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Farewell speech to Embassy staff by Australian Ambassador, Don Russell, Australian Embassy, Washington

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Please find attached Ambassador Don Russell’s farewell speech to staff in Washington D.C. October 16 1995. I P m )

Public Affairs Office · Embassy of Australia · 1601 Massachusetts Ave., NW Washington. DC 20036 · Tel (202) 797-3000 · Fax (202) 797-3049

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Don Russell, Australian Ambassador Australian Embassy, Washington 16 October 1995

I have gathered you all here to tell you that the Prime Minister has asked me if I would consider returning to Australia to once again head up his Office.

I have agreed to do so and the Prime Minister has announced this change in Canberra.

It was a hard decision for me to make.

It was a great honour in August 1993 to be appointed Australia’s Ambassador to the United States and to relinquish that position is not something I do lightly.

The past two and a bit years have been very happy ones for me and my family. We have all thrived and we have made good friendships here in the Embassy and in the US which I hope will continue.

I have also drawn much inspiration and satisfaction from the Washington Embassy and the people who work here.

The Embassy is an important institution, doing an important job for Australia, and I have been proud to work with you all in fashioning a very effective and talented team.

I am delighted that that team includes both the A-based and the US-based staff.

Many people can feel justifiably proud of what has been accomplished over the past two years.

Together we have achieved much and I am sure that my successor, whose name will be announced shortly, will inherit

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an Embassy culture of accomplishment and team work that will transcend the departure of any individual.

This is important because it is the real monument to all of you who have worked so hard.

Needless to say, I feel a real sadness in leaving you all, shifting my family and going back to Canberra.

I hope you do not think that I am turning my back on the Embassy because in the normal course of events it would have been a joy to stay longer.

However in current circumstances I feel a need to go back and I am doing so principally for two reasons.

Firstly, there are good things about Australia that need to be preserved.

Secondly, there is a range of issues that has to be resolved in the next few years if we are to avoid some quite unpleasant consequences.

For both reasons, it is important to me that the Prime Minister has around him the best team available as we approach what will be another defining election for Australia.

He has invited me to be part of that team and I am honoured to accept.

One of the great benefits of being Ambassador in Washington is that I have been able to see America more clearly.

But I have also seen Australia more clearly.

Living in the United States you see Australia not from the perspective of the domestic debate back home, but from the perspective of the successes and failures of other countries, particularly those of the United States.

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The United States is an extraordinary country with great strengths. The dynamism of Americans and their endless belief in themselves and in the power of the individual to prevail constantly inspires.

But when you also look at the problems here and the difficulty they have in dealing with them, you appreciate more fully what we have in Australia.

I come away from my time here in the United States with great regard and affection for Americans and with many true American friends, but I also come away with enormous pride in Australia and what we have achieved, particularly in the past

decade or so.

We have created what is perhaps a unique society in Australia which has captured the dynamism and optimism of the United States while deliberately establishing structures that look after people and enrich our society.

We have deliberately taken measures to avoid the creation of an underclass or a group of people who have no stake in our country.

We have deliberately worked to make our cultural diversity a strength for Australia and not a source of division.

Australia certainly has problems and they could easily get away from us if we stopped focussing on them, but they are nothing like the problems in the US where large sections of the community have slipped out of mainstream society.

If problems develop in the US, everyone is very much on their own with little protection against bad working conditions, social disadvantage and misfortune.

But the truly dramatic thing about Australia is that, at the same time as we have built social cohesion, we have also made Australia more competitive and resilient.

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As a nation we have accepted that if we are to survive and prosper we must stand on our own feet and be as good as the best in the world.

We have therefore not gone down the route of "welfare for all" that has numbed much of Europe, but have created something new that stresses personal responsibility and individual achievement while managing a proper safety net to ensure that

everyone has a stake in Australia's achievements.

Social cohesion is an essential ingredient for successful change and reform in any country.

Without it, even the most aggressive efforts by the powers that be will in the end fail.

The model we have created in Australia has enabled us to make remarkable changes over the past decade, which have radically redirected our economy and our society.

And because of the deliberate attention to looking after people and our social structures we are better placed than almost any country to go on dealing with problems.

Social cohesion has allowed us to identify problems and as a community deal with them.

What is not clear in the domestic debate in Australia, but is clear to me from my vantage point here in Washington, is that none of this has come about by accident nor was it in any sense inevitable.

It can not be said that what we have achieved is guaranteed to endure.

There is, therefore, a responsibility on all of us to continue to make it work.

Many can talk easily about desirable outcomes.

Few have the strength and skill to put them into place.

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But while we have made tremendous gains over the past decade, we are not out of the woods yet.

On the domestic side, continued committed effort will be necessary in a range of areas including training, the long term unemployed, transport and communications, the environment, health and national savings.

We have to go on equipping Australians with the right skills and education which means that we have to go on doing the hard work to improve our education and training facilities.

Dealing with the long term unemployed will require constant attention and imagination to maintain an effective network of labour-market programs.

Constant effort will be needed to work with people so that we protect and improve our environment.

We have to work with people and the relevant authorities to ensure that we deal with the problems of our cities.

All health systems around the world require constant attention and our system will require ongoing effort and commitment to keep it serving the needs of all Australians.

Higher national savings are being generated as the budget swings into surplus and as superannuation payments increase. We cannot let this process be disrupted.

And, on the foreign policy side, which has been my most recent experience, we will have to hammer out the exact nature of our rapidly evolving relationship with Asia.

In many ways, this will be one of the most important issues facing u s over the next few years and one which is most dependent on the leadership, strength and skill of the government in Canberra.

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We have made enormous strides in building links with our region and Asian countries now see important benefit in building links with us.

But the exact terms and nature of these links have not yet been fully settled.

And they will not be settled by wishful thinking on Australia’s part.

These terms will have to be negotiated.

And they will have to be negotiated with a group of countries who, while friendly, do not think they owe us any particular favours.

In these negotiations we will have to work very hard.

In making my decision to return to Canberra I have weighed all of this, and because I feel that I have something to contribute, I see, and accept, a responsibility to return to the Prime Minister’s Office which I am now doing.

It will take a little time before I actually leave and I expect that I will return to Canberra early in November.

In the meantime, I do not need to remind any of you that the Embassy and the Ambassador represent all Australians and that we will continue to deal with all requests for assistance with full courtesy and professionalism including requests from

Opposition figures at both the State and Federal level.

In conclusion I would like to say that the US-Australia relationship is in good shape.

We are working closely with the Administration on a wide range of issues and Australia and Australians are held in high regard and with considerable affection by Americans generally.

Although security arrangements in general are less pressing, or clear cut, with the end of the Cold War, those defence

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relations which are based on deep cultural and people links like ours with the US, have become relatively more important than those which owe their strength more to strategic necessity.

I can attest to the fact that the US-Australia alliance is working well with great camaraderie and mutual respect.

So in closing I would like to wish you all well and thank you for the great warmth you have shown me and my family in our time here.