Statement on the strategic and economic relationship with the United States

Parliament House, Canberra

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

13 February 2014

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:53): I thank the member for O'Connor for his question. He understands the importance of the strategic and economic relationship with the United States. In fact, our strategic alliance with the United States is, as former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, our bedrock, the guiding principle of Australia's engagement with the region and the world. In economic terms and taking into account two-way investment stocks and two-way trade in goods and services and the impact of the free trade agreement that we have with the United States, it is also our most important economic partner. $1 trillion in investment stocks is unparalleled in our history and the $630 billion of US investment has helped underpin the development of critical infrastructure in mining and resources and agriculture, not only in Western Australia but across the nation. It has enabled us to export record levels of commodities to Asia, particularly to China, which is now our largest and most important two-way merchandise trading partner.

These are facts and successive leaders on both sides of the parliament have acknowledged this. For virtually every Labor leader from Curtin to Gillard and Rudd this has been an article of faith. Labor leaders have consistently prioritised the United States relationship. Take Gough Whitlam's words in Washington in 1973. He was speaking about our many relationships. He said, 'Undoubtedly the most important of those relationships is the American connection, many sided, deep and enduring.' Kevin Rudd more recently as Prime Minister said, 'There is no more important relationship for Australia than our relationship with the United States of America.' Kevin Rudd again said, 'Our relationship with the United States is Australia's most important relationship.

So I was rather surprised to find that there has been a change in Labor's foreign policy and they are walking away from this bipartisan position. Apparently Labor senator Sam Dastyari is now articulating the view that to reaffirm as I did the strategic and economic importance of the relationship was a diplomatic stumble which was guided more by a misplaced sense of Australian identity. The one and only Labor leader who has ever up until now rejected the importance of the US relationship was Mark Latham. He said it was the last manifestation of the White Australia policy. His insulting and reckless commentary was rejected by the Australian people, but it seems that the Latham doctrine lives on. We should not be surprised that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition could not even bring herself to stand as a matter of protocol when the 43rd President of the United States addressed this parliament. Seriously, the Leader of the Opposition should know better than to embrace the regressive Latham doctrine.

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