013 US aircraft to be deployed across Australia and we see the TPP as the economic manifestation of the US re-balance that focusses on the Asia-Pacific. As I've said so many times, countries in our region want to see more US leadership in the Asia-Pacific, not less.

So this very special partnership brings together this evening a group of people who have done so much to enhance, nurture, support this most extraordinary of relationships.

I pay tribute to the Ambassadors, to the Consul Generals, to the diplomatic staff on both sides to the business community, to the leaders who understand the centrality of this relationship to both our countries.

For this is based on our shared values, on our mutual respect and our common commitment to make the world a better place.

So as we celebrate this most remarkable of relationships, let us remember – Australia and the United States – two countries could not be closer.

We need each other, we support each other and the people of our respective countries benefit from it.

Thank you all so much for being here this evening on this very special occasion.

- Ends -

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