Prime Minister Gillard’s Speech to Congress
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.