United States Ambassador-Designate to Australia

Jeffrey L. Bleich
Statement Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC
November 5, 2009

Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Foreign Relations Committee:

It is a great honor to be here this morning as President Obama’s nominee to serve as the United States Ambassador to Australia. I am grateful to the President for placing his trust in me to represent our great Nation abroad. I also thank Secretary Clinton for her support, and Senator Kerry for his very kind introduction. I deeply appreciate the efforts of this committee and the opportunity to meet with you and your staffs to discuss your interest in advancing our important relationship with Australia. Before I begin, I’m grateful for the chance to introduce my wife and sweetheart of 25 years, Becky, and our three children Jake, Matthew, and Abby. As a family, we are excited about the opportunity to represent our nation in Australia and serve the country we love.

The relationship between the United States and Australia is one of our strongest and most productive international alliances. It is a bond solidified during the Pacific battles of World War II and strengthened over the ensuing decades through our shared values, language, and commitment to democratic governance. We face common challenges, both natural and man-made, and share common goals relating to peace, security, and fair trade. We also share a pragmatic temperament that has allowed us to work through issues consistently and effectively. If confirmed, I will do everything in my power to continue this proud tradition by representing the interests of the United States in Australia, strengthening our alliance, and advancing our common interests.

On a personal note, my entire family looks forward to the opportunity to get to know the Australian continent and her people should I be confirmed. Abby, our daughter, told me she is especially looking forward to seeing her first wild kangaroo and koala; she’s is a little less excited about encountering box jelly-fish and saltwater crocodiles. Hopefully, any such encounter will be under controlled conditions. My son Matthew, a ham radio operator, is looking forward to visiting our NASA facilities near Canberra and Parkes as well as using his ham radio in the Southern sky. Finally, our oldest son, Jake, who loves scouting and Civil War history, is looking forward to testing his survival skills and expanding his understanding of U.S. and Australian military history in the region. Finally, if I am confirmed, my wife Becky and I, as Californians, are looking forward to sharing American trade, technology, and talent (including our films and wines) with Australia and maintaining the tradition of strong diplomacy that has been the bedrock of U.S.-Australian relations.

While I respect and will draw from the history of our relationship with Australia, I am most excited about the future of our association in the increasingly significant Asia-Pacific region. The success of the United States in the twenty-first century is inextricably linked to this region, where one-third of the world’s population and over one-quarter of the world’s GDP is centered. The United States and Asia-Pacific countries share a wide swath of the Pacific Ocean, a strategic corridor from Hawaii to East Asia, where we confront many common issues. For example, the security and prosperity of developing nations in that region directly affects our own security and trade interests. I deeply appreciate the importance of fortifying our ties and extending our influence in the region. Likewise, given Australia’s fragile environment, it is an especially strong and motivated partner in our plans to build a sustainable and secure energy future. We have proved that the 10,000 mile distance between our nations does not, and need not, place limitations on our ability to successfully address these challenges.

I would like to highlight five critical aspects of the U.S.-Australia relationship that would draw my greatest focus and attention, if confirmed.

First and foremost, I would work hard to maintain and enhance the outstanding military and intelligence-sharing cooperation between our two countries. Thousands of brave U.S. and Australian service members are currently fighting side-by-side in Afghanistan, and I hope to work actively with our defense and intelligence communities to ensure our troops are the best prepared, best informed, and best coordinated forces in the world.

Second, the U.S. Ambassador to Australia has a duty to support our common security effort to reduce the threat of catastrophic terrorist attacks. There is no greater threat to our way of life than the use of weapons of mass destruction by those who wish to do us harm. Our countries have pledged to work together, using shared intelligence and technology, to secure vulnerable nuclear material, assist other nations in strengthening their capacity to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies, and bring international outlaws to justice. If confirmed, I would work tirelessly to advance these vital objectives.

Third, the United States and Australia share concerns about the potential hazards of climate change, and, if confirmed, I would devote myself to developing joint strategies for addressing that threat. The shores of California are just as vulnerable to rising seas as the Gold Coast of Australia. President Obama and Prime Minister Rudd have committed to working together to protect our earth’s fragile waterways and eco-systems. I would work to strengthen the dialogue on water resource management, which has been initiated between Australian and U.S. authorities, including those in my own state of California. Increasing periods of drought in Australia, and in California, have sparked devastating wildfires that have taken a terrible toll on those who have lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods. Our countries already collaborate by exchanging firefighters to battle the blazes, and I would like to see this life-saving exchange of emergency services continue to grow.

Fourth, if confirmed, I am committed to finding ways to increase educational and cultural exchange between our nations, especially for young people. I have been an educator throughout my career, and would like to help a new generation develop its own reasons for valuing our relationship. In the digital age, there is no shortage of opportunities to collaborate on innovations that increase communication, develop clean technologies, explore the skies and oceans and inspire our artists and scientists to conceive a safer and more sustainable world.

Finally, I understand Australia stands in a critical position regarding its trade relationships with other countries. We have enjoyed great success following the Senate’s ratification of the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement. U.S. goods exports are up over 56 percent since the Agreement entered into force at the beginning of 2005. I am committed to implementing this agreement fully and fairly and to addressing any issues that may arise in our bilateral trade and investment relationship. As we deepen our economic engagement in Asia, if confirmed, I will work with our Australian partners to increase transparency and improve trade relations with Japan, China, and the rest of the Asian-Pacific region.

In closing, I can think of no greater honor or opportunity than to lead the distinguished U.S. Mission in Australia and work with our valued Australian friends and allies on these and other important issues. I thank the Committee for its time and consideration and look forward to answering your questions.