Australia Is Your Greatest Friend, PM Tells Congress

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - The United States has no better friend than Australia, Prime Minister John Howard told Congress Wednesday, in an address postponed nine months by the terrorist attacks which have drawn the two allies closer.

Howard also used his speech, the first to Congress by an Australian leader in 14 years, to press for a free trade agreement between the two countries, and to voice concern about U.S. trade policies, which he said would hurt farmers at home.

Recently-signed agriculture legislation, providing U.S. farmers with $173.5 billion in subsidies over 10 years, have rattled a number of countries, with two in Latin American filing a joint complaint at the World Trade Organization.

"Australia was intensely disappointed with the passage of the recent farm bill," Howard told the joint sitting, adding that it would harm Australian farmers, whom he said were "efficient producers with very little government support."

At the same time, Howard pointed out, European Union farm subsidies were considerably larger than those in America.

He also called for a comprehensive free trade agreement, which would boost bilateral trade and investment and "add a stronger economic dimension to the security and other links we share."

Those shared links and values formed the major thrust of Howard's speech. Both Australia and the U.S., he said, believed in the importance of strong families, primacy of the individual and competitive capitalism.

Both countries shared a "pioneer past" and had built societies based on opportunity, fairness and hope, enriched by migration.

Howard was due to have addressed Congress on Sept. 12 last year, and was in Washington when terrorists flew aircraft into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The speech was cancelled, but he still visited Capitol Hill that day after the attacks.

"When I last came to this great chamber of democracy on 12 September last year, smoke still hung in the air over Washington and New York," Howard said Wednesday.

"America fought back magnificently - and won the admiration of the world. You demonstrated to the world that, where fundamental freedoms flourish, evil men can do their worst, cause death and devastation, but in the end they will never win," he said.

Howard said Australians reacted to the outrage with no doubt that it was an attack on their country and way of life too.

En route back home, he had told the U.S. ambassador to Australia that Canberra would for the first time invoke a mutual defense treaty signed in 1951.

He noted that Australian forces were fighting alongside Americans in the retaliatory campaign against terror launched in Afghanistan.

Howard is due Thursday to meet President Bush, whom in his speech he said had shown the qualities of a great leader.

The Howard government has backed Bush administration policies in areas beyond security. The prime minister in recent days has echoed U.S. concerns about the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, as well as the International Criminal Court.

Washington has abandoned both treaties. Canberra says it won't ratify Kyoto, and is currently re-assessing its support for the ICC because of fears the tribunal could impact on national sovereignty.

Earlier during his Washington visit, Howard brought up the ICC issue again, requesting a meeting with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to hear the administration's view.

"I fully understood the argument he was putting, and it was a very powerful argument," he was quoted as saying after the briefing.

Howard's coalition is reportedly split on the issue. Members will resume debate on the issue next Tuesday.

Australia has until July 1 to ratify the ICC statute if it wishes to nominate any Australian judges or prosecutors at a key setting-up meeting in September.

The court, which will hear cases involving genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, is due to begin operating within 12 months.

Apart from sovereignty concerns, pro-life critics fear the ICC could become a forum for the United Nations to impose pro-abortion and anti-family measures on member-states.

See Also:
Australian PM Echoes Bush's Views On Int'l Criminal Court, Kyoto (June 6, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow