(As prepared for delivery – July 25, 2017)
What a fantastic setting for the United States Independence Day celebration in Brisbane! And what a pleasure it is to be aboard America’s flagship, USS Ronald Reagan.
I’d like to begin by thanking Captain Donnelly and each member of the crew of USS Ronald Reagan for hosting this spectacular celebration. There is no more iconic platform than a U.S. aircraft carrier: 98,000 tons of diplomacy — and power projection if needed.
We are delighted to be here. Thirty-one years ago, President Ronald Reagan spoke from the deck of USS John F Kennedy in New York Harbor. He reminded the country that shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, spontaneous celebrations took place throughout the land. American colonials set off cannons and marched in fife and drum parades up and down the coast.
He then noted the stark contrast with the sober scene that had taken place just a short time earlier in Independence Hall. Fifty-six men came forward to sign the parchment of the Declaration of Independence. It was noted at the time that they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors.
And that was more than rhetoric; each of those men knew the penalty for high treason to the Crown. “We must all hang together,” Benjamin Franklin said, “or, assuredly, we will all hang separately.” And John Hancock, it was reported, wrote his signature in large script so King George could see it without his spectacles. As President Reagan went on to say, “They were brave. They stayed brave through all the bloodshed of the coming years. Their courage created a nation built on a universal claim to human dignity, on the proposition that every man, woman, and child had a right to a future of freedom.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I know that Australians feel the same way about that precious word “freedom.”
This is a very special year for the U.S.-Australian friendship, partnership, and alliance. Almost one hundred years ago on our Independence Day of July 4th, 1918, U.S. troops marched into battle for the first time under a foreign commander, Australian Lieutenant General John Monash, in the Battle of Hamel on the Western Front in northern France … and it helped change the course of the war. Since that day, our two nations have fought side by side in every major war. “Side by side” at sea, in the air, and ashore.
Seventy-five years ago, in March 1942, with the Japanese inexorably advancing south and west through the Pacific island chains, Australian Prime Minister Curtin issued a stirring cry to Americans … to join Australia in defending the free institutions both our countries enjoy. America answered Australia’s call, and together we halted the Japanese advance, but the cost was high. 656 Americans and Australians lost their lives in the Battle of the Coral Sea.
In May, my husband Chip and I were honored to represent the United States at commemorative services in cities up and down the Queensland coast, joined by U.S. and Australian veterans including USS Lexington survivor Cecil Wiswall. One of his friends, and fellow survivor, was yeoman Julius “Harry” Frey, who expressed his desire to be buried with his shipmates in the hallowed waters of USS Lexington’s final resting place. Ten days ago, on July 15th, the crew of USS Ronald Reagan paused from the Talisman Saber exercise to spread the ashes of Harry Frey and his wife into the Coral Sea where the “Lady Lex” sank beneath the waves so many years ago.
We are privileged to hold this ceremony today in Brisbane, a city with an important role in our bilateral relations. Seventy-five years ago — this week — U.S. General Douglas MacArthur moved the Headquarters of the Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific from Melbourne to Brisbane, to a building that formerly housed an insurance company. Above the door — then and today — is the company inscription, “A sure friend in uncertain times.” This phrase aptly describes our unparalleled bilateral relationship and strong alliance over the past century … and the next century.
From his headquarters in Brisbane, General MacArthur coordinated the campaign in the SW Pacific — and for most of 1942 and 1943, he commanded more Australian than U.S. personnel. With the steady build-up of U.S. and Australian troops into Brisbane, Townsville, Rockhampton, Cairns, and other coastal cities, came medical facilities, supply depots, airfields, training establishments, and scientific research sites. Brisbane is also where the U.S. Seventh Fleet was formed in March 1943, and today USS Ronald Reagan is the largest ship in the Seventh Fleet.
Our relationship is broad and deep. Combining trade and investment, the United States is Australia’s most important economic partner. We are — by a wide margin — Australia’s number one investor. Over one thousand U.S. companies, including many of our top firms, operate in Australia, several for over a hundred years. American companies create over 300,000 jobs in Australia. At the same time, the United States is the number one destination for Australian investment, which has created 95,000 jobs in the United States.
In conclusion, our friendship and close cooperation goes far beyond our military, law enforcement, and intelligence ties … to include cultural, financial, science and technology… and even our shared passion for sports. Fundamentally, we are bound by a shared political philosophy regarding the relationship between citizens and their government. This is best expressed in the words published in Philadelphia 241 years ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This evening we celebrate U.S. Independence Day a few weeks after July 4th — and I’m sure you agree it was worth the wait for this spectacular setting.
To each of the members of the crew of USS Ronald Reagan, and to all the Americans here tonight, Happy Birthday. And to our Australian friends, thanks for joining us this evening — we have no better friend, no stronger ally, and no more valuable partner in the world.
You are a sure friend in uncertain times.