US Congress hails Gillard speech

WASHINGTON – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard choked back tears as she told the US Congress of the way she marvelled as a child at the Moon walk.

“On that great day I believed America could do anything. I believe that still,” she said at the end of the half-hour address.

Ms Gillard delivered an historic address to a joint meeting of the US Congress in Washington in which she described the two nations as real mates and pledged stronger economic and defence ties.  As she entered the packed house of representatives chamber she was given a three-minute standing ovation.

Ms Gillard says America needs to be “bold” in tackling the economic and security challenges of the future and can count on Australia’s support.  “In both our countries, true friends stick together – in both our countries real mates talk straight,” she said.   “So as a friend I urge you only this – be worthy to your best traditions. Be bold.”

The prime minister is the first foreign dignitary to address the 112th US Congress which took office in January following large electoral gains by the Republicans in November.

She’s only the third Australian prime minister to be given the honour of speaking to a joint meeting of the House and Senate, after Bob Hawke and John Howard, but Sir Robert Menzies addressed two joint “receptions” in the 1950s.  Referring to the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS military alliance, the prime minister said that the US had a “true friend down under”.

“You have an ally in Australia. An ally for war and peace, an ally for hardship and prosperity, an ally for the 60 years past and Australia is an ally for all the years to come,” she said.

Ms Gillard, who has this week held talks with President Barack Obama and received briefings on global security issues, said she was “cautiously encouraged” by the developments in Afghanistan, but was realistic about the transition to Afghan security forces.  “We know transition will take some years yet,” she said. “We must not transition out only to transition back in again.

“I believe we have the right strategy in place, a resolute and courageous commander in General Petraeus and the resources needed to deliver the strategy.”  Addressing the challenges of the Middle East and North Africa, Ms Gillard said Australia would do its part to “support orderly transitions to democracy” and a lasting peace.

“A peace where no nation threatens another, which is why we join you in condemning Iran’s nuclear program,” she said.  “A peace where Israel is secure, and where Palestinians have a state of their own, which is why we join you in calling on all parties to negotiate in good faith.”

The prime minister said the rise of the Asia-Pacific would “define our times” and Australia would continue to encourage China to “engage as a good global citizen”, but remain “clear-eyed about where our differences lie”.  She called on the US to ensure the success of global bodies such as the G20 to shore up the “fragile and uncertain” world economy, and that American legislators kept their national economy in focus.

“Global economic imbalances persist and we must address them or risk future instability,” Ms Gillard said.  “Your leadership in the G20 is still needed to ensure we make the reforms which will keep the global economy on the path to strong, sustained and balanced growth.  “That is the path to growth in America as well.”

The prime minister urged greater cooperation in tackling climate change, saying it required “far sighted economic reforms”.  “Breaking the link between economic growth and emissions growth is a difficult challenge for our economies and we can only achieve it by working together,” she said.

The emotional conclusion to her speech received a lengthy standing ovation.

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