Remarks to Australian American Leadership Dialogue dinner

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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10 August 2023

Acknowledgements omitted

Two weeks ago, the Foreign Minister and I hosted Secretaries Tony Blinken and Lloyd Austin in Brisbane for the annual AUSMIN meeting. And I took the opportunity to take Secretary of Austin to the MacArthur Room, the wartime offices of General Douglas MacArthur, in Brisbane. After Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, and the fall of Singapore and the Bombing of Darwin in 1942, our nation faced its greatest hour of help. When there was a genuine and a legitimate fear that our country would be invaded. At the end of December in 1941, Prime Minister John Curtin famously said that Australia looked to America. And that declaration, for many of us, has been seen as the very beginning of the Alliance between our two countries. In March of 1942, Douglas MacArthur first set foot in Australia. It was actually in a small South Australian town of Terowie that he declared that he shall return to the Philippines. But before he did, he spent the better part of two and a half years in Australia commanding the Southwest Pacific theatre of the Second World War – and mainly from Brisbane. Over that period of time 800-thousand American service personnel would visit Australia. In time, General MacArthur would command almost the entirety of the Australian Defence Force, one of the largest forces that our nation has ever seen. Americans and Australians had fought together before. General Monash commanded American troops at the Battle of Hamel in 1918. But it was in these years of the Second World War; the Battle of the Coral Sea, the campaign in Guadalcanal, the Kokoda Track, the battles of Gona, Buna in Papua New Guinea, and throughout the Southwest Pacific, that our Alliance truly became unbreakable.

Three weeks ago, a number of us here had the enormous privilege of being present in Sydney for the commissioning of the USS Canberra. It was the first commissioning of a new American warship outside the United States. And the USS Canberra sat a berth her sister ship, HMAS Canberra at Garden Island. 81 years ago last night, on the ninth of August in 1942, HMAS Canberra was lost in the Battle of Savo Island, which was a part of the Guadalcanal Campaign. The 83 Australians and one American who lost their lives on that night so moved President Roosevelt that he determined that an American ship would be named the USS Canberra. And that ship was duly commissioned before the end of the Second World War. And the ship that was commissioned three weeks ago was the second USS Canberra. Its crest bears the Southern Cross and a kangaroo. Its sponsor is Australian Senator Marise Payne, a former Australian Defence Minister. It has been determined that there will always be an officer of the Royal Australian Navy who will serve on her crew.

Secretary Austin and I also visited Townsville to watch Exercise Talisman Sabre and we met representatives of the 1st Division of the United States Marine Corps, which was also present in Australia during the Second World War, in Melbourne, recovering after the Guadalcanal Campaign. To this day, the song of the 1st Division of the United States Marine Corps is Waltzing Matilda. The symbols of our Alliance are everywhere.

But as we think about the world today, in 2023, those symbols underpin a deep and substantive relationship. A number of the congressional delegation here tonight came via Perth, where they were aboard the USS North Carolina, a Virginia class submarine which is at HMAS Stirling as we speak, part of the optimal path by which Australia will acquire a nuclear-powered submarine capability from the United States and the United Kingdom under the banner of AUKUS. An example of the deepness of our relationship. Indeed if you look at the outcomes of our AUSMIN meeting two weeks ago, what they evidence is that our relationship has never been deeper and more collaborative than it is right now.

There is much to learn from the relationship, the personal relationship, between General MacArthur and Prime Minister Curtin. At a time when communication was hard, and Curtin and his government felt deep concerns about the extent to which Australia was being kept informed of the prosecution of the Second World War in other fields. He never made that complaint about MacArthur. In fact, quite the opposite. He was always glowing about the way MacArthur consulted with him and his government. About the frankness with which information was shared and the way in which Douglas MacArthur listened to John Kirby's advocacy on Australia's national interest and how that formed a part of the strategic prosecution of the war in the Southwest Pacific. The relationship was personal, it was deep, it was productive and it was warm. And what it says is that as much as the Alliance is about shared values, and it most certainly is, and as much as it's about a shared strategic alignment, and it definitely is, at its heart it is about people and relationships. Which is why this dialogue is so important.

Since 1992, literally thousands of Australians and Americans have been put together by this dialogue. Friendships have been formed. Valuable collaborations have ensued. And it's such an incredible contribution, the standards and names of both of our countries, that AALD is still going strong 31 years later. So to all the Australians here tonight, can I say enjoy the next couple of days, it is going to be a heap of fun. To the visiting American delegation, you could not be more welcome here in our nation’s capital, as the closest of friends and the closest of partners. And to Tony and Evan and all the team at the AALD I simply wish you all the best for AALD 2023.


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