Discussion paper

Obama's twice in a lifetime speech and Tony Abbott's unwelcome welcome

13 Jan 2012

Obama's visit to Australia gave followers of politics a rare opportunity to observe the performances of three distinct leaders in three distinct roles.

The visit of a United States President is among the more exciting events Australian parliamentarians experience. This was obvious on November 17, 2011 as they gathered eagerly waiting for President Barack Obama’s entry, and jostled to shake his hand afterwards. A similar sense of anticipation permeated the public galleries where I was one of several PhD students from ANU’s School of Politics and International Relations in attendance. Naturally, Obama’s visit prompted much media excitement and his address to parliament generated much analysis. This commentary focused on Obama’s message of US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, and in particular what this means for China. However, it was not that Obama’s message was new, in fact it largely repeated President Bill Clinton’s 1996 address to Australia’s Parliament. The attention Obama’s message for China received was largely a result of a political context in which those same words seemed more provocative towards China. The media also highlighted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s defiance of convention in using his welcome speech to make partisan attacks against the government. Again, this was nothing new; Abbott had used his two previous welcomes to foreign leaders in the same way.

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