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Prime Minister Gillard’s Speech to Congress

March 10, 2011

Gillard goes to Washington

Prime Minister Gillard had one mission addressing the Joint Session of Congress in the House of Representatives chamber in the Capitol: to clinch Australia’s reputation as the closest of allies. This is about Australia’s long-term interest. It is a mission that makes the grind of a PM’s job worthwhile.

As it transpired, it was a stunner of a speech. It could only elevate Australia’s place in that imperial capital, Washington, where 192 ambassadors are elbowing one another every day for every last crevice of influence and information.

Gillard did Australia proud. As a result it will be all the easier for Ambassador Beazley to get into the offices of those 100 senators and 435 Congressmen. Access is the challenge of his job, in a capital where sometimes we may have rated a little above Honduras.

Oratory is about praise and Gillard followed Disraeli’s advice to lay it on with a trowel. She lauded the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and reminded Americans they put a man on the moon. In the week that TIME magazine produced a cover story on American decline, she said boldly Americans can still do anything.

And this was a fine inclusion: for the 241 Republicans in the House of Representatives and 47 in the Senate, there was the warm acknowledgement of President Reagan’s centenary:

He remains a great symbol of American optimism; the only greater symbol is America itself.

For what it’s worth, she nudged the American congressional mechanism in the right direction. For example, on free trade, she reminded her audience that “trade equals jobs.” That’s a message to protectionist Democrats from rust-bucket regions. She elevated the task of reform. Translated into the language of this Congress, reform means action on the deficit, specifically to reduce long-term entitlement spending, not short-term discretionary spending. And she was saying this only the day after the authors of the Presidential Commission on the Deficit, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, had delivered a warning that inaction would cost one trillion dollars in increased interest costs by 2020, that is, the cost of servicing America’s groaning debt.

She sent the right message to this Congress about China:

Like you, our relationship with China is important and complex.

We encourage China to engage as a good global citizen and we are clear-eyed about where differences do lie.

My guiding principle is that prosperity can be shared.

We can create wealth together.

The global economy is not a zero-sum game.

There is no reason for Chinese prosperity to detract from prosperity in Australia, the United States or anywhere in the world.

She pushed the importance of our region and specifically of America’s relations with India, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia. This is an area where American-Australian interests are perfectly attuned.

It was a deft touch by her speechwriter, Michael Cooney, to frame the speech with the narratives of Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most recent Victoria Cross winner, and Sapper Jamie Larcombe from Kangaroo Island, the most recent Australian to die in Afghanistan; and of the family of Kevin Dowdell, one of the New York fire-fighters killed when the towers came down, and his links with Australian fire-fighter Rob Frey.

Cooney would be heartened that this reference did not fail to bring tears to the eyes of the Speaker, John Boehner. It was a spine tingling moment even for someone reading the text.

Graham Freudenberg, the legendary Labor speechwriter, would have crafted cadences good enough to imagine you might reach out and stroke the words while they danced in the air. He would have summoned up some rich and specific historical instances. Freudenberg was the master. But many in Labor’s inner circle will think that, in Cooney, a former writer for Latham and Beazley, we may have come close to finding the master’s apprentice.

  1. Brenton Boswell permalink
    March 10, 2011 3:22 pm

    Well at least you’re honest, Bob. An Australian PM has urged the most right-wing congress in living memory to swing further to the right, has done so for the sole purpose of gaining access to the Emperor’s advisers, has exploited, for rhetorical purposes, the deaths of human pawns in a proxy war between elites, and has insisted that there is no limit to the wealth our biosphere can generate. She has paid cynical tribute to the Myth of Reagan, and has moved the crazy John Boehner to tears of joy, endorsing the immorality of dismantling social services and consumer protections instead of taxing the super-rich or stopping the multiple imperial wars. The Australian Labor Party could almost teach Karl Rove a thing or two these days.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      March 10, 2011 3:45 pm

      It is an alliance.
      It is a national security alliance.
      It is about long term national interest.
      It applies whether there is an appealing liberal majority in Washington or Republican conservatives.
      The Australian people overwhelmingly support the alliance even when there is a president like Bush they do not like.
      They believe rightly that Australia must have an ally.
      The logic of your position leads to one possibility: armed neutrality, and armed means nuclear. No other deterrence works…except an alliance with a great and powerful friend.

  2. Watson permalink
    March 10, 2011 4:38 pm

    I’m not sure whether you are praising the Prime Minister or her speech writer, Michael Cooney. I fail to see why our relationship with the US is not affected by the current policies of the US Government, both at home and abroad. Surely that policy would leave us open to engaging in some deeply inappropriate actions just because our ‘big brother’ said so? (One could cite a few choice examples from the Howard years)

    • Bob Carr permalink
      March 10, 2011 5:50 pm

      The alliance did not mandate our commitment to Iraq.

      We are in Afghanistan under a UN mandate.

      A Labor government would not have committed us to Iraq but would have to Afghanistan.

      Are you suggesting we seek to suspend the operation of ANZUS when there is an administration or Congress you don’t find palatable. And – I persist – without a US alliance what other arrangements would you make to deter a potential aggressor. Armed neutrality ? Works for Switzerland but would only work for this sprawling continent if the arms were nuclear. Be honest here. What is your alternative ?

      • Brenton Boswell permalink
        March 10, 2011 7:06 pm

        Dear Bob

        I’m not sure why you think my post or Watson’s are inherently anti-ANZUS. Watson’s point, as I understand it, is that you imply Australia needs to ally itself with a superpower no matter how immoral that superpower is. Even if that is your view (and if so it is profoundly amoral), then it’s a long way from the inadvertent honesty of your original blog post, which is not about ANZUS but about trade and “access”. What you have admitted is that a speech ostensibly timed to mark the ANZUS anniversary is really a speech that exploits pro-war sentiment to enhance Australia’s trading position. You sing the praises of a cynical speechwriter who evokes the fight against Hitler to support the weekly murder of Afghani and Pakistani civilians by robot planes and Special Ops night raids. (Cooney even singles out the evil and crazy General Petraeus for special love!) And he does it all so we can export our primary produce and resources to a bigger market.

        There is also hypocrisy in your claim that Labor wouldn’t have committed us to the Iraq war. Labor was in Opposition at the time. Had it been in government, it of course would have done what Tony Blair’s Labour government did, and what the ALP is doing now in the equally disastrous Af-Pak war. Labor suffers from what Tom Englehardt calls ‘the urge to surge’ – the same poppy the Soviets smoked in Afghanistan, in the days when Peter Garrett hadn’t yet developed his Short Memory.

        The UN mandate – after a decade of going backward militarily and creating a new generation of orphaned jihadist teenagers – has nothing to do with Labor’s current position on Afghanistan. Gillard’s speech itself makes that clear: it is a speech about future, perpetual war, advocated not by the UN but by the USA. If, Bob, you would stop admiring rhetoricians like Freuedenberg and Cooney, and start reading people who write substantive content for living (but this would require us to sack all the school debating champions from parliament and elect people capable of substantive discourse), you would be reading Gillard’s speech not for its political genius but for its moral abdication.

        It is interesting too that your defence of ANZUS is predicated upon the concept of deterrence. In case you hadn’t noticed, Australia has been at war for a decade, so the term “deterrence” is Orwellian at best. And what Julia Gillard’s speech promises is several more decades of the same.

        The tragedy of the speech is that it overtly celebrates the changed nature of our ANZUS alliance. Instead of being about deterrence it is now unequivocally about empire – actively ruthless empire, with its drones and kidnappings, its torture, and its arms sales to both sides of every conflict. Your own post calls Washington the imperial capital. With 1200 military bases worldwide, that is an understatement. Being a history buff, you must know that this is unprecedented. Meanwhile, Gillard and Obama are announcing more bases yet – on Australian soil.

        Finally, consider your argument that ANZUS frees Australia of the need for its own nuclear weapons. The price of being nuclear free, you say, is complicity in all those evils of post-9/11 US empire. Not being able to arm ourselves, we must instead “clinch Australia’s reputation as the closest of allies” – i.e. an ally so close that any of its projects, no matter how wicked, must be painted as The Glories of WW2 Redux, or, more cynically still, as The Glories of the Apollo Mission Redux.

        Being very anti-nuclear myself, I could almost support this wicked logic, were it not for the obvious fact that yours is not an anti-nuclear position anyway. It is pro-nuclear: welcoming US submarines and warships, monitoring it all from Pine Gap, and allowing the plutocracy of Washington to keep as many warheads as they like – in exchange for a few extra wheat sales.

  3. Cameron Bruce permalink
    March 11, 2011 1:43 pm


    You seem to have a very strong position against the Australia-US alliance which I fear is clouding your judgement somewhat.

    Far from pushing Congress to the right, the Prime Minister’s remarks on China actually seemed targeted specifically at moderating the views of hard-line Republicans. The fact that she said, “…prosperity can be shared…The global economy is not a zero-sum game” indicates a preference for the liberalist ideas of cooperation and mutual benefit, as opposed to the views of many Republicans who view China as a threat that must be neutralised.

    As to the nature of the alliance itself, you still haven’t answered the question: What would you have the Australian Government do instead? Whilst arguments can be made as to the morality of US foreign policy, we must still protect our national security and with increasing concerns as to the effectiveness of our forces, especially naval, how are we to secure the nation without a strong, security relationship with the United States?

  4. Brenton Boswell permalink
    March 11, 2011 9:43 pm

    Hi Cameron. 🙂 I will split my answer into two long posts.
    (1) The handful of phrases in Ms Gillard’s speech that appear on their surface to be to the left of the US Congress are not actually so. Instead, she adopts precisely the talking points of the American Right – which, like Cooney, is adept at appearing to care. (Consider the success of the blue collar Tea Party. Because Obama was already the Right’s pin-up impostor, the even-further-Right repackaged themselves as revolutionaries. It was a master stroke (funded by the Koch brothers) of astroturfed false consciousness.)
    The list is too long to write here, but consider the phrase you have chosen. Gillard’s speech uses the word “prosperity” nine times in just 3000 words. “Prosperity” is Tea Party code for “wealth”, while to be “FOR prosperity” is a euphemism for being a pure Friedmanite – i.e. a defender of the unpoliced Griftopia that brought us the financial meltdown (3 million US foreclosures in 2010 alone!).Thus “Americans for Prosperity” is the name of the Koch Brothers’ front group that drives the Tea Party movement.
    So whilst Ms Gillard says “prosperity can be shared,” she means sharing wealth with the elites of China, not with the working poor of the US or Australia (or China). NB – The Repuglicans do not want the Chinese elite poorer: it is only because the Chinese elites are so rich that they can keep lending the USA money. The same is true of Saudi Arabia. “Islamist”, “Communist”, whateverist: the issue is whether they are reliable Creditors. They grease the wheels of the K-Street gravy train.
    Put it this way: when Gillard pretends that it is somehow anciently American “that everyone can benefit when everyone competes”, she is adopting the Fox News alternate reality whereby the “land of the free” was always the land of Friedman. (Gillard wouldn’t dare try her line back in Canberra at the Senate inquiry into the price of milk.) And this philosophy is precisely the opposite of what you call “the liberalist ideas of co-operation and mutual benefit”. Gillard uses the term “cooperation” just once in her speech, and hilariously it is about tackling climate change. (Forget “regulation”, let alone “obligation”: these US Reps and Senators, virtually all of whom are bought and paid for by the oil and coal industries, are magically going to cooperate with the world instead of riding it roughshod! No wonder John Boehner cried with joy.)

  5. Brenton Boswell permalink
    March 11, 2011 9:44 pm

    @Cameron Part 2:
    (2) More basically, the whole speech is a conscious sham. Cooney knows perfectly well that our “shared values”, and America’s “great dream – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were deliberately jettisoned by Bush, Blair and Howard, and that Obama, Cameron and Gillard are moving rapidly to ensure that they can never return. Bradley Manning is losing his sanity as we speak, tortured without trial and lying naked in his cell (the personification of truth 🙂 ). Meanwhile, the hundreds of war crimes he exposed remain uninvestigated, and all Gillard can do is threaten to cancel Julian Assange’s passport.
    (3) You write, “arguments can be made as to the morality of US foreign policy”. By “can be”, I assume you also mean “shouldn’t be”, since you think it might jeopardise our “alliance” with the USA. This is curious. We can impose economic sanctions on Iraq that kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of children, but we can’t threaten to close Pine Gap for even a week? Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson must be rolling in their graves. (Of course, the ALP wouldn’t want Pine Gap closed, but even if they did, the first PM who threatened as much would be quickly overthrown. Oh wait! That one actually happened. 🙂 )
    (4) It’s not just US foreign policy: it’s Australian foreign policy. You are kidding yourself if you think that our spies don’t assist in “extraordinary rendition”, or that our soldiers don’t go on Special Ops night raids murdering Afghani civilians. Or that our government is not cooperating with the case now being cooked up against Julian Assange by a secret Grand Jury in Virginia. Or that John Howard ever rationally believed (as opposed to cynically convinced himself) that Iraq had WMD. The new world empire is our empire. It’s not an American empire, but an empire of global capital.
    (5) Have I answered your question, Cameron? If not, let me put it this way. You get it backward when you assume that I am anti-alliance and have therefore misread the speech as pandering to America’s Washington kleptocracy. That’s what the speech does on its face, and this in turn reveals what the ANZUS alliance has become, namely a document by which we can be forced by our Big Brother to prove in blood (most of it not even ours) that our snouts remains worthy of a place in the global trough. “How are we to secure the nation?” you ask, without saying from whom. And Darth, you are so right: the only way to secure ourselves from the empire is to join it.

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