Prime Minister John Howard has praised Australia’s historical association with the United States as a “rich historical relationship” that is more than just a legalistic alliance.
Howard spoke to an Australian American Association luncheon in Melbourne.
Referring to Australia’s military commitment to the American operation in Iraq, Howard said: “The decision we took then was in the Government’s very strong judgement right and nothing that has occurred since has in any way qualified or altered my view.”
Transcript of John Howard’s Address to the Australian American Association at the Park Hyatt, Melbourne.
Thank you very much Geoffrey for that very kind introduction. The Ambassador of the United States Tom Schieffer, Tony McAdam, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, other very distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
As I listened to Geoffrey Blainey’s marvellously constructed brief reminder of the history of this country and our crucial reliance on the American alliance at the moment of greatest challenge, I’m also of course reminded of his great prowess in writing about football and I’m conscious of course that his expertise is to write about Australian Rules Football. As somebody who shares with any Australians a deep passion for another code of football, rugby union, I often wonder what additional armoury the Australian Wallabies would have if the eloquent writing of Geoffrey Blainey extended across the football codes that are played around Australia.
But ladies and gentlemen, it’s a very great honour to be here today and to say something of the importance of the association, the friendship, the relationship, because it’s more than an alliance. An alliance has a certain legalistic connotation. But it’s a very deep friendship, a very rich historical relationship between Australia and the United States. I join others in paying tribute to the way in which that alliance, that friendship has been fostered and nurtured by the Australian American Association. Dr Johnson reminded us that we should keep our friendships in good repair. The Australian American dialogue held at this very hotel only a short while ago, and I’m told an outstanding success, is indeed an outcrop of the belief that you should keep your friendships in good repair. It owes its origins in part to a view expressed during his visit to Australia when he was the 41st President of the United States by George Bush in 1991, but he would be the last leader of the World War II generation to hold a senior political position in either country, and that we should not take the relationship for granted.
We should not assume that the feelings so eloquently expressed by Geoffrey Blainey self-evidently and automatically commended themselves to all Australians simply because as the years go by, those who have a direct personal recollection and therefore personal resonance with those momentous events, are passed from us. And we need to nurture and develop the relationship, and we need to remind ourselves of its contemporary relevance. We need to remind ourselves that it is certainly a relationship steeped in history, but it’s also a relationship that is built upon common values. And relationships built on values are always stronger and more enduring than relationships built on a fleeting coincidence of economic or strategic interest.
And as best I can recall it, when I had the enormous privilege of addressing a joint sitting of the United States Congress in June of last year, I said that the bonds between Australians and Americans were as deep as they were genuine because they were built on common values. The belief that the individual was more important than the state, the belief that strong families are the nation’s greatest asset, a belief that competitive capitalism is the ultimate foundation for wealth generation, and a belief that the worth of a person is determined by their inherent decency and commitment to effort, and not to their race or their colour or their social background.
So those are values and attitudes that Australians and Americans not only hold in common, but they practice in common. And they do at the end of the day represent the cement, more than anything else, that binds our two nations together. And it’s really been in pursuit of those attitudes and those values that Australians and Americans have fought side by side in every major military conflict from World War I onwards. And it is truly remarkable that over the years, whatever the circumstances and whatever the attitude of others, our two nations have found themselves together. And not out of some kneejerk, slavish automaticity on the part of Australia as the smaller of the two in the partnership, but more than anything else out of a deep respect and common commitment to the sorts of values that I tried to articulate in my address.
The relationship between our two countries, as I said a moment ago, is not just based on history. It’s a relationship that has not only enormous contemporary relevance, but it is a relationship that from Australia’s point of view will have growing relevance and growing importance as the years go by. It was fashionable 15, perhaps even 10, but certainly 15 or 20 years ago for many people to forecast the decline of the United States. We read books having titles such as ‘The End of the American Century’. We read frequently how the internal imperfections in American society would cause it to gradually reduce in power and influence and gradually depart the scene as the most dominant power in the world. Of course, the experience of the last 10 years has seen those theories well and truly off, and as Tony said in his introduction the achievement, and it was an achievement, of the United States, particularly under the leadership of President Reagan, in bringing about the implosion and ultimate disappearance of the Soviet Union, and the liberation of tens of millions of people in eastern Europe from a tyranny that they never of course wanted and had endured for so many years since the end of World War II, represented a remarkable triumph and a remarkable tribute to the strength and the reach of American power and American influence.
The reality is that by the middle of the 21st century, America will proportionately be more powerful economically than she is today. As the years go by, the growth in the American economy on current trends will continue to outstrip that of most other countries in the world. The population growth in the United States will mean that by the middle of the century, population of that nation will be almost the same as the population even of the semi-enlarged European Union. And all of the indicators are, notwithstanding the current sluggishness in the United States economy, all of the indicators are that by the middle of this century the economic dominance that is now enjoyed will be greater rather than less. All of this, of course, has an importance to Australia, not only because of the contribution that American economic influence and strength makes to the growth of the world and to the strength of our own economy given the importance of the United States as one of Australia’s major trading partners, but it also has a very deep relevance to the discussions now taking place regarding the possibility of a free trade agreement between Australia and the United States. If that free trade agreement can be successfully negotiated, if both of our countries can reach agreement on terms and conditions that are seen as beneficial to both, sufficiently beneficial to both, than I believe from Australia’s point of view it will lay the foundation for the further strengthening and a further contribution to the stability and the security of our economic position in the decades ahead.
To be attached to, to be enmeshed with, to use an expression beloved of one of my predecessors as Prime Minister, indeed my predecessor but one, to be enmeshed with the United States’ economy, the largest in the world, will open up to Australia growth opportunities and other opportunities which can only add value to our own inherent national economic strength and provide growing opportunities for Australians. Our commitment to negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States is something that can be accomplished and can be realised if the conditions are right without doing damage to the important relationships we have with other parts of the world, particularly with our friends and allies in the Asian Pacific regions.
It has been one of the great myths of the foreign policy and trade policy debate in this country over recent years, that in some way a close relationship with the United States on both a strategic level and an economic level has hampered and hindered our capacity to develop close relationships with the nations of Asia. It has been one of the great myths, but as time has gone by, as we have demonstrated a simultaneous capacity to draw ever closer to the United States on the basis of a proper partnership and shared values and attitudes has proved simultaneously possible to do that, but also to develop an even better relationship with China – the largest country in the world, a nation that will grow in importance not only to our country but to other countries in our region.
Indeed, I see the simultaneous closeness of our relationship with the United States as being entirely compatible with the more friendly and close relationship we have with China because it has to be an objective of Australian foreign policy, it has to be in the interests of our region and the interest of the world that there be a productive and constructive relationship between China and the United States. And it is very clear to me and it was driven home on my recent visit to Beijing that in relation to North Korea there is an effort being made, a very strong effort being made by the Government of China to bring about a sensible pragmatic response from the Government of North Korea. The leadership in China, the new leadership in China I am sure seeks a productive, constructive and friendly relationship with the administration and the people of the United States. It is in the long-term interests of China, as it is in the long-term interests of the United States that those countries where possible should have a common view of the world and should work together. It is therefore self-evident that there is nothing incompatible between a close intimate relationship between Australia and the United States and the simultaneous development of a strong relationship between our nation and the people of China. And I would have thought that in a number of areas, and not least of course the natural gas deal that was sealed last year, the Government has demonstrated that our unashamed close relationship with the United States, the unapologetic nature of our friendship with the American people has in no way diminished our capacity to develop productive relations with China and, indeed, with other nations in our region.
So ladies and gentlemen, the modern manifestation of the relationship is very much bound up from an economic and trade point of view with some of the things that I have just canvassed. But, of course, on a strategic political level the modern manifestation of the relationship has been bound up very much with the common cause that the American and the Australian people have made together in the war against terrorism. I was reminded of course in the introduction from Tony McAdam, that that photograph of President Bush and myself was taken at the naval dockyard on the morning of the 10th of September 2001. And it was the first opportunity that the President and I had had to talk personally, although we’d spoken on several occasions over the phone. That is only, how shall I put it, a piece of co-incidence but those pieces of co-incidence have a powerful symbolic reminder to the individuals that are involved in it.
But our commitment to fight beside the Americans in Afghanistan and in Iraq of course goes far beyond any personal symbolism seen by current political leaders because when people, when the defence forces of Australia go abroad, they go abroad in the name of the Australian people and the Australian nation, they don’t go abroad in the name of who might be the Prime Minister of the day. And our commitment to the war against terror, alongside the United States, is based upon our belief that terrorism represents a threat to this country, not because of what we have done but because of what we are and who we are and what we stand for. And there is an obligation of self-preservation on all nations that share the sorts of values that we share with the people of the United States to make common cause in the war against terrorism.
You will all be aware of course that the decision taken by the Australian Government to join our American allies in the military operation in Iraq was not without controversy, and that controversy continues. I don’t intend today to retraverse the arguments except to say that the decision we took then was in the Government’s very strong judgement right and nothing that has occurred since has in any way qualified or altered my view. Not only did our own forces perform with very great distinction and valour but of course as always they worked in close co-operation with our American and our British allies.
But I do want to say something very briefly about the debate that’s going on at the present time concerning the conditions in Iraq and the possible internationalisation of the effort to rebuild Iraq and deliver democracy to the Iraqi people. The current call for a further involvement, or a deeper involvement by the United Nations is a call that as the Foreign Minister said Australia fully understands. And Australia would support on proper conditions a deeper involvement by the United Nations and certainly we would support a wider contribution of stabilisation forces on the part of other nations. And I want to echo again what Alexander Downer has had to say about that over the past few days. But in the process of doing that I do want to make the observation that there does appear to be something of a naive undercurrent from some to the effect that as soon as there is a greater involvement by the United Nations or indeed by other countries then the acts of terrorism that have taken place tragically in Iraq over recent weeks might subside. I think that view is necessarily mistaken. The acts of terrorism over the past few weeks in Iraq have tragically and sadly driven home the point that the sort of people that we are dealing with are not people who are particularly discriminatory in their targets. Their objective is to deprive the people of Iraq of a democratic future. And if they need to kill United Nations personnel, if they need to kill Shiite leaders, if they need to kill the nationals of any accumulation of countries in order to achieve that objective they will. And I think anybody who imagines that you will automatically purchase less terrorism through greater internationalisation could in fact be mistaken. But having said that I do want to emphasise that Australia would very strongly support the involvement of more nations in Iraq. It’s worth recalling and I don’t do it in order to revive the debate of earlier months, but it is worth recalling that Australia, along with the United States and the United Kingdom and a few other countries had wanted a continuous and further involvement of the United Nations in dealing with the challenge of Iraq for a very long period of time.
Ladies and gentlemen, can I finish by saying this, that the relationship between Australia and the United States, the friendship, the warm heartedness, the inherent decency of the American people saved this country in its greatest hour of peril during World War II. Australians have never forgotten that, and nor they should. People and nations who forget their history are doomed of course to pay a very heavy price. That does not mean that our relationship is always uncritically conducted, it does not mean that we always agree, it does not mean that we aren’t fiercely independent in relation to our distinctive cultural identities, it does not mean that we are not passionate and competitive rivals on the sporting field, it does not mean that we won’t tenaciously try and take as many Oscars and Academy Awards as we possibly can, it does not mean that in so many other fields we won’t compete as passionately and vigorously as we can. But in doing that we compete with a nation for which we have great admiration. A nation that has contributed so much to what we take for granted as the modern world in which we live. But a nation above everything else that shares with us common values, values of freedom, of individuality, of belief that hard work and personal effort does have its own reward and a belief that the worth of a person is to be found in the dignity of that person’s character and that person’s pursuit of truth and commitment to doing the right thing in life.
I’m very honoured to be part of this luncheon, to pay tribute to the relationship between our two countries, I hope in a small way I’ve done something to further strengthen it and I’ve done that because I think that is in Australia’s national interest. We should remain close to the Americans because we have a common view of the world. We’ve been shown by history to be have been vindicated by that relationship and it is in Australia’s long term interests, as it is the interests of the American people, to go on defending the values and the liberties and the things that we hold to be important. Those are the reasons why we should remain close and those are the reasons why I believe we will remain close for years into the future.