May 26, 2024

Remarks by Vice President Harris, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia at State Luncheon

Remarks by Vice President Harris, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia at State Luncheon

U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C.
12:47 P.M. EDT

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the State Department.  

Prime Minister Albanese, Ms. Haydon, it is wonderful to have you with us here today.  My wife, Evan, and I are delighted — please take a seat.  Thank you.  Thank you, Kevin, for the protocol tip.  (Laughter.)

We are so delighted to welcome you both, to welcome all of our friends from Down Under to the top of the State Department.  (Laughter.)

I think, as we all saw and heard so clearly yesterday, the Prime Minister is a true partner and true friend to the United States and President Biden.  (Applause.)

I’ve had the opportunity since the Prime Minister has been in office to admire up close his remarkable combination of strength, empathy, and decency.  One couldn’t ask for more in a partner and a friend. 

And I know that Jodie equally shares those traits — your remarkable work now, particularly in trying to deal with cancer, something so close to President Biden’s heart, as you know.  And we’re grateful to you for your friendship as well. 

Now, there are a few things that — for most public officials, virtually everything is — is known and out in public.  But I want to share one thing that may not be so well known to the American audience here today.  Maybe it’s known to the Australians. 

The Prime Minister and I have a deep shared affection for music.  When it comes to the Prime Minister, he’s also known, besides “Prime Minister,” as “DJ Albo.”  (Laughter.)  He’s known to spin a mean disc.  And maybe there’ll be an opportunity at some point later to hear that. 

I especially also want to thank our partners, our friends, our co-hosts today: the Vice President, Vice President Harris, and Doug Emhoff.  (Applause.)

It is — it’s especially fitting because the Vice President has been such a strong leader in our foreign policy, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, since the start of this administration, as well, of course, in response to the current crisis in the Middle East. 

And our Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff, who has led our efforts to combat antisemitism and other forms of bigotry at home and around the world.  Something that could not be more urgent in this moment.  Thank you, Doug.  (Applause.)

It is also wonderful to see members of Congress, members of the President’s Cabinet here with us today.  I know the Prime Minister had a very good session on Capitol Hill a short while ago.  We’re grateful for that. 

And it’s good to be with so many friends, especially in the midst of tremendous pain and loss at home as well as around the world. 

Our hearts are, of course, with loved ones of people who were killed in the horrific shooting last night in Lewiston, Maine, along with the many who are injured.  We wish them the speediest of recoveries.  And I know the Vice President shares this sentiment and will speak to it as well. 

I have to tell you, this lunch today is particularly meaningful for me on a personal level.  My late stepfather, Samuel Pisar, survived the horrors of the Holocaust.  He was one of 900 schoolmates in Bialystok, Poland; he’s the only one who survived. 

And after enduring Treblinka, Dachau, Majdanek, and Auschwitz, he found refuge with aunts and uncles who had gone to Australia from Poland before the war. 

For him, Australia was truly a lucky country.  He met teachers who inspired, mentors who guided him.  He rekindled his passion for life, for intellectual pursuits, and for the future that he’d ultimately build here in the United States.  He was, in many ways, as he used to tell us, reborn in Australia. 

And last year, I had the opportunity to visit the University of Melbourne, where he studied.  So, there’s been a profound bond between my family and Australia going back as long as I can remember.  And I think his experience speaks in just one unique way to the kinship between our countries that goes back to our earliest days.

Our first interactions in the 1790s consisted primarily of American ships delivering enormous quantities of spirits to very thirsty Aussies.  (Laughter.)  Now, that’s a tradition that we hope to maintain this afternoon.  (Laughter.)

By the middle of the 20th century, as our relationship deepened and we cemented our formal alliance, Prime Minister Robert Menzies would observe that Australia and America share an affinity that reaches our souls. 

Now, we might view different constellations at night, but the United States and Australia see the world in much the same way. 

We’re both nations of immigrants.  We braved unforgiving oceans to get there.  We’re both fierce believers in democracy, equality, opportunity for all of our citizens, and in the need to keep working day in, day out to actually make those ideals real. 

That affinity is why our militaries have stood side by side for so many years, from the Coral Sea to Kandahar; why our companies invest in each other’s economies; why our researchers and Fulbright Scholars flock to each other’s shores. 

And as we inaugurate a new era of our strategic cooperation, our own alliance continues to evolve to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of this time. 

We’re advancing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and well beyond, rooted in a shared commitment that we have to a world that’s free, that’s open, that’s secure, that’s prosperous. 

We’re updating our defense posture in Australia.  We’re strengthening and weaving together partnerships across the region, including the Quad, including AUKUS, as well as demonstrating our strong support for institutions like ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum. 

And we’re upholding the principles at the heart of the United Nations Charter in Ukraine where they’re challenged, where Australia continues to be the largest non-NATO contributor to Ukraine’s defense. 

We’re also building an Innovation Alliance for the 21st century, from shaping the future of AI and quantum technologies, to laying new undersea cables, to deepening our partnership in outer space. 

We know that central to every single one of these initiatives, every single one of these partnerships are people bound by shared history, heritage, culture. 

I’ve had the wonderful privilege of experiencing this on several visits Down Under over the years. 

We see the deep ties between us in this country, as well.  Australia — and we thank you again — has given us Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie — (laughter) — not to mention not one, not two, but three Hemsworth brothers.  (Laughter.)

Nick Cave performed in Washington just last month.  D.C. residents pop into Bluestone Lane to stay caffeinated.  (Laughter.)  Countless American children have shared belly-aching laughs while watching “Bluey” — and I can speak directly to this in the case of my own kids.  (Laughter.)

Every single day, in so many different ways, in so many different pursuits, we’re reminded that we’re joined together.  And precisely because of our partnership, even in challenging times — indeed, especially in challenging times, as the Prime Minister said yesterday — there is profound cause for hope. 

So, if we could start by raising a glass to two great mates and to the future that we will continue to write together.

(Secretary Blinken offers a toast.) 

Cheers, everyone.  Cheers.

PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE:  Cheers.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And now it is my great pleasure and great honor to introduce the Vice President of the United States.  (Applause.)

VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS:  Good afternoon.  Good afternoon.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

First and foremost, I want to thank, among friends, our Secretary of State.  You have all witnessed his career over many years — dedicated career to our country and to our values and principles.  And, most recently, you have been extraordinary in terms of your fortitude, your commitment, your integrity, and your stamina — (laughter) — to stand for what is right and to represent our country in the most important and noble way. 

Can we please applaud our Secretary?  (Applause.)

And to, then, our Secretary Blinken, Ms. Evan Ryan, Doug and I are honored to co-host this luncheon with you and to welcome, of course, the Prime Minister of Australia and our dear friend, Prime Minister Albanese. 

Mr. Prime Minister, it is good to see you again.  Yesterday, the day before, and after getting together in Tokyo, Bangkok, and Jakarta this past year.  (Laughter.)  We’ve spent some time together.

I also want to welcome the members of the United States Congress who are here, the members of the President’s Cabinet who are here, and all of our distinguished guests. 

As the Secretary said, before I address why we are convened here today, I will address the tragic events that happened last night in Maine.

Last night, Lewiston became yet another community torn apart by senseless gun violence.  Once again, routine gatherings — this time at a bowling alley and a restaurant — have been turned into scenes of horrific carnage. 

Doug and I mourn for those who were killed.  We pray for those who are injured and grieve with so many whose lives are forever changed and impacted by what happened. 

The Biden-Harris administration will continue to provide full support to local authorities.  And as we gather details, we must continue to speak truth about the moment we are in.

In our country today, the leading cause of death of American children is gun violence.  Gun violence has terrorized and traumatized so many of our communities in this country.  And let us be clear, it does not have to be this way, as our friends in Australia have demonstrated.

And with that then — (applause) — and with that then, I will turn to the Prime Minister’s state visit.

I believe, as do most of us, that the strength of the relationship between nations is much like the strength of the relationships in our personal lives.  It requires trust, candor, and follow-through.  It is born out of shared experiences, shared tests, and triumphs.  And it is sustained through mutual respect, mutual interest, and mutual admiration.  And although a great distance may separate us, the bond of friendship draws us forever close. 

Prime Minister Albanese, Australia is a dear friend to the United States of America.  The bond between our nations was solidified and strengthened in times of global turmoil, where freedoms that define each of our nation were at stake: from the arrival of U.S. naval ships in Sydney Harbor in 1908, to American and Australian troops breaking open the Western Front in World War One; from General MacArthur’s arrival in Australia, after Darwin was under attack during World War Two, to the Battle of the Coral Sea, as mentioned by the Secretary; and from the hilltops of the Korean Peninsula to the beaches of central Vietnam.  And when America was attacked on 9/11, Australia, again, stood with us. 

As some may remember, Australian Prime Minister Howard was here in Washington, D.C., on that tragic day, and bore personal witness to the smoke rising from the Pentagon.

In a demonstration of Australia’s solidarity, the following day, he grieved alongside Americans at the United States Capitol and later at the National Cathedral.  And days later, importantly, Australia invoked for the first time the ANZUS Treaty and then sent Australian soldiers to fight alongside American troops against al Qaeda terrorists. 

The United States is forever grateful that Australia stood with us through some of our greatest challenges and toughest moments.  Our friendship runs deep.  It exists between our people, our governments, and our leaders. 

And then, on a personal note, Prime Minister: Throughout our discussions, I have enjoyed that we share quite a similar perspective on a number of issues.  For example, we have both talked about and fought for the benefit of workers, the LGBTQ+ community, the Indigenous People of our lands. 

And you and I agree that the climate crisis is indeed an existential crisis, and we have discussed extensively the work that we can do together — our first discussion being in Tokyo. 

Thank you, I want to say, in particular, for taking extraordinarily bold and courageous steps from the moment you took office to address this issue.  I do believe that this leader has the ambition that is necessary to meet the crisis at this moment. 

I also thank you for your leadership and that of President Biden, where together we are accelerating the clean energy transition, investing in critical mineral supply chains, and growing our economies. 

As a daughter of California, I also must tell you that the firefighters in my home state are immensely thankful to the Australian firefighters who have come to their aid to help battle this crisis.  (Applause.)

And as the President said last night in his toast: As members of the Indo-Pacific, our nations also share a commitment to a free and open region, which is reinforced by our historic AUKUS partnership, the Quad, and our work together in the Pacific Islands in Southeast Asia. 

Last month, you and I were in Jakarta at the international summit that included 17 heads of Indo-Pacific nations.  And your partnership, Mr. Prime Minister, was critical in that room.  You spoke eloquently and clearly about the importance of international rules and norms, which of course are critical to our societies, both in terms of our security and prosperity.  You spoke about ensuring democratic values and that they shape the future of this region. 

And last year, you and I, together with other global leaders, were in Bangkok to work on and in common cause what we must do to level the economic playing field for our businesses and our workers. 

There, you were also among a handful of leaders that I convened hours after North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.  We discussed a coordinated response.  And I appreciate, again, how in that small room, you spoke with great clarity and conviction about condemning North Korea’s destabilizing activities. 

And as the chair of the National Space Council, I’m particularly proud of our strong partnership in outer space.  And importantly, with the support of Australia, the United States has been able to advance rules and norms for space, including the Artemis Accords.

I will also publicly thank you for joining the commitment that we announced to not conduct direct descent anti-missile testing.  And today, as part of this visit, our governments will sign a new agreement that will strengthen our commercial space partnership. 

In closing then, all this work together demonstrates a simple fact: Throughout our long and shared history and throughout the Biden-Harris administration, Australia has been a true and steadfast friend to the United States.  And I know we will strengthen the relationship in the months and years ahead. 

I thank you for your lader- — leadership, and I will raise the glass and ask everyone to join as we raise the glass to the Prime Minister.

(The Vice President offers a toast.) 

Thank you.

AUDIENCE:  Hear!  Hear! 

VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS:  (Applause.)  And now it is my honor to introduce Prime Minister Albanese.  (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE:  Well, thank you so much for that very generous introduction.

To the Vice President, to the Secretary of State, it is a wonderful opportunity for me to be back here at the State Department.  And I also welcome and acknowledge all of the members of the Cabinet, and members of Congress and Senate who are here, and my Australian friends who’ve traveled to be with us here. 

I do want to also begin by passing on my condolences to those affected by the shooting in Maine.  Indeed, it is the case that we look every time there is one of these events and are grateful that Australia did act in a bipartisan way after the Port Arthur massacre in Australia.  And my heart goes out to those who will be grieving today. 

We do meet at a time when our world faces a set of profound challenges.  Far and wide, we’re confronted by threats to peace and tests of the international rules-based order.  And here in the United States, we can see the weight of global leadership that your great nation carries. 

I came to Washington this week to continue the work of facing our alliance to the future, strengthening our economic partnerships in cloud computing innovation and through a new Technology Safeguards Agreement that we’ll sign at this lunch. 

Working with President Biden to turn the Climate and Clean Energy Compact we signed together in May into a commercial reality, with new progress on critical minerals and supply chains. 

But above all, in these challenging times, I stand here in Washington as the leader of America’s steadfast ally.  That’s what the friendship between our nations means.  We stand together in the cause of peace.  We work together to build a more free, stable, and prosperous world. 

Eight decades ago, Australia looked to America when our own need was most dire.  We recognize the world is looking to you now.  And we know it does not look in vain.  American leadership will meet this moment.  And as allies, we will face the future together. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it remains a remarkable tribute to your nation, including many people who worked from this very building, that in the aftermath of the Second World War, America did not seek to rebuild a world governed by strength of arms, fear of force, or the will of one great power.  Instead, as President Truman said, you sought a just and lasting peace, understanding that peace would only last so long as it was just.

That is why your forebears worked with ours to give life and shape to the United Nations, to help build a postwar world of rules and rights, of essential freedoms and basic fairness; where every country, large and small, could shape its own destiny and the liberty of every individual is recognized; where peace is secured not solely by the presence of the great powers, but by the sovereign acts of middle powers and small nations, and the collective responsibility of the international community. 

Of course, that vision and those values have not gone unchallenged.  We see this now in Ukraine, where Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion seeks to subjugate an independent nation and oppress a free people.  Australia may be half a world away from Ukraine, but we are proud to be one of the largest contributors to its military and humanitarian needs.  (Applause.)

We stand with Ukraine to support its courageous people, but also to defend a fundamental principle: the right of every sovereign nation to peace and security, and the responsibility of every sovereign nation to respect the rules that hold the world together, be it in Europe, in the Indo-Pacific, or indeed the Middle East.

Australia unequivocally condemns the atrocities committed by Hamas and the destruction that their acts of terror have inflicted on innocent lives in Israel and in Gaza.  And we stand with our international partners in calling for access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza. 

In my time here, I’ve had the opportunity to personally thank the President for the courage and the leadership that he has shown.  As a true friend of Israel, not only did he stand by them in this terrible time, he offered wisdom as well as solace — calling for all parties to allow safe, unimpeded, and sustained humanitarian access and safe passage for civilians. 

And the President used the power of his office to assert an undeniable principle that every innocent life must be protected — Israeli and Palestinian.  That is American leadership in action. 

Generations of this leadership had been instrumental in shaping a world which is more prosperous, more open, more free, and more interconnected than any of our forebears could have imagined.  Australia has benefited from this, and Australia has helped to build it. 

From my first day in office when I flew to Japan to take part in the Quad, the government I lead has made it a priority to reinforce the architecture of our region — investing in our capabilities and investing in our relationships; strengthening our vital links with Japan and Korea as a proven economic security and energy partner; deepening our engagement with Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, and across Southeast Asia; taking our strategic partnership with India to a new level, both bilaterally and through the Quad; strengthening the bond that we share with our Pacific Island family, where, for more than half a century, Australia has been the region’s single-largest economic and development partner; investing in our multilateral engagement — the Pacific Islands Forum, ASEAN, and the East Asia Summit — and as founding members of APEC, the G20, and, of course, the United Nations. 

Because as a constructive middle power with global interests, we understand the value and importance of dialogue, which is why Australia strongly supports the Biden administration’s efforts to maintain those open lines of communication between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China. 

As a great American president and the father of the current U.S. ambassador to Australia proved 60 years ago during the Cuban crisis, the true measure of a superpower strength is the ability to pull the world back from the brink of conflict.  Once again, that has become the test of our time. 

China has been explicit: It does not see itself as a status quo power.  It seeks a region and a world that is much more accommodating of its values and interests. 

This is where it is the responsibility of every nation that has benefited from the stability and prosperity of the international rules-based order through the last three quarters of a century to work together and protect it, securing the sovereignty that confers every nation’s right to determine its own destiny; protecting the freedom of navigation, which is central to our shared prosperity; upholding the human rights, which are central to every individual’s life and liberty; and working together to maintain peace not just in the Taiwan Strait, but wherever it is at risk. 

This means investing in our capabilities to prevent competition escalating into conflict and investing in our relationships to maintain the dialogue that safeguards stability. 

And this is where Australia, just like the United States, has been working to stabilize our relationship with China.  We’re very clear-eyed about this.  We’re two nations with very different histories, values, and political systems. 

Australia will always look to cooperate with China where we can, but we will disagree where we must but continue to engage in our national interest.  Our approach has been patient, calibrated, and deliberate.  And that will continue when I visit Beijing and Shanghai next month. 

Secretary Blinken, you and so many of your colleagues today devote your energy and intellect to building a more stable and secure world, and it’s been an incredible privilege to meet with you and with Vice President Harris in so many — so many parts of the world.  And I’m glad it’s finally here — (laughter) — in the United States. 

I have, of course, met with Secretary Blinken in Australia, and I look forward to welcoming you, Vice President Harris, to Australia at some — at some future time. 

This is absolutely critical, because striving for peace is hard work.  It demands new effort, new resources, new creative — creativity, and new resolve. 

But whenever we consider the costs, the obstacles, or the difficulties of this course, we only need to consider the counterfactual, the alternative, because the closing off of economies, the collapse of diplomacy, the cutting of ties, the burden of conflict, and the devastation of war are catastrophic for the world.  That elemental understanding was the basis of the alliance that the United States of America and Australia signed 72 years ago. 

Ours was not a pact against a mutual enemy.  It was a pledge to a common cause.  These were the words to which we put the names of our great nations: reaffirming our desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments and desiring to strengthen the fabric of peace in the Pacific area. 

And it is in this same spirit that Australia has struck the new trilateral AUKUS agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom — a decision we have taken that is anchored in our own national sovereignty but is also in the sovereign national interests of the U.S. and the UK. 

From early on in the next decade, Australia will take delivery of U.S. Virginia-class, conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines.  This will be the first time in 65 years and only the second time in history that the U.S. has shared your nuclear propulsion technology.  It speaks for the intersection of our interests, the deep trust underpinning our alliance, and the reality of the world in which we live. 

And up on the Hill this morning, I was struck by just how supportive on a bipartisan way — across Congress and the Senate — there is for AUKUS.  This is — this is an unprecedented level of partnership, conceived for a time of unprecedented challenge. 

This technology offers Australia a new level of deterrence and a new capacity to contribute to the stability of our region and the security of our partners. 

For Australia, the rationale for AUKUS is straightforward.  We want to contribute to strategic equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific.  We’re not looking for conflict; we are seeking to prevent it, making it crystal clear to any aggressor that the risk of conflict far outweighs any potential benefit.

And the past few weeks have reminded us all that American leadership often means walking a lonely road and shouldering a heavy burden. 

As a friend, Australia walks beside you.  And as an ally, we help you carry the weight, especially when the going gets tough. 

Of course, there will always be more challenges here at home that seem more pressing, more relevant, and more real than the concerns of other nations far away.  It is natural — indeed, it is understandable — for some to greet any new call for American global engagement with “Why us?  Why now?  Why there?  Why again?” 

But the promise of America has never been fulfilled in isolation.  The greatness of America has never been confined to your borders. 

The people of Australia are not looking for a free ride.  We’re a middle power, and we’re a leader in our own region.  And Australians always pay our way.  We pull our weight.  We do our part.  We always have.  We always will. 

That’s one of the points that I was making today to key members of the House and Senate in person. 

The AUKUS bills before Congress represent a multibillion-dollar boost to America’s industrial base and a game-changing manufacturing opportunity for Australian workers. 

It will mean Australians and Americans can work and train side by side in allied shipyards. 

And beyond submarines, AUKUS will enable seamless cooperation between our two nations in defense science, technology, and industry to help meet the new strategic challenges of our time.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not my first time in this famous building.  In my mid-20s, I was invited to take part in a State Department program.  Obviously, the U.S. intelligence community saw something in me that, at the time, others didn’t back home.  (Laughter.)

But, well chosen.  (Laughter.)

I asked to see the different ways that groups here interacted with American democracy.  I got the full spread — the Sierra Club; from Planned Parenthood to the National Rifle Association.  I got to see, in a six-week visit, the full length and breadth of your great nation.

Yet, for all of the diversity of views and arguments across the different issues that I saw during that visit, there was also a unifying belief: a sense that ideas mattered and participation mattered — showing up, taking part, making a case. 

You spoke for a common faith in the power of people and also a shared respect for the responsibility of government.  Those are the founding principles of both of our democracies. 

They are — they are ideals that the United States and the State Department seeks to share with people from every part of the world — citizens who want to help to solve the humanitarian challenges their nations are facing; people who want the world to act on climate change; people want to see the jobs and prosperity of new economic growth across their society in a shared way so we have economies that work for people, not people working for economies; and people who believe, as we all do, that the best way of achieving these goals is a system where representatives derive their power from the consent of the governed. 

Of course, this is not easy, and it’s not predictable.  But only dictatorships pretend to be perfect.  Democracies are proud to be human.  We serve a work in progress, a continuing search for a more perfect union, a shared desire to build a better world.  And that’s why all of us know that preserving democracy isn’t just a matter of celebrating it.  We have to nurture it, nourish it, strengthen it, renew it, and, yes, defend it, making sure that it has practical meaning for the people it serves and making sure it is ready for the future it seeks to shape.

Everything that is true for our democracies is also true for our alliance. 

In a time of conflict, uncertainty, and rapid change, there’s always the temptation for nations, democracies, and citizens to look back, to search for reassurance instead of seeking renewal. 

But as important as our rich history is, our alliance is firmly focused on the future, advancing the vital interests that we share and building on the universal values that we hold: democracy and peace, freedom and fairness. 

They are our North Star, our Southern Cross.  They bring us together.  They light our way.  And they can still light the world. 

This is why ours is in alliance with a bright future, because it is an alliance for a better future. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to conclude with a toast to thank the Vice President and the Secretary but to toast our friendship between our great two nations.

To the people of America, the people of Australia, and to an alliance for the future.

(Prime Minister Albanese offers a toast.)  (Applause.)

                               END                 1:25 P.M. EDT

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/10/26/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-u-s-secretary-of-state-antony-blinken-and-prime-minister-anthony-albanese-of-australia-at-state-luncheon/