Oct 16, 2017

Private Members’ Business – Australia-US Relations

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:01): I’m pleased to take the opportunity to contribute to the debate about the importance of the relationship between Australia and the United States. I do so because in spite of the fact that this is a motion moved by a government backbencher, the government has not been able to provide speakers in support of its own motion. That says a lot about the current government and the demoralised state that it finds itself in. It is not even prepared to back up its own members when they move a motion. We on this side are prepared to back up the importance of the relationship between Australia and the United States. It is one of the three pillars that we believe our foreign policy should be built upon: the relationship with the United States, the relationship with countries in our region, and the engagement with multilateral forums, in particular through the United Nations and its agencies.

The United States is a complex country. It’s a diverse country. I had the opportunity to visit, as a guest of the United States, a long time ago before I was a member of parliament and visited places as diverse as New York, Washington, Boston, Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans. You really get a feel for how it is a different place from Australia—a different culture. But we have so much in common and, as the world becomes more globalised, that engagement and those people-to-people relations are so important. That doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree. Friends should tell their other friends when they think they’ve got it wrong. I back up the comments of the member for Chifley. The United States, under President Trump, has got it wrong when it comes to discrimination against people visiting the United States on the basis of their faith. That is simply a wrong policy. It’s one that damages the integrity of the United States of America, a country that we look towards for international leadership and a country that we have stood side by side with so often in times of conflict and in times of difficulty. That’s what friends should be able to do—not be compliant or subservient but be forthright in defending Australia’s national interest. This is absolutely critical. Each year I have participated in the Australia-US dialogue in both Australia and the United States. That brings together people from politics, business, the public service, the diplomatic corps and the military in a way that is incredibly constructive. One of the things that you get out of those processes is a genuine dialogue and, from time to time, a genuine disagreement, both within the delegations and between the delegations. That’s as it should be because that is what democracy is all about.

The United States, I think, remains a beacon for the world—when you look at its democratic system and the fact that you can have these challenges which are occurring in the United States in their internal politics at the moment that are still resolved in a peaceful manner. That is certainly far preferable to the conflict that we see, and how change occurs, in other parts of the world, but that doesn’t mean that we should not look critically, because we’re impacted by some of the decisions that are made by the United States in particular. Supporting the alliance, as we do, shouldn’t mean that we are not prepared to put forward Australia’s national interest. We on this side of the chamber, as the Australian Labor Party, have such a strong history with our alliance with the United States. We have proudly supported that. We have engaged with that, and we will continue to do so into the future