Nov 3, 2011

Address to the House by the President of the United States of America

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:01):  I move:

That:

(1) the House invite the Honourable Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, to attend and address the House on Thursday, 17 November 2011, at a time to be fixed by the Speaker;

(2) unless otherwise ordered, at the sitting of the House on Thursday, 17 November 2011:

(a) the proceedings shall be welcoming remarks by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and an address by the President of the United States of America, after which the sitting of the House shall be adjourned automatically until Monday, 21 November 2011 at 10 am; and

(b) the provisions of standing order 257(c) shall apply to the area of Members’ seats as well as the galleries;

(3) a message be sent to the Senate inviting Senators to attend the House as guests for the welcoming remarks by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and address by the President of the United States of America; and

(4) any variation to this arrangement be made only by an action by the Speaker.

It is an honour to move this motion here this morning before the parliament. Indeed, the Australian government is honoured to host the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, on 16 and 17 November.

On 13 October the Prime Minister announced to the House that President Obama will address a joint sitting of the House and the Senate on 17 November. The Prime Minister is on her way to see the President and other world leaders at the G20 leaders summit in France as we speak. Earlier this year, in March, the Prime Minister addressed the United States congress. In Australian parlance, it is now ‘our time to shout’. And as Leader of the House, there are few things that give me greater pleasure than facilitating President Obama’s address.

The United States is Australia’s closest ally and partner. As the Prime Minister said, the alliance is fundamental to our security and a cornerstone of stability in the Asia-Pacific region. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the alliance. It also marks the 10th anniversary of the outrageous attack that occurred on September 11, one of America’s darkest days in decades. Indeed, as we full know, because many Australians were also impacted directly by that terrorist attack, this was an attack on all who believe in democracy.

The United States is also the world’s largest economy. It is a major economic partner. So the President’s visit will be a timely opportunity to strengthen the ties that have bound us for generations and to take forward our shared objectives of prosperity and security for our people. That means working towards global economic stability, promoting economic growth and jobs in our nations, planning for transition in Afghanistan, and working together and through international forums to address our region’s political, security and economic challenges. We do that at a head of state level, we do that at government level and we do that as individuals, as people who regularly travel and have that interaction between Australians and Americans.

As Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, I have worked very closely with my counterparts in the United States, particularly in the area of ensuring security when it comes to our aviation system. That relationship has been very significant indeed.

On a personal note I am particularly pleased about President Obama’s visit. I had the privilege of meeting him at the G20 leaders meeting in London in March 2009. This was where the international community took historic steps to save the world economy from the biggest crisis since the Great Depression. President Obama is engaging. He is someone who will, I think, capture the imagination not just of this parliament whose members and senators  are being invited and will have the privilege of seeing personally his address to them. B have no doubt that he will capture the imagination of the Australian public.

In addition, President Obama will be visiting Darwin with the Prime Minister later that day. It will be a great opportunity for President Obama and the United States people to gain access to a very different part of Australia from here in Canberra—the important regional and global city which Darwin has become.

This will be a case where Australia is on display to the world. It is appropriate that here in this parliament, the centre of democracy in our nation, we invite and are able to hear one of the democratic leaders of the world, the President of the United States, address us. I very much look forward to his address to the parliament, as I am sure each and every member and senator does. I commend the resolution to the House.

Mr PYNE (Sturt—Manager of Opposition Business) (09:07):  I am pleased to be able to talk on this motion about arrangements for the arrival of President Obama in mid November. I do so, remembering the strange parallels that exist in the current political climate with the climate in other times that American presidents have visited this country. Specifically, I remind members of the visit of George Bush Sr in Christmas 1991. He left the United States when Bob Hawke was the Prime Minister and arrived when Paul Keating was the Prime Minister. I wonder whether there will be similar parallels at this time; I wonder if President Obama will leave the United States to visit Julia Gillard as Prime Minister and arrive to find that Stephen Smith or Kevin Rudd is actually occupying that chair. It is an amusing and interesting analogy and a parallel that I think bears some witness to the divided and directionless government that we have in Australia today.

Ms Macklin:  Is there anything you can take seriously?

Mr PYNE:  There have been other important visits to Australia by United States presidents. Famously, Lyndon Johnson visited when he was President of the United States; George Bush visited and spoke to the parliament. Lyndon Johnson did not in fact address the parliament. Bill Clinton visited the parliament when I was a member of parliament, and George Bush Junior also visited Australia and spoke to the parliament when I was in this place. And now it will be President Obama. It will be a historic, important and very interesting visit to this country by the president of essentially the free world, the leader of the free world, the president of Australia’s most important ally historically for 60 years.

It is just remarkable the sanctimony and the piety coming from the Labor Party when we are discussing this motion. They should be embarrassed about what a shambolic rabble their government has become. Rather than taking it in their stride, they are pretending that somehow they have some moral superiority on that side of the House to this side of the House. You should be embarrassed; the government should be embarrassed. Only this week, when the minister for immigration and the shadow minister for immigration had agreed not to play politics about the tragic drowning of people seeking asylum off Indonesia, the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, was attacking the opposition, that night at the same time. You come into this place right now and try and take some moral superiority—

Mr Albanese interjecting—

Ms Macklin interjecting—

The SPEAKER:  The manager of opposition business will resume his seat. I invite the Manager of Opposition Business to return to the motion before the House.

Mr PYNE:  I am more than happy to, Mr Speaker. I am not going to make the point about the immigration issue again, but I would not have needed to make those points if the Leader of the House and the minister for family services were not allowed to constantly interject on me during my contribution.

The SPEAKER:  The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. If the Manager of Opposition Business has a problem with the way in which proceedings are being chaired, he has other avenues rather than to reflect upon the chair. Some of your colleagues seem to think that I will take action against you. I will not. But I will remind you that you will come back to the motion and, to use one of the famous expressions of this House, not be a precious petal about interjections. The Manager of Opposition Business has the call. He will contain his remarks to the motion before the Chair.

Mr PYNE:  I thank you, Mr Speaker. The coalition certainly looks forward to the visit of President Obama to this parliament. The coalition has been historically the great friend of the United States in this country. The coalition was the government that was responsible for drafting and signing the ANZUS treaty in the early 1950s. Australia has not better friend than the United States, and the United States has no better friend than Australia. Every time Australia is called on to support the United States in world affairs, whether they have been unfortunate conflagrations across the world, whether they have been support in the United Nations or other world fora, Australia has been there to support the United States.

The United States is the greatest bulwark for freedom and against terror in the world today. While the United States is going through difficult economic times, I am absolutely confident that the United States will come through these difficult economic times stronger and better than ever.

A visit of a United States President is an historic visit for Australia. We have other great allies, like Japan and Great Britain, but none that have done more for Australia than the United States. I am pleased that in most cases it is a bipartisan issue in this parliament. Not everybody in the parliament supports the United States as confidently and passionately as the coalition does but, by and large over the history of this country since the Second World War, there has been a bipartisan approach from the leadership, at least—from the prime ministers of both Labor and Liberal parties—to support the United States alliance and to strengthen that relationship.

In speaking briefly to this motion, I welcome the arrangements that have been put in place by the Leader of the House and by the government. It will be a tremendous day for Australia, and I look forward to supporting this motion when it comes on for a vote.

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (09:14):  The coalition supports the Leader of the House in moving this motion and joins with the government in welcoming President Obama to Australia.  Australia will always welcome a visit from a President of the United States. The person who occupies that position is indeed the leader of the free world.

The United States is our strongest ally, our warmest friend, and we share the enduring values of freedom, democracy and commitment to the rule of law.

We join with the United States in supporting the aspirations of people around the world who are prepared to fight for freedom. It was 70 years ago, in January of 1941, that US President Franklin D Roosevelt in his state of the union address articulated the four freedoms: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; freedom from fear. Later that year, in December of 1941, the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor and that changed the course of the Second World War and certainly changed the course of history.

The coalition government at that time had foreseen the need to engage with the United States as we faced the dark hours of World War II for, in 1939, Prime Minister Menzies despatched the first ambassador to Washington in RG Casey and the United States sent the first ambassador from the US to Australia later in 1940. That deep engagement with the United States proved to be absolutely vital considering what lay ahead.

Sixty years ago the ANZUS treaty was signed and this is the keystone of our strategic relationship with the United States where we agree to support each other in the face of mutual danger. Our relationship has also been broadened and strengthened and deepened with the passing of the free trade agreement between the United States and Australia in 2005.

With President Obama’s visit we will recognise the deep, close ties between our two countries. We notice that President Obama has a particular personal interest in this part of the world from the time that he spent in Indonesia and we welcome the United States’ deeper commitment to this region, particularly with Indonesia.

The Australian people feel very affectionate towards the United States and visit there often. Apparently about three-quarters of a million Australians visit the United States each year and about half a million Americans visit Australia. There are close government-to-government ties and people-to-people links. President Obama’s visit will continue to cement that deep, enduring and lasting friendship and alliance between the United States and Australia.

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:17):  In summing up I very much thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her dignified and appropriate comments in this debate. The alliance between the United States and Australia is, indeed, something that is bipartisan and is something that should be above political point-scoring issues. I am pleased that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition recognised that in her contribution.

President Obama’s visit to the house will be welcomed by all members and senators and will, I believe, be welcomed by all Australians. This will be an important time when our great nation is showcased not just to the United States but to the world.

As someone who has been involved in some of the organisational details, Mr Speaker, you would be aware that the visit of a President of the United States is, indeed, quite an extraordinary exercise. It is a logistical coordination which involves many hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Australia will be up to the task. I am sure that it will be an extremely successful visit, and that we will look back on these two days in November and be proud to have been a part of it, and we will also look back at being privileged to be members of this House of Representatives or of the Senate. I commend the resolution to the House.

Question agreed to.