American Australian Association & US Studies Centre 10th Anniversary dinner, Sydney


I want to honour and extend my gratitude to John Howard, my predecessor and mentor, who is here tonight with his wife Janette. What an amazing political couple they have been.

Of course I should acknowledge Mike Kane the previous honouree who Michael Stutchbury introduced. Mike your story about your father is one of the most remarkable stories I think any of us have heard. We were all totally transfixed by it. Thank you so much for that.

Thank you too Mike for standing up to the lawlessness in the construction sector. I know many of you think this election campaign is quite long. Eight weeks. Of course by American standards that’s about how long it takes an American presidential campaign to clear its collective throat. So it’s not very long by American standards but the reason it is eight weeks is because it is a double dissolution of both Houses.

The reason we are doing that is in order to break the deadlock between the House and the Senate over two critical pieces of legislation relating to industrial relations and one of those is the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The only way we can get the rule of law restored to the construction sector which employs one million people and the restoration of law to that sector is a vital economic reform, and part of our economic plan to secure our prosperity.

The only way we can get that passed is through this double dissolution and getting the numbers collectively in the House and the Senate to pass that law and restore rule of law through a joint sitting of the parliament. That’s our commitment. Now Mike so we’re going to rectify that wrong.

To return to my distinguished mentor John Howard. I try very hard to model my Government, a modern Cabinet Government on that of John Howard. He operated what I regard as the gold standard.

Of course I am ably assisted there by having his former Chief of Staff Arthur Sinodinos who is here tonight as the Cabinet Secretary. I have always said that Arthur was a pillar of the Howard Government and he is now as being a Senator he’s now a flying buttress of mine.

But I also want to acknowledge tonight my colleague Julie Bishop the Foreign Minister who like me also served in the Howard Cabinet and has been honouring Australia and doing an important job.

The night is late so I will leave other acknowledgments and quote Jeff Fenech in saying ‘I love you all.’

Let me simply now return to John. John Howard created the endowment that established the US Studies Centre ten years ago.

He saw the need for the Centre because he understood – at a time when many did not - that our relationship with the United States is becoming more important, not less, as the centre of global economic gravity shifts relentlessly towards Asia.

John understood that the United States is the irreplaceable anchor to the global rules-based order - an order built upon shared political values and common economic and security interests.

The truth of his insight has been affirmed by every subsequent Prime Minister of Australia.

Earlier this year I visited and thanked our men and women serving alongside US forces in Afghanistan, in what is now the longest commitment in our military history.

And also our forces in Iraq, where we are together with the United States and other allies jointly pushing back, rolling back the brutality and barbarity of Daesh or ISIL.

And not a day, truthfully not a minute, goes by without our intelligence agencies working together - saving lives - in the fight against terrorism.

Our ANZUS alliance and broader relationship is anchored in a history that is even deeper and richer than many of us realise.

In Washington earlier this year I presented President Obama with a framed front page from The Sydney Morning Herald, dated 5 June 1863.

It reported how one of our founding fathers, Henry Parkes, had just led a crowd of 1000 Sydneysiders at the old Lyceum Theatre to support Abraham Lincoln and his fight to defend the US Constitution and the cause of freedom during the US Civil War.

It was an early and remarkable demonstration of the depth of our shared commitment to freedom, democracy and rule of law.

Guided by these enduring values, I’m proud of how our Coalition Government has not only deepened but broadenedour relationship with the United States.

Just as the Howard Government forged the US Free Trade Agreement a dozen years ago, our Government has played, particularly through our Trade Minister at the time Andrew Robb, a critically important role negotiating and delivering the 12-nation US-led Trans Pacific Partnership.

The TPP will open new markets but it is much more than a traditional trade agreement.

It will help level the playing field - bringing greater transparency and stronger rule of law - for those who do business especially in the less-developed economies of our region.

Crucially, as I emphasised to Congressional leaders earlier this year, a successful TPP will entrench the US as the strong, credible and enduring guarantor of the rules based order in our region.

Similarly, in the new strategic domain of cyberspace, President Obama and I share a deep commitment to ensuring that the architecture and administration of the Internet remains free of government domination, without deteriorating into a lawless domain.

And so we have committed to working with others to establish durable norms of behaviour that will ensure a free, open and secure internet.

And in our own region, the US and Australia are working with partners old and new to preserve stability and freedom.

It is clearer now than it has been for decades that the US is absolutely central to the rules-based order upon which our regional peace and prosperity depends.

The prosperity of our region is the consequence of 40 years of a pax Americana. Every single country in our region has benefited from that. From the security the US has delivered, the stability it has delivered, and of course China above all has been able to prosper and grow in those 40 years from being a nation that was barely engaged in the global economy to now being - depending on who is measuring it - either the world’s largest or the world’s second largest national economy.

All of that has been the product of a peace, relative tranquillity, and that has been guaranteed by that massive sheet-anchor of American commitment and American strategic power in our region.

Now this is true in the domains of e-commerce and cyberspace as it is in the South China Sea.

We need to ensure the ANZUS alliance and the US-anchored system adapts and evolves to fit the rapidly changing technological and geopolitical landscape.

Which brings us back to the reason why John Howard moved to establish the US Studies Centre here at the University of Sydney a decade ago.

The Centre is playing a vital and unique role in strengthening ties and driving public policy debate for the benefit of both our nations.

It has brought together the best thinking and expertise from Australia and the US, helping us to confront challenges and turn them into opportunities.

Most recently they’ve made an important contribution by surveying public perceptions of the two biggest centres of power in our region: the US and China.

As you celebrate ten years of rigorous policy discussion and development I want to thank the US Study Centre for its commitment to both our nation’s future and I want to invite you now to welcome John Howard the Honour - the second Honouree this evening.

John Howard served Australia for nearly 12 years as Prime Minister. In that time he showed a leadership in international affairs unmatched in modern times in our country. What John was able to demonstrate, and his vision in establishing the US Studies Centre confirms it, what he was able to demonstrate is that Australia can become a stronger friend, have a deeper relationship economically and in every other way with the emerging economies of Asia including China while at the same strengthening and deepening and making for a more frank and intense relationship, a more intense alliance, a stronger alliance, with our strongest and our most enduring partner the United States of America.

John’s wisdom in establishing that order, that commitment of Australia to engaging with our region, and growing closer and more strongly to our ally in Washington, has demonstrated a leadership that every Prime Minister who has succeeded him regardless of their party has sought to emulate.

I ask you now to welcome John Howard to the stage.

Thank you.