(As prepared for delivery, June 9, 2016)
In World War Two, my father fought for freedom alongside brave Australians; at Guadalcanal and the New Guinea campaign. He and his mates had each other’s backs. They knew that it is when you are under attack that true friends show their mettle.
They knew our alliance is about flesh and blood. It is about shared values and shared sacrifice. It is about action in the face of tyranny. It is about working together to create a better future.
When the United States of America was attacked on September 11, 2001, Australia responded as a true friend and ally – just as in my father’s generation. Prime Minister Howard’s stalwart response, invoking the ANZUS Treaty for the first – and only – time in history, was an act of courage and of true leadership. It earned him the title “Man of Steel” and, in 2009, the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the United States’ highest and most prestigious civilian honor.
Other recipients include Neil Armstrong, Henry Kissinger, and Nelson Mandela.
And just as the generation of WWII rebuilt the world’s economy after attack, Prime Minister Howard achieved an equally important economic watershed for the U.S.-Australia relationship.
He pursued and signed the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement in 2005, advancing the $1 trillion dollar economic relationship between the United States and Australia. This tremendous figure is poised to grow even larger with the approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership by all 12 partner countries, and is further fueled by mutual investments in energy, advanced manufacturing, science, and technology.
Tonight’s other honoree, Boral CEO Mike Kane is a stellar representative of business leaders on both sides of the Pacific who are taking our economies in to the 21st century. He is a leader of integrity and character. We need more like him.
The United States Studies Centre and the American Australian Association help create such leaders. And, of course, Prime Minister Howard was instrumental in the founding of these vital institutions, which are celebrating their 10th anniversary tonight.
I will conclude with a heartfelt thanks and congratulations to all the leaders in this room, and a story my father taught me about the importance of Australian leadership.
After surviving for months in the hell that was Guadalcanal, my 18-year old father and the rest of his division wondered if there was any good left in the world.
They had the good fortune to be sent to Melbourne to rest and recuperate. The greetings – and the people – my father found in Melbourne were so warm, generous, and true, that in a week’s time he and his mates were reminded not only that there was good left in the world, but it was still damn well worth fighting for.
And, lest you think this is the sentimental recollections of one man – I offer this historical fact: when the 1st Division arrived at the docks in Melbourne, the band struck up Waltzing Matilda. The Marines’ commanding general reportedly said: “It was the sweetest sound any of them had ever heard.” So powerful was that moment, that – to this day – Waltzing Matilda remains the battle song of the 1st Division of the U.S. Marine Corps.
73 years later – as the second generation of my family to come to this Lucky Country – I can tell you this: Australians remain the same today – warmhearted, generous, and a true force for good in the world.
The leaders honored here tonight prove this beyond a doubt.
Long may it be so.
May God bless Australia and the United States of America.