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Ambassador Culvahouse Speech: Growing our U.S partnership: priorities and opportunities (Perth, WA)
March 29, 2019

(As prepared for delivery, March 29, 2019 – Committee for Economic Development Australia, Perth)


Thank you very much for that kind introduction.

It’s a great pleasure for me to join you all this morning here in Perth.

I will speak a little bit about who I am and what I hope we can achieve together here in Australia during my service as U.S. Ambassador.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge:

  • Paula Rogers and the CEDA team for graciously organizing this event;
  • Meg O’Neill from Woodside who is MC’ing the event today;
  • Margie Tannock and the Squire, Patton, Boggs team for generously hosting us today;
  • Members of Parliament;
  • Members of the Consular Corps;
  • Distinguished guests.

And I would especially like to thank our stellar Consul General in Perth, Rachel Cooke, and the outstanding work of her team at the U.S. Consulate General.

You all know Rachel precisely because she has done such a great job here, building an incredibly strong relationship between the United States and Western Australia.

It is a testament to her impressive efforts, and to the important role WA plays in our economic engagement both here in Australia – and, more broadly, in the Indo-Pacific region – that I made sure I came to Perth so early in my tenure as ambassador.

My Story

I thought I might begin by taking a moment to introduce myself, as I know the name “A.B. Culvahouse Jr.” is probably quite new to most of you.

I grew up on a farm in the small community of Ten Mile, Tennessee.

After graduating from the University of Tennessee with a degree in economics, I had the good fortune to receive a scholarship to study law at New York University.

Going to Greenwich Village from Ten Mile in the summer of 1970, in the midst of all the social and cultural change of that time, I must have been quite a sight in my freshly pressed white suit!

Following graduation from law school, I was slated to work as a clerk for a federal judge.

However, thanks to Lamar Alexander, I was asked to become the chief legislative assistant of Senator Howard Baker, my home state Senator.

On my first day on the job, I sat behind him at the Senate Watergate hearings investigating President Nixon – that was certainly a position I never expected to be in!

I came to Washington fully anticipating to stay just 18 months, but I ended up living there – very happily, I must say – more than 45 years.

Most of that time was spent in the private practice of law at the O’Melveny firm.

However, in 1987, when President Reagan asked Senator Baker to become White House Chief of Staff, Senator Baker agreed upon the condition that I be appointed White House Counsel – the President’s chief lawyer.

It was a complete surprise – and pretty heady stuff for that kid from Ten Mile.

Later on, I had the opportunity to assist Senator John McCain – whom I know had many, many friends here in Australia – and Donald Trump in vetting their nominees for Vice President in 2008 and 2016, respectively.

I was working happily at the law firm late last year when I was asked if I would be interested in serving my country as an ambassador.

When the White House offered to nominate me as Ambassador to Australia, I was deeply honored, but I wanted to make sure I was the right fit for Australia, and Australia was the right fit for me.

To help me decide, I came to Australia on a personal visit – both to Canberra and Perth – to confirm what I now know:  that this is the perfect place, and perfect time, for me to serve my country by working on this vital U.S.-Australia partnership.

Since my arrival in Australia earlier this month, I have been overwhelmed by the warmth and graciousness of the reception I have received.

I’ve been around long enough, though, to know the interest surrounding my arrival isn’t about me.

It is about the very significant place our alliance and partnership holds in the hearts and minds of so many people on both sides of the Pacific.

At this time of rapid change in the world, I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the time-tested values that make our relationship so strong.

For it is undeniable that over the past 100 years, our shared values and shared history have established a unique bond between us.


The deeply-held beliefs that unite us are:

– we are both strong, liberal democracies;

– we are all equally subject to the law and everyone deserves a fair go;

– we will succeed through hard work and fair play;

– we will, by working together today, achieve a better tomorrow; and

– that our commitment to our friends is unbreakable.

Let me assure you that I will work each and every day to make this alliance and our bilateral relationship even stronger.

For our common future depends on it.


Normally, it’s not my style to read my remarks.

But today it is important to provide you with some important facts that are not as well-known as they should be, and to present them accurately.

So I ask you to indulge me this morning.


Three Priorities

Before arriving here in Australia, I met in Washington with a wide range of government, business, and academic leaders deeply familiar with the U.S.-Australia relationship.

Their insights into our partnership – both what was working well and what might need a little more of my attention – helped me shape the three priorities I hope to focus on during my time here.

First, I want to make sure that alliance between our two great countries going forward remains as strong as I find it today, and I find it ­very strong.

When I spoke with President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, and many other senior officials – Republicans and Democrats alike – they were unanimous that the U.S.-Australian alliance is solemn, unshakeable, and unbreakable.

And that, as a Pacific nation, the United States has permanent, vital interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

Second, I want to work with our Australian partners to help ensure the prosperity, security, and sovereignty of our friends and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

In particular, I want to advance our cooperation – following the lead of our Australian partners – in the Pacific Islands.

This is an area in which Australia has traditionally played a leadership role, but also one in which the United States has a long history of engagement.

And especially here in Perth – the gateway to the Indian Ocean – I want to ensure we are working together to advance the “Indo” element of the Indo-Pacific strategy.

We are already doing much together in this dynamic region to promote security, political sovereignty, and long-term economic development, and I am eager to build on this strong foundation.

Third – and perhaps most relevant for all of you here today – I want to ensure that the U.S.-Australia economic partnership continues to drive prosperity in both our countries.

As the U.S. Ambassador, I want to work with government and business leaders in both countries to increase investment, to expand trade, and to promote more research and development cooperation.

Investment in business is also investment in human capital.

I want to promote the creation of more good-paying jobs in Australia and the United States that will build skills and strengthen our local communities and our bilateral relationship.

Not just the jobs of today, but the jobs of the future, created through our unparalleled ability to innovate together.

Most of all, I want to inspire young Australians and Americans to follow their dreams to work, to study, to travel, and to experience life in the other’s country.

In short, we want to harness the energy and excitement of our young people to shape a 21st Century that benefits both our countries, as well as the wider region and the world.


Australia’s Most Important Economic Partner

I would like to speak a bit more about how I see the U.S.-Australia economic partnership, and what I hope to achieve as Ambassador.

Since we’re among friends, I’ll be very direct here and let you in on what seems to be Australia’s best kept secret:  The United States is Australia’s most important economic partner, and the United States intends to remain Australia’s most important economic partner.

In fact, it is such a part of the fabric of your experience and ours that the depth and scope of our economic partnership has faded into the background and become somewhat unremarkable.

We take it for granted because it seems that it’s always been there.

And because it seems that it has always been there, we have lost sight of just how remarkable it truly is.

This remarkable economic partnership of ours is based on three key elements:  Investment, Trade, and Research and Development.  



Let me say a few words about our investment relationship.

We have a two-way investment relationship totaling 1.6 trillion Australian dollars – a figure almost as large as Australia’s total gross domestic product.

The United States continues to be the top source of foreign investment in Australia – by far – and we likewise are the top destination for Australian overseas investment.

Data from the Australian government shows that being the largest investor in Australia translates into the United States being the largest international employer and wage-payer.

The scale of U.S. investment in Australia also means that U.S. companies pay far more tax than businesses from any other country.

This amounted to around 3 billion Australian dollars in the last year for which data is available.

This figure is more than twice the tax paid by the next largest contributor, the UK, and just under one-third of all tax paid by foreign companies in Australia.

Although the earliest examples of U.S. investment in Australia go back to the late 19th Century, these ties continue to expand to this day.

U.S. investment in Australia has more than tripled since 2002, and last year we were again the top source of new investment into Australia.

The Australian government estimates more than 370,000 Australians work for American companies, drawing salaries – on average – of 115,000 Australian dollars per year.

The tremendous impact of U.S. investment can be found in all sectors of the economy and in communities across the length and breadth of the country.

One of the most visible areas for U.S. investment is right here in Western Australia in the resources and mining sector.

As most of you know, American companies helped drive economic growth here in WA over the past two decades.

Bechtel, Caterpillar, Chevron, Cisco, ConocoPhillips, and General Electric are just a few of the American companies that have brought investment, equipment, and know-how to Western Australia’s economy.

And, as the WA economy continues to evolve, U.S. companies will be critical partners in that evolution, creating new jobs and opportunities.

Chevron’s Gorgon Project on Barrow Island, at 77 billion Australian dollars, is the single largest foreign investment in Australia.

To date, Gorgon has employed 10,000 workers; it is projected to create thousands more jobs and pay around 70 billion Australian dollars in taxes to the Australian government.

Importantly, Chevron has also invested billions of dollars, alongside the Australian government, in what will be the world’s largest carbon capture facility.

This technology will prevent up to four million tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere, helping provide real-world solutions to one of the most pressing issues facing our planet.

Chevron is far from alone.

Newmont from the United States operates the two largest gold mines in Australia, in Boddington and Kalgoorlie.

Alcoa has been operating in WA for more than five decades and is one of Australia’s leading exporters.

And just yesterday, I was honored to attend the groundbreaking ceremony at the official launch of Albemarle’s new lithium hydroxide processing plant in Kemerton.

As many of you know, global lithium demand is anticipated to quadruple by 2025.

Albemarle plans to meet this demand by significantly expanding its footprint in Australia and investing almost 2.8 billion Australian dollars in WA’s rapidly evolving lithium industry.

The Kemerton plant I visited yesterday will create some 500 jobs during the construction phase and more than 500 jobs at full-scale operation.

These examples are just a small sampling of what American firms are doing here in WA and across the country.

The impact American investment is making in local communities, the partnerships formed with small- and medium-sized suppliers and partners, the mentorship of students and new graduates, and the contribution to innovation and technological development are all key elements of this story.

Investment represents a long-term economic partnership and commitment to working together – whatever bumps appear on the road, or whichever way the political winds may blow on any given day.

The United States, and American businesses, put our money where our mouths are when we talk about our commitment to working with Australia over the next century.

We stand with you today and we will be standing with you tomorrow.



Let me next turn to our trade relationship.

The United States is Australia’s third largest trading partner, with more than 70 billion Australian dollars in goods and services traded between our two countries this past year.

Importantly, our trade in services – the lifeblood of modern, global economies – is vibrant and growing at a rate of nearly 10 percent per year.

Last year, the United States was the second largest market for Australian services exports, and the United States was the largest source of service imports to Australia.

Australia’s largest services export to the United States is called, in trade parlance, “Professional, technical and other business.”

This is shorthand for the hundreds of firms and thousands of workers who are providing highly skilled, technologically savvy solutions to many of the most important financial, legal, and technical issues our two economies face.

These are the very jobs we want to continue to foster:  they are the drivers of sustained, high-wage economic growth that supports families and communities in Australia and the United States.

I would like to take just a moment here to remind everyone the United States remains one of the most open trading markets in the world.

Despite all the headlines and media commentary, U.S. two-way trade with the world has increased by 14 percent under the Trump Administration.

During this same period, our trade with Asia has jumped 13 percent, and trade with Australia has risen 11 percent.

According to the World Bank, America’s average applied tariff is 1.7 percent, below the EU’s 2.0 percent and well below China’s 3.5 percent – though admittedly we still have some catching up to do with Australia’s 1.2 percent average rate!

Other measures also show that the United States’ openness extends beyond low tariffs:  we rank sixth in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” Index, and second in the developed world on the OECD’s Trade Facilitation Indicators.

But the United States is not resting on its laurels – the United States continues to pursue further trade opportunities.

Indeed, the United States has announced its intention to negotiate new trade agreements with Japan, the European Union, and the UK, each of which will further reduce barriers to trade.

And this follows recent updates to our agreements with Canada and Mexico, as well as with South Korea, to address market access barriers and support mutually beneficial, free and fair trade.


Research & Development

Finally, let me turn to research and development, one of the most essential elements for the long-term health of the economic relationship between our two great countries.

Over the past decade, U.S. firms have invested more than 1 billion Australian dollars – per year – in R&D here in Australia.

American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, through its STELaRLab in Melbourne, is partnering with some of Australia’s best researchers to explore cutting edge fields like robotics and autonomous control, while promoting STEM education opportunities in the next generation of innovators.

The STELaRLab is Lockheed Martin’s first multi-disciplinary R&D facility outside the United States, and it’s the centerpiece of its commitment to innovation which drives growth and prosperity, and helps position Australia as a leader in the emerging technologies in the 21st Century.

American pharmaceutical manufacturers like Amgen are investing heavily every year in clinical tests in Australia for new patient treatments in fields such as hematology, oncology and cardiovascular disease.

Future research will focus on exploration of genetic mapping to develop personalized medicines.

As a result, Australian patients are some of the first in the world to be given access to new treatments to fight their illnesses.

Beyond what we are doing together on R&D, our two governments are similarly making major commitments to fund collaborative research on complex cancers, pandemic disease, new energy sources, earth observation, ocean science and many other issues critical to our health, well-being, and prosperity.

I’m also particularly happy to remind everyone this year is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Our mutual investments in science and technology not only brought us to the Moon and shared it with the world, but they also facilitate deeper exploration of space and will eventually bring us to the next frontier – a human walking on the surface of Mars.

And in a third realm – businesses working with government – we need only look up the street from where we sit today to see this kind of R&D cooperation in action.

In 2017, Woodside gained a new employee – the “Robonaut” – on loan from NASA.

There are just two other Robonauts in the world – one with General Motors in Michigan and one on the International Space Station.

The Robonaut helps Woodside improve workplace safety, reliability, and efficiency in a challenging environment, while also allowing NASA to test its technology for potential unmanned space missions in the future.

All of this investment, over so many decades, directly supports the work of Australian researchers and clinicians, helps Australian researchers develop new skills, and raises the quality of life for everyday Australians.

Moreover, this investment allows future generations of Australians and Americans to develop innovative solutions to some of the greatest challenges of our time.



In conclusion, let me say again that I am truly excited to be in Australia – and, in particular, to be here in Perth today – to help strengthen our remarkable bilateral relationship.

I know every day won’t be easy.

There will be some hurdles along the way – there always are.

But let me say, ladies and gentlemen, that I am confident that the best days of our relationship are ahead of us.

All of you here today have a vital role to play in our vision for this next century, and we need your active engagement – both here in Western Australia and across your country and mine.

Building on the strong foundation laid by our predecessors, my colleagues at the U.S. Consulate General in Perth, the U.S. Mission to Australia, and I are eager to work with all of you

— to deepen our economic ties;

— to expand opportunities in both our countries for a more prosperous tomorrow; and

— to inspire the next generation of American and Australian leaders to take this relationship into the future.

We will chart out a bold new course for our next, to quote Neill Armstrong – “Giant Leap” – together.

Thank you.