Reflections on my Australian Journey

An Address to the National Press Club
J. Thomas Schieffer
U.S. Ambassador to Australia

December 15, 2004

The novelist and short story writer, Katherine Anne Porter was aroused from her sleep one night by a loud knocking at the door. When she opened it, her equally famous poet and novelist friend, Elinor Wylie stood before her.

  "Elinor, whatever in the world are you doing here, it is four a.m. in the morning," Ms. Porter said.

Elinor replied, "I have stood the crassness of the world as long as I can and I have decided to kill myself. You are the only person in the world to whom I wish to say good-bye."

Ms. Porter stood there a moment and then said, "Elinor, it was good of you to think of me. Good-bye."

Almost four years ago President Bush asked me to represent the United States of America in Australia. Now it is time for me too, to say good-bye. It is particularly appropriate to do so here at the National Press Club. On two other occasions you have lent me this forum to address the media and the people of Australia. I have enjoyed each of the opportunities. In fact, I have enjoyed most of the encounters I have had with the media and have made many friendships with journalists here that I expect will last long past my time in Australia.

As someone once told me "Dealing with the media is a lot like bear hunting, someday you get the bear and someday the bear gets you, but all in all I have enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, here, and I hope you did, too. My brother is a journalist and that may explain why I have always had a warm spot for the media. Now, I must admit that sometimes over the years that warm spot has not always been in my heart but on the whole I hope you know that I respect your profession and I appreciate the respect you have shown me.

Before I talk about some of the issues and events that have presented themselves while I have been the Ambassador to your fine country, I would like to pause a moment to thank publicly some of the many Australians who have been a part of my life over the last few years.

Alexander Downer, Robert Hill and Mark Vaile have all been Ministers of Government with whom I have worked very closely as I have with Shadow Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. They are all fine men, dedicated to serving their country and committed to working for a better world. I am proud to say after my time here, they are also friends.

Ashton Calvert, Max Moore-Wilton, Peter Shergold, Arthur Sinodinos, Miles Jordana, Kim Jones, Shane Carmody, Ron Bonighton, Ric Smith, Alan Hawke, Dennis Richardson, Peter Varghese, Andrew Ethel and Paul OfSullivan are all members of the Public Service with whom I have had much contact. I will miss their good advice and good cheer. They, too, are all good friends.

Members of the military - Chris Barrie, Peter Cosgrove, David Shackleford, Chris Ritchie, Russ Shalders, Angus Houston and Peter Leahy are tremendous professionals who represent your military with honor and distinction. Australia has been fortunate at this critical time to have had their leadership and I was fortunate to have had their friendship.

I want to make special mention of your Ambassador to Washington, Michael Thawley. From the first days of my appointment, Michael has been an invaluable source for understanding Australia. He is not bad on Washington, either. Sometimes my best way of finding out what was really going on in my own government was to call Michael. He works hard every day for the interests of your country. I hope I have been as good a friend to him as he has been to me.

Australia is sometimes referred to as the "lucky country." I think it is true because you are lucky to have so many fine people that have dedicated themselves to the service of their country. I shall miss seeing them on a day-to-day basis.

Ambassadors are sent to Canberra to represent their countries. In the American system, they are also considered to be the personal representative of the President. It has been the highest honor of my life to represent my country and President Bush. George Bush and I were friends before he became President and we will be friends after he is President. Over the years and not just here in Australia, George Bush has given me jobs bigger than I would have asked for. Each one has allowed me to grow personally as well as professionally. And for that I will always be grateful.

It has sometimes been frustrating for me to represent George Bush here in Australia. His critics like to portray him more in caricature than character. The George Bush that I have known through the years is often misunderstood by the public, especially in foreign lands. I really do not know why that is, but it is. The George Bush that I know is a man of enormous compassion and concern for his fellow man. He is a President who acts out of conviction. I was reminded of that just after the election when he invited me to accompany him on a visit to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are taken there to recover and rehabilitate from the most horrific wounds. Most have lost limbs.

I watched as the President went from room to room to visit the soldiers and Marines and their families who had answered the call to duty and returned home with bodies broken from war. Those young men and women were coming to grips with the realization that life would never be easy again. When I saw the young woman who had lost most of her foot, I thought of Winston Churchillfs sad lament of World War I, that we had democratized war by maiming and killing millions of men? now I thought we have added women, too. When I saw the young men, I thought of my own son who was roughly their age and thought how difficult it must be for them to contemplate a future without arms or legs or sight. I wondered how they and their families could endure such pain and sorrow.

The President, as I knew he would, was visibly moved by the experience. There became a pattern to his visit. Each time he entered a room he would have a smile on his face and offer words of encouragement. He would invariably embrace the soldier and their family members. Then they would share a few laughs and often tears. But in each place George Bush looked into the eyes of the battered and told them their sacrifice had meaning and it would make a difference. To them it made a difference as well. Their Commander-in-Chief had not forgotten them. Their country was prepared to look after them.

When he got in the car for the ride back to the White House, I told him, "You have a hard job, Mr. President." He said, "I couldnft do it if I didnft believe it was right. I just couldnft come out here and see them and their families."

No one has to explain to George Bush what it means to put the loved one of another in harms way. The images of those brave young men and women remind him of it everyday. He would not do it, if he felt it did not have to be done.

Another man who has borne the burden of sending others in harmfs way is your Prime Minister, John Howard. Having watched the events of the last few years, I am convinced that those of us a step back from the decision-making process do not fully comprehend how difficult it is to be responsible for the lives of others. In the lead up and prosecution of the war in Iraq, I saw the worry and anxiety in John Howardfs face. Sometimes Presidents and Prime Ministers are forced to make the most difficult decisions with the gravest of consequences. We may rightly quarrel with their judgment for doing so, but I think we must be very careful not to impugn their character and integrity. No one wants to send young men and women to war. John Howard is a man of conviction. He believes the times we live in and the actions we take are important to the future of liberty. His leadership and friendship have made all the difference to my country and to me personally.

When I first got here the man who sat across the aisle from John Howard was another great friend of America's - Kim Beazley. He is a man who knows himself and is comfortable with what he finds as well he should be. When he tells you something, you can count on it. He is prepared to be a friend in good times and bad. I look forward to our paths crossing many times in the years ahead.

Kim Beazley was succeeded by Simon Crean and Mark Latham, two men with whom I sometimes differed. We divided over the gravest of issues - the issue of war and peace - an issue over which good men and women could come to different conclusions. They made their arguments with passion. So did I. I find no fault with that. Now, though, it is my hope that we can focus more on the views we share rather than those we oppose. I wish them well as I leave.

I could go on for hours because the people of your country have never been kinder or more helpful to a visitor than they have been to me, but I promised that I would reflect on some of the issues I faced here during my time. Winston Churchill once said of Lord Rosebury that he was a great man in a time of small events. Whether or not any of us is ever remembered for greatness, none of us will ever be able to say we lived in a time of small events. The three and a half years that I have been in Australia have been full of crisis and challenge. They have left many a mark on me and they are worthy of some reflection.

When I got here at the end of July 2001, a lot of people were talking about lamb. The United States had imposed tariffs and restrictions on the export of lamb to our country and Australians were not happy about it. They had taken us, in fact, to the World Trade Organization and had won an order of repeal. Even having won, Australians were still upset about the whole episode and kept asking me how America could do such a thing to Australia. When I tried to point out that trade disputes are not infrequent between friends, that we indeed had recently won a WTO dispute with Australia over leather, I got nowhere. People were just not willing to listen. They thought America had violated the spirit of our friendship.

Later when we imposed steel tariffs around the world, I felt the ugliness of the lamb controversy was about to erupt again. Even though 48% of Australian steel had been exempted in the original order, you could feel the resentment building toward another serious crisis in our relationship. Fortunately, our two governments were able to work out a compromise over the weekend, which raised that exemption to something along the order of 96% of steel exports.

In a funny sort of way, I look back on the steel controversy as a real positive threshold that was crossed in the time that I was here in Australia. As one politician told me later, " This is different than what we have seen in the past. Usually, we complain, you Americans listen politely and then come back six months later and say you are sorry but there is nothing we can do about it. This time you listened and did something. Thatfs different." To me the steel controversy let everyone know that this Administration really did care about its friends and we knew we had none better than Australia.

Talking about lamb and steel now seems almost quaint. On January 1, 2005, a new economic era will begin as the Free Trade Agreement that we have signed goes into effect. Because other events of the last few years have been so grave, I am not sure whether either of our countries has fully grasped the impact the FTA will have on our economic relationship.

To begin with, disputes like leather and lamb and steel are far less likely to occur because the FTA means that you will be largely exempt from anti-dumping disputes just as Canada and Mexico were exempt from steel tariffs because of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In the future our two economies will increasingly be linked together and the expansion of our respective markets will create jobs and prosperity that will allow both of us to compete better in the world. The consequences of what we have done will be huge. Let me offer a couple of examples.

When we first started talking about the possibility of a Free Trade Agreement between our two countries, we did not anticipate that government procurement would be a part of the package. Early on, though, we both decided it should be. Now, government procurement- that is government buying at all levels - is roughly 20% of the Gross Domestic Product of both our countries. Fair enough you might say - 20% of yours, 20% of ours, no big deal. But it is a big deal and herefs why. If you carved out 20% of the American economy and called it the Country of Government Procurement, the U.S. economy would still be far and away the largest in the world and the country of Government Procurement would be bigger than the economy of China. In other words, by including government procurement in the deal - something that did not get a great deal of publicity - Australia, in effect, concluded a Free Trade Agreement with an economy larger than the one you are now negotiating with in Beijing. Not bad for a quiet decision that few noted. Let me give you another example.

Almost 21 million people live in my home state of Texas. I realize that it is a scary prospect for some to realize that there are more Texans in the world than Australians, but I bring that up to make this point. The Texas state economy is almost twice the size of Australia's. Now, we Texans like to think we are special, that we work hard and trade hard but the real reason our economy is almost twice the size of yours is because Texans have free access to more than 280 million other Americans. What Australian entrepreneurs now have as a result of the Free Trade Agreement is free access not only to the 20 million people who live here but to the 320 million people who live in our two countries. And finding a niche in a market of 320 million is a whole lot easier than finding a niche in a market of 20 million. Fifty years from now people will look back on the impact of this FTA and wonder why anyone ever opposed it. This FTA will have a greater impact on our relationship than anything we have done since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951.

But economic issues, as great as they have been, were not been the main focus of my time here in Australia. The tragedy of September 11thand all that followed is what I spent most of my time on.Since that awful day Americans have been in two wars and faced the challenge of a new world order.At our side each step of the way has been Australia. Not since the end of World War II have we been closer. Not since the end of World War II have we seen a world so full of profound change. Terrorism, proliferation and security have new meaning for both of us. Sometimes when I think of that awful day, it is hard for me to remember the world as it was. It seems so different now. I have trouble believing that it was only three and a half years ago that it happened. In many ways it seems like decades.

These have not been easy times for either of us, whether it was September 11th in America or October 12th in Bali, these have been the times that test the character of a generation and I have spent them here in Australia with you. Out of the adversity that both of us have suffered an even closer relationship has been forged. We share more, consult more and do more together than ever before. While we both look at the world differently now - we realize that our enemies wear no uniform and fly no flag - we understand that the stakes are still the same. Tolerance and dignity and justice are never finally won. They depend upon the character of each generation to answer their call. In my time here, I have become convinced that character is something the Australian and American people still have in abundance.

Over this time you have taught me many things and given me a special insight into what it means to be an Australian. You can be a noisy lot and I must say there are moments when you can be awfully hard on one another. But Australia is a big country with a small population whose strength of purpose causes its voice to be heard around the world. You have never been shy about standing up for what you believe in and you have never been difficult to find when the hard yards of history have to be won.

So often in life we end where we began. As I prepared for this occasion today, I could not help but think of those days when my Australian journey was just beginning. I thought back to that day when I entered the Great Hall of Parliament with the Prime Minister on my right and the Opposition Leader on my left. I had been asked to speak at the Memorial Service for the victims of September 11th. Four thousand people were there that day. They crowded onto the floor and they jammed into the balconies. I can still see the crowd and feel the emotion of the moment as if it were yesterday. When my turn came to speak, I realized how hard it was going to be when I looked into the audience. Everywhere, I saw tears. Men, women, members of Government and Opposition all shared the anguish of America that day. That was the hardest speech I ever had to give, but when it was over, I had a sense of confidence and calm that I had not known before. I knew this was about to be a testing time for my country. But I also knew that we would not be alone, Australia would be at our side in mind and deed.

Since that day, I have thought of that occasion many, many times. I wondered what kept it so vivid in my memory. Then one day, I realized what it was. On that day, at that moment, you let me touch the soul of Australia. No man has ever been more honored and no man will ever be more grateful.

Please know you will always be in my heart.