Mar 27, 2017

US – Australia Alliance Speech – 27 March 2017

I rise in support of the motion raised by the member for Fairfax—noting, in particular, the resolution of Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland and 13 other United States senators who moved a resolution in the United States Senate reaffirming a strong commitment to the United States-Australia alliance.

A previous contributor made a point about John Curtin. It is fair to say, in this place, in a spirit of bipartisanship, that the relationship Curtin had with the United States was quite pivotal in what followed, in our relationship with them, in the world order, post the Second World War. I note that in December it was the 75th anniversary of one of the most momentous developments in Australian foreign policy, when Labor Prime Minister John Curtin made his famous turn to America during one of the darkest times in America’s history.

According to the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, writing three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Prime Minister Curtin’s new year’s message to the Australian people, published in The Melbourne Herald on 27 December 1941, Curtin said:

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.

This statement was not uncontroversial at the time. Despite the statement being criticised by the British, Curtin’s initiative boosted Australia’s defences against the threat of invasion. It laid the ground for the post-war ANZUS Treaty of 1951 and it forged an alliance that has been central to Australia’s foreign policy and defence strategy ever since and will remain so.

I am deputy chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and will talk about our intelligence linkages in a second. As a member of parliament what most viscerally reminds me of the deep and abiding connection that we have with United States, particularly in matters of defence and strategic interests, is the honour I had of being flown onto the deck of the USS Carl Vinson—which is currently around the South China Sea—in 2003. It had come off a deployment in Iraq.

Landing on an aircraft carrier is a very interesting experience, particularly in a 16-foot swell, but we did. There was one person in uniform next to me who intrigued me, at the back of what is called a Cat, a plane that carries aircraft parts. It is loud and you sit facing backwards. We had five attempted landings and, on the fifth, we got there, so it was a pretty interesting experience. I was also intrigued by the way in which we were treated when we got off this fully operational aircraft carrier in the far northwest of Western Australia.

What happened—and, particularly, learning the history after we were catapulted off—was two things. One was that the person who was feted by the Americans as soon as he got off the plane was Duncan Lewis, then a Brigadier General in the SAS, and we were working with the Americans to paint targets against the Taliban. The second was that the first strikes post September 11 were launched off the deck of the USS Carl Vinson.

It was the shared history, dialogue, friendship and our shared values, in a discussion like that, which confirmed the closeness that we have with the United States and why our strategic interests will always be very similar—because of the same core values that we bring. We are both democratic countries. We are situated in different parts of the world, but those core values remain the same, regardless of any hiccups with any leader of any political party or whatever. It is those deep institutionalised bonds, the person-to-person contact, that underpins this alliance and, regardless of the media reports, will continue to underpin the alliance for a very long time.

I would also like to talk about the intelligence connection we have. We are part of a Five Eyes intelligence arrangement, one of the closest we share information on in our war against terror and our war against other countries that might do us harm. I declare in this chamber that I have been over to the CIA twice, in 2011 and 2016, and dealt with people there in my capacity as deputy chair, and I would say there is almost no closer relationship than Australia and the US, particularly with respect to intelligence sharing. And that will grow. Regardless of what has been said, that will continue to grow and develop and evolve.

So talk of the US alliance and its demise is incredibly premature. It is not in Australia’s strategic interests for it to evolve into some pathways people have put forward. It will continue, again, because we are a people with very common values, with shared interests, with a desire to have peace and order and stability in this region. I certainly look forward to playing my part in that as a parliamentarian in this place.


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