In a speech to the US-Australia Leadership Dialogue in Sydney on 20 July 20005, the federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott said that while America has for over half a century been Australia’s most important ally, “…the importance of Britain – as America’s principal global ally, Europe’s most assertive military and economic power and Australia’s second-largest foreign investor and fourth-largest trading partner – has too often been underrated”.

Mr Abbott criticised those who assumed that the American alliance enhanced republicanism here, a point argued by Mr Keating’s speech writer, Don Watson in A Quarterly Essay.

Mr Watson’s curious argument, if I understand it correctly and he is serious, is that Australia should become a republic by becoming part of the United States!

Mr Abbott said:” In a form of cultural cringe, the Australian left has sometimes embraced American symbols to undermine support for the monarchy and other British-derived Australian traditions, such as judicial restraint…”

In arguing that Australia never had to choose between these two allies, Mr Abbott observed that the “either/or” approach to Australia’s relations with Britain and America is founded on one rather overwrought statement that “Australia looks to America free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.”

He said that this statement by John Curtin was “… a cry for help rather than a fundamental reorientation of Australia’s foreign policy. In a time of mortal peril, he was happy to accept whatever assistance could be had … but he was no proto-republican.”

“In February 1942, at almost the same time as he and Churchill were arguing over whether the 6th and 7th divisions should go to Rangoon or Fremantle, Curtin addressed Australians as the "sons and daughters of Britishers".

He rightly welcomed American soldiers to Australia as people who "speak like us, think like us and fight like us".

In an address in London in May 1944, Curtin said: “Lord’s is to Australia what it is to this country. We are helping to defend this historic city of London and those 22 yards of turf, which we hope will be used time and time again so that the motherland and Australia can decide whether the six-ball over is better than the eight-ball over."

“Curtin took Australia’s international and imperial responsibilities seriously. He understood that alliances ultimately rest on deeds not words. Although the alternative prime minister can be trusted to say the right thing about the US alliance, forced to choose between the United Nations and the United States, on current form, no doubt with eloquent regrets about the flaws of the world body, he would end up sitting firmly on the fence…….”

Mr Abbott recalled that in a 2001 speech to open the Magna Carta monument in Canberra, John Howard spoke of the values shared by the people of Britain, Australia and the United States and described September 11 as an attack on the people and values of all three countries.

Until next time,

David Flint