Accessibility links

Breaking News

Cheers, Jeers Awaits Bush's Visit to Australia

President Bush this week visits Australia - one of Washington's most loyal supporters in the war on terror. Security issues and free trade negotiations are expected to dominate the two-day trip, which follows the APEC summit in Thailand and stopovers in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. Mr. Bush may get a warm welcome from the Canberra government, but he will also face protests from groups opposed to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

When Prime Minister John Howard committed Australian forces to the invasion of Iraq in March, he was cementing his country's most important relationship. "This morning President Bush telephoned me to discuss the situation in relation to Iraq. It is not right, it is not appropriate, for all of the responsibility and for all of the obligation to be seen to fall upon the United States," says Mr. Howard. He has insisted Australia's long-term security is dependent on close ties to Washington.

Mr. Howard - who shares a similar political world view with Mr. Bush - was in the United States on an official visit during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The U.S. Ambassador to Australia Tom Scheiffer believes that experience was a pivotal one for the prime minister.

"You could go out the Australian Embassy where John Howard was moved to and you could see smoke coming out of the Pentagon. So you couldn't be that close to it and not come away from the event deeply moved and I think John Howard is no exception to that," says Mr. Scheiffer. "It also has been a great guide for him in the events that have followed."

As a country colonized by Britain more than 200 years ago, Australia retains strong cultural links with Europe, but has forged close economic ties with its Asia-Pacific neighbors.

Yet its most powerful relationship is with the United States.

Professor James Cotton, from the University of New South Wales, says during the Second World War - with British forces stretched to the limit elsewhere - the United States became Australia's chief protector. "You'll recall that when the Pacific War broke out it was necessary for Australia to turn to the Americans for defense against the Japanese," he says. "As it turned out, direct invasion of Australia was perhaps fairly remote, but the sense that the Americans made a difference to the defense of Australia is something that's… become a major plank in the beliefs of… Australia."

Prime Minister Howard and President Bush are said to share a warm personal relationship and the United States feted Mr. Howard as an international statesman on his American visit.

President Bush, on his first trip to Australia, may not get a warm reciprocal welcome as large numbers of Australians are likely to turn out for protests.

The leader of the Australian Greens Party, Bob Brown, says the terrorist bombing in Bali, Indonesia that killed 88 Australians tourists last year has reminded the country of the importance of friends. But, he says, there is a perception that the Howard government has become too close to the Bush Administration - making Australia a bigger target for terrorists.

"The Bali horror reminds us that we need to be very closely engaged with our neighbors, but this government has drifted much more to being American-oriented," says Mr. Brown. "We are potentially powerful beyond our population in world affairs but we can't do that if we're simply rubber-stamping everything that comes from Washington."

Earlier this year, large demonstrations were held across Australia in opposition to the American-led campaign to disarm Iraq. Those dissenting voices began to fade as support for the quick and successful military action gradually increased.

Kylie Moon from the organization "Books Not Bombs" is hoping the President Bush's trip to Australia will re-ignite their crusade. "There's been a growth in the anti-war movement again. It's coming back to life. We had the protests that happened in the U.K. just a few weeks ago… so that's very exciting," she says. "On October 25 in the U.S. there's going to be a nationwide protest, so we're seeing… a revival in the anti-war movement. This is quite exciting and we're hoping that the protests here… will also lead to… a revival here around the anti-war movement."

President Bush is seeking expanded support and financing for rebuilding post-war Iraq - but is meeting with some resistance as long as Washington retains so much control over the effort.

Only Australia and Britain have been uncritical allies and so Mr. Bush's main agenda may be to thank Mr. Howard for his unbending support.