House debates

Monday, 15 June 2020

Private Members' Business

Australia and the United States of America

7:04 pm

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of this motion, which commemorates 80 years since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Australia. This relationship was established when the United States established a legation to Australia in 1940. It was Clarence Gouse who served as the very first minister, from 1940 to 1941, and it was subsequently upgraded to an embassy in 1946. We are now with the current ambassador, Arthur Culverhouse Jr, the 24th US ambassador. May I commend the ambassador on the excellent role he plays in supporting the US-Australia alliance to this very day. In the same year, in 1940, Australia also established a legation in Washington DC. Prior to that, we had an officer working out of the British embassy, who was meant to represent Australian interests. Notwithstanding the fact that countries such as South Africa, Canada and Ireland already had diplomatic representations in the United States at that time, Australia did not. It was a decision of the Menzies government to appoint our first representative, Richard Casey, one of Menzies' colleagues, who served as the very first minister. This legation was upgraded to an embassy in 1946, as the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, and Arthur Sinodinos, the current occupant of that role, is proving to do a very fine job in supporting our relationship. We now have our 21st ambassador to Washington.

For a young country such as Australia, this is one of our oldest diplomatic missions. The Department of External Affairs was only created in 1935, and it was only in 1939 that the decision was made to set up full diplomatic missions in, at the time, Tokyo, Changqing and Washington DC. For us, 80 years is, in fact, our oldest diplomatic relationship. It's also, of course, one of our most important. Notwithstanding the fact that we have a long history of friendship going back to the visit of the Great White Fleet to Australia in 1908, the battle of Hamel in 1918, when US troops served under Australian command, under the command of Australian General Sir John Monash, on the Western Front, it was the war in the Pacific, when the alliance was formed in that theatre, that really cemented this relationship. Just a few ago, in 2017, we marked the 75th anniversary of some of these important battles: the battle of Midway, the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Guadalcanal, when the tide of Japanese aggression in the Pacific theatre first began to turn. Indeed, at our nearest northern neighbour, Papua New Guinea, where I have spent a lot of time, there are many battlefields which commemorate this US-Australia alliance in full flight. The ANZUS treaty, which concluded a number of years after that, in 1951, remains Australia's pre-eminent security alliance and our most important one.

Since that time, we've served alongside US troops in most major conflicts—in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq and the current fight against the Islamic State presence in Syria and Iraq. History's verdict on some of these conflicts has not always been kind, but they were always done for the right reasons. I think that's a point worth noting. One of the notable features of US leadership has really been its benevolence and lack of self-interest in prosecuting a global leadership role. I'm reminded that anti-Americanism was very fashionable, including in this place, up to about a decade ago. But it's become much less fashionable, and I think that's because the alternatives to American leadership and the sort of self-interest that accompanies them has become more apparent.

This alliance between the United States and Australia often takes on a military hue because the cooperation we see on a military scale is at the pointy end, but in fact the alliance is so much more than that. It's a pattern of cooperation and support for one another that goes into all fields—economic, investment, trade, diplomatic, security, intelligence and a number of other facets. Most major Australian diplomatic and foreign achievements have relied upon close US cooperation, be they the postwar normalisation with Japan, the creation of APEC, our intervention in East Timor and Solomon Islands, the creation of a G20 meeting at leaders level, the expansion of the East Asia Summit to include the United States, or, mostly recently, Pacific Step-up. I would acknowledge here the bipartisan nature of the alliance, which has been an important strength of it. Under Labor and Liberal governments in Australia and under conservative and Republican governments in the United States, the alliance has always gone from strength to strength.

I'd like finally to commemorate the bravery, service and sacrifice of the US firefighters who tragically lost their lives illustrating the depth of our support for one another: Captain Ian McBeth, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr, who lost their lives on 23 January 2020.

7:09 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to this important motion because our bilateral relationship with the United States is incredibly important. It's important for more than historical reasons, though we should never forget that, barely a year into our diplomatic relationship, the United States supplanted the United Kingdom as the only great power able and willing to help defend Australia against the enemy after the shocking fall of Singapore left us totally isolated. This history is particularly alive for us in Darwin—the people of my electorate, Darwin and Palmerston—where American soldiers, airmen and sailors fought and died with their Australian comrades during the bombings of 1942 and subsequent operations in northern Australia.

It's important for more than strategic reasons, though we should never forget that it's our alliance with the United States that gives us the high-tech capability edge, and the comrades, without which ours would be a smallish boutique defence force defending a large continent. Australian defence industry has produced kit with the United States, and by ourselves, that surpasses what the United States is able to do alone, so it's two-way but certainly our relationship, our alliance, gives us an edge.

We in Darwin regularly witness our forces' interoperability in the regular deployments of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, who have begun arriving for this year's 1,200-strong modified rotation. This rotation, started by Prime Minister Julia Gillard together with US President Barack Obama, has gone from strength to strength over the years. A sensible decision was made this year to postpone the deployment due to COVID; however, for equally sensible reasons, this year's deployment, a little belatedly, is now beginning. They're always welcome in the north.

Our relationship, our alliance, is important for more than these interoperability, economic and social reasons. Though these are significant, including bilateral trade and investment amounting to about $1.1 trillion, as this motion states, we shouldn't forget the strong trans-Pacific people-to-people linkages, friendships, intermarriages—including with some of our colleagues—professional connections and visa arrangements that make Australia the US ally with the best labour market access, to the envy of all others, with hospitality reciprocated on this end, here in our lucky country.

Each of these factors is weighty but does not exhaust the importance of the US-Australia relationship. It's also about the values that underpin our successful alliance, which only strengthened when others, like the Warsaw Pact, fell apart when there was no longer an enemy to fight. Our alliance is cemented by values that we fought together in the Great War to defend, namely liberty, the rights of small states to have a voice and not be crushed by larger ones, and the rule of law above the rule of might. These are the values we uphold today when, together, we advocate for the peaceful settlement of disputes, freedom of navigation in accordance with international law, universal human rights and other global public goods.

I want to thank the US Consul General in Melbourne, Michael Klein, who has done great service to the NT. I also want to echo Ambassador Culvahouse's apt description of ours as an unbreakable alliance.

7:14 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia and the United States have a long and storied history. From the dawn of federation through two world wars and across other conflicts, where we have stood as one to defend our values, principles, freedom and to protect the defenceless, to today's peaceful yet troubled times, we have been side by side without exception. Together, with these events, the United States is by far our largest investment partner, with two-way investments standing at $1.7 trillion in 2018. This investment includes 11,000 Australian companies exporting goods to the United States, which, in turn, support around 270,000 Australian jobs. There are plenty of US-owned companies operating in Australia of course, and together they pay billions of dollars in taxes to Australian governments each year. Additionally, Australian-majority-owned businesses operating in the United States generated $71.8 billion in US sales in 2016, which is more than triple the value of Australia's exports to the United States. Clearly, our close relationship is an essential pillar of our respective economies.

The strongest bond, however, are the people-to-people links, deep and diverse. We estimate there are upwards of 265,000 Australians in the United States at any one time, and, for over a decade, I was one of them. I know Americans to be some of the friendliest, kindest, thoughtful, generous, hardworking, entrepreneurial and inventive people on the planet. And, as Hoges showed, they love our sense of humour.

We do not see eye to eye on all things. I've been vocal in the past in this chamber and in that country about my abhorrence at their firearms policy and the tragic loss of life each year. Another prominent shooting over the weekend demonstrates the point that guns, even when held by law enforcement officers, rarely prevent further violence and too often they exacerbate it. Nor are we just America's deputy sheriff, as we have been painted in the past, and again in recent times, by some countries. We stand on our own two feet with confidence and certainty in the global arena, and never more than under the leadership of Scott Morrison, who proudly asserts that this government acts in Australia's interest. This includes transparency in the international arena with decisions based on facts. This maturity and independence forges stronger bonds with our friends and will, in time, gain respect from those who oppose us—respect that will lead to better relations.

Again, we stand side by side in times of civil unrest. The Black Lives Matter campaign may have started in Minneapolis with the murder of one defenceless man but it has been echoed around the world as a symbol that time is up for racism and racists in our countries. We both share histories with times that we should never forget; the mistakes made in the past must be recognised, apologies made and lessons learned to guide us to a better future. The fact is that our inability to confront the injustices in our past has led to ongoing disadvantage for our black and Indigenous people. This must be addressed now. We stand with Black America today, just as Peter Norman stood with those great American athletes back in 1968.

I lived for better part of 20 years in the US, particularly in Georgia, where we have just seen the latest shocking violence against a black man, Rayshard Brooks. I arrived there in the middle of the civil rights era and well remember the sense of overdue progress at the time on the national scale but also the microcosm, including the pride we could see when Arthur Ashe became the first black man allowed and then welcomed into the Richmond country club where we were competing in a tennis tournament together.

Huge strides were taken then, and it's obvious that we have come a long way, but there is a long way further to go until we reach equality. These protests provoked by the shocking death of George Floyd have brought back stark memories of Martin Luther King's fight for equality. Can we now stand again together and fight with the same determination, courage and willingness to sacrifice for equality and fairness for all?

7:19 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a deep friendship between Australia and the United States. The relationship between our two countries is shown throughout our Constitution, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the High Court. Indeed, it was the flag of the United States that flew through Pitt Street on 1 January when we celebrated Federation here in Australia. Many of the proposed designs submitted to Prime Minister Barton for the Australian flag were in fact designs that drew upon the United States flag for their inspiration. We are that close, so close in fact that I will agree with President Trump when he said, 'Australia is a fantastic country and a brilliant ally.' That was an unqualified quote, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.

The strength of this relationship has been shown through the representatives we send between our two countries: Dennis Richardson; Kim Beazley, who now serves as Governor of Western Australia; Joe Hockey; Arthur Sinodinos. And, in return, we get the quality representation of people like Ambassador Culvahouse, here in Canberra, and Consul General Gainer, in Perth.

Our relationship with the United States should also be used in developing our thinking about how we manage some of our more difficult relationships as a country. When it comes to our relationship with China, there is a lot that Australia can continue to learn in how we manage our ongoing relationship with the United States. Australia and the United States do not see eye to eye on many things. We have deep disagreements on human rights questions, including the death penalty. We have differing approaches to how we ensure open trade markets. We have disagreements on domestic gun policy, and WikiLeaks showed us that the United States has an active interest in Australian domestic politics. These things cause tension, but we work through them through discussion, through diplomacy and because a good relationship is not a relationship that is free from argument; a good relationship is a relationship that can resolve those arguments in the interests of both countries, and that's exactly what Australia and the United States continue to do. We do that through programs such as the Australian Political Parties for Democracy Program; through extensive academic exchange; initiatives like the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, which was held in my electorate of Perth last year; ongoing defence exercises; and, as the member for Wentworth mentioned, in building the new international architecture that allows us to continue to discuss these issues in broader forums—the G20 and the East Asia Summit being just two examples.

Our countries share many common values, none more important than a common belief in democracy. I believe there is still a risk that the global coronavirus crisis becomes a democratic crisis as countries seek for quick solutions or other ways through the huge challenges that our democracies will continue to face. These challenges for Australia and the United States also extend to how our media continues to function in that democracy. I don't believe that the solution is to attack the media or to use the term 'fake news'. Indeed, when you attack fake news and use that as a term to disrespect journalists and disrespect our media, you're in fact attacking the very democratic system which I believe both our countries are founded upon and should seek to uphold.

The United States preserves their democracy in many ways. One is through the establishment, by law, of presidential libraries, something that Australia should seek to copy. I studied at Curtin University, which had the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. I believe that every Prime Minister, good and bad, short term or long term, should have the same dignity afforded to them. I also reflect on the other work the United States does in telling their national story through the Smithsonian Institution. In the National Museum of African American History and Culture are more than 40,000 items: a dress made by Rosa Parks; boxing headgear worn by Mohammed Ali, and even pants worn by MC Hammer. One of the items that hangs in that museum is a banner from the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs: a purple banner with the words 'lifting as we climb' from 1924, almost a century ago. Part of the collection in the Smithsonian is curated to 'learn about the ways in which African Americans created possibilities in a world that denied them opportunities'. 'Lifting as we climb' is still their motto today, and it is described by the Women's Museum of California as one of the most significant women's clubs of all time. I will conclude my remarks there.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.