This is the text of a speech given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at a reception on the occasion of 50 years of the Australia-United States Alliance, held at the Sydney Opera House.
Well ladies and gentlemen I’d like to welcome you to this, I think very important gathering to mark a very important treaty between two very great countries and two very great societies. And I’d particularly like to welcome Senator Michael Enzie from Wyoming, and Senate Sargent at Arms James Ziglar and their wives, Vice-Admiral Jim Metzger the Commander of the Seventh Fleet and his wife, and also to the captain and the crew members of USS Blue Ridge.
When Sir Robert Menzies who was Prime Minister of Australia when the ANZUS Treaty was signed retired in 1966, he was asked to say at his farewell press conference what was the single finest thing that he had accomplished during the time that he’d been in government. And he rather unhesitatingly said the treaty between the United States and Australia and New Zealand signed in 1951. And it’s against that background that I welcome all of you here tonight to this very special celebration. And it would be quite difficult for anybody to disagree with the assessment that Sir Robert made as you look back over the past 50 years.
And indeed it’s very hard for any of us here, particularly the Australians, to imagine that we ever didn’t have the ANZUS Treaty that has become an important and constant part of our lives and our understanding of the relationship between our societies. And the reason for that is that I think it’s been a relationship more than most that’s been based on conviction rather than on convience. And it’s also been a relationship that although expressed in security terms really expresses shared values and shared ideals between two societies.
In typical flourish, Menzies in explaining the basis of the friendship between our societies said that we were warmed by the same inner fires and with our experiences over the last 50 years it’s very difficult to argue other than that those events have vindicated the sentiments he expressed.
Yet no matter how natural the relationship now seems, it wasn’t so natural and automatic in the late 1940’s. And in the late 1940’s the idea of a formal security relationship between Australia and the United States was a rather awkward, perhaps for some even an uncomfortable thing. Because despite our close and crucial partnership in World War II and the debt that Australia owed to the help that came from the United States in World War II there was hesitancy on both sides. Particularly on the part of the United States who’s defence commitments in the face of Soviet activity in Eastern Europe in the late 1940’s meant a certain hesitation on her part about an involvement in Asia.
But the Menzies Government saw the overwhelming strategic advantages in a trans-Pacific pact, and pushed hard in the Australian interest, and it should be recorded against some British sensitivities at the time, to forge the great alliance that we celebrate tonight.
Of the many people that were invited tonight and who were not able to come, I am particularly sorry that due to his being overseas my former Liberal Parliamentary colleague and Australian ambassador to France John Spender was unable to be with us. Because it was John’s father, the late Sir Percy Spender, who as Minister for External Affairs as it was then known, essentially negotiated the ANZUS Treaty on behalf of Australia and arguably did more than any other Australian at the time to smooth the path towards ANZUS.
Australia and the United States were both in Korea together when the alliance in its formal sense was born. And our Defence Forces have since than served together in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and in other operations around the world. Indeed commencing with their engagement at the battle of Hamel on the 4th of July 1918 under the command of that great Australian General Sir John Monash, Australians and Americans have fought side by side in every major conflict of the 20th Century. And most recently Australia gratefully received invaluable logistic and intelligence support from the United States for our INTERFET peacekeepers in East Timor.
Together, and though at times at great cost we’ve passionately championed the concept of individual and national freedom. And we’ve seen those concepts spread more widely throughout the world than most would have dared imagine might be the case back in 1951.
The great majority of the people of Australia still very strongly support the alliance between our two countries, believing it to be as relevant and important to Australia today and into the future as it has been for the past 50 years. That majority of Australians rightly perceive that the global strategic environment in which we now live, although permanently changed by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of its reach is nonetheless unpredictable and potentially very volatile.
This attitude of the Australian people was made very clear to the government last year when it went to the people in a wide ranging community consultation to support the development of the Defence White Paper under the then Defence Minister in the Coalition Government John Moore, who I’m happy to welcome here tonight. That consultation also revealed the depth of popular feeling that our relationship must be one of mutual support not dependency, and a strong self-reliant Australian defence capability had to be maintained. And the Defence White Paper that came out of that consultative process sets out a far reaching plan to achieve that strength and that self-reliance.
Through the 1990’s to the present, the Asia-Pacific region has become less certain with very complex currents at work in both the economic and security spheres. We all must hope that the major political and social changes occurring within the region will continue the trend towards more democratic and institutional reform. We in Australia anxiously view events now unfolding in Indonesia. Our relationship with that country is most important and Indonesia’s recent embrace of more democratic processes and institutions is a very welcome development. We wish the people of Indonesia well and express the hope that current issues will be resolved within the constitutional framework of that nation.
The Asia-Pacific region is of overwhelming strategic importance to Australia and it’s also the region in which the United States is likely to face the toughest issues in shaping her own future strategic role. It is my deepest hope, and I believe the deepest hope of most Australians that Australia and the United States together can work in the Asia-Pacific to help this region meet the challenges of the new century and to obtain lasting stability and prosperity for all the nations within it.
Some may ask how ANZUS is relevant to this high aim for in its most literal interpretation the treaty simply pledges that in time of conflict there will be consultations between Australia and the United States. And that each of us will act to meet the common danger. But the answer is quite obvious, ANZUS lies at the heart of a wide ranging and deep co-operation between our two nations which extends across all fields of common security. It is not simply to be taken literally. It is the foundation stone to what has become a vital, comprehensive and evolving security relationship. A contemporary example of the alliance’s ongoing value to both Australia and the United States is our ability to contribute to the discussion of missile defence issues. This is of course a sensitive and complex matter and one needing careful consideration by all nations affected. We have told our American friends that we well understand their desire to develop a missile defence system. Equally we appreciate their readiness to consult close allies such as Australia and their recognition of the need to work with others such as Russia and China.
The ANZUS Treaty is of fundamental importance to both our countries and the goodwill and mutual support implicit within it will never be taken for granted. It is a relationship that has been nourished over the years by leaders from both countries. And I’m very happy to welcome here tonight a number of former Australian Ambassadors to the United States, including and I can see him over there Andrew Peacock who served as the Ambassador several years ago, and also I understand Rawdon Dalrymple and Sir Robert Cotton. I’m also very happy to acknowledge the presence of the former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and also can I say many others here in the local business community who have contributed so much to building the relationship between our two societies.
I myself expect to have the opportunity of seeing President Bush in Washington early in September and we will, during our discussions, have the opportunity of reaffirming the tremendous commitment that both our governments, the American administration and the Coalition Government here in Australia have to the relationship.
Can I conclude my remarks with a story of an experience which I think illustrates the close ties of common cause and shared sacrifice between our two societies. In 1997 I had the honour to visit the Arlington National Cemetery and pay my respects at the grave of an Australian, Frances Milne, and an American, Joseph Paul who died together in a fighter plane that crashed in New Guinea in 1942. Their remains were found in 1987 and as those remains could not be separated they will rest together for all eternity.
All of us desire only peace, and it’s our hope that never again will it be necessary for young Australians such as Frank Milne, or young Americans such as Joseph Paul, to give their lives in the defence of freedom. The alliance that we celebrate so proudly tonight expresses and supports that firm hope.