MR GOLDMAN: I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land where we’re meeting, and that’s the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. I’d like to pay tribute and respect to their elders past, present, and emerging, and I’d also like to extend that respect to everyone who is indigenous or a Torres Strait Islander who is associated with this – and in particular people who are part of the Mission Australia team, both at the consulates and at the embassy.
Mr. Secretary, this is a visit of many firsts. I know that you’re no stranger to Melbourne. You have a powerful – powerfully resonant emotional connection and family connection with the city. But it’s your first visit as Secretary of State, and we are so delighted and honored to welcome you. We’re also delighted to welcome Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary Lu, National Security Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell; we’ve got Rear Admiral Kilrain; we’ve got Ned Price; we’ve got the director of policy planning. It’s a big, big delegation. And truth be told, I was kind of hoping we would start our visits with a little bit of a smaller footprint, but it is what it is. This is a first for us. This is the first visit that we’ve had since 2020, since COVID started, and what a visit we’re having. I think it’s a huge success so far.
Look, there’s a lot going on in the world, and we get it, but the fact that you’re here with such a big, powerful, and creatively adept team, it means a lot. It sends a message both to the mission community but to the broader Indo-Pacific, both the fact that you’re doing bilateral stuff here in Australia but also that you’re engaging with the Quad.
So this is terrific, and I think we – I’d like just to thank the entire embassy team, the entire consulate team, Kathleen, for all your leadership. David in Perth, Elizabeth in Sydney – we’re all here, we’re all doing a great job, and I think – I hope that that spirit comes through.
You’ve traveled a long way, but as you remarked this morning, the relationship that we have with Australia is a close one that belies distance and it transcends generations. And I hope with that spirit we’re showing that we’re a proud part of the team as well.
So with that, I’ll leave it to you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, thank you all so very much. And it is wonderful to see this team in person. It’s wonderful as well to be with those of you who are Zooming in from other parts of the country. And Michael, to you: Thank you so much for your leadership of the mission at what is really a critical time. Kathleen, thank you for doing the same here; thank you for your hospitality, letting us intrude on Melbourne. And also to our consul generals, Power and Gainer, who are joining us virtually. I’m really grateful for your leadership as well. Thank you so much. And to everyone here at the mission, I’m glad that we’re getting the habits going again of some modest visits from the States. (Laughter.) Look, I want to be known as the man who brought Kurt Campbell back to Australia. (Laughter.)
I know how much work goes into these visits. I know that there’s a tremendous amount of churn underwater even as the waters themselves look incredibly placid. And for that I want to thank everyone who worked on making this go so well as it’s proven so far. Maybe we’ll see how – where we are at tomorrow. But mostly, when the time comes, I want to wish you a very, very happy wheels-up party. (Laughter.) And we’re sorry we can’t stick around and enjoy that with you.
We’ve already gotten a lot done just in the space of this morning. I had a wonderful session with students at the University of Melbourne, another incredible rising generation of people who want to continue to carry on building the relationship between our countries for years and years to come. And it was, as always, incredibly reinvigorating to hear from them. I have a tremendous (inaudible) confidence in knowing that we have this rising generation, and I’m glad we’re connected with them. As always, it was a reaffirmation of some of the programs that we have in place, including IVLP and other exchange programs that I’m a strong believer in. That kind of connectivity too remains very, very important, and I’m glad you’re working on that.
We met, I think as you know, at the university with industry leaders, with academic leaders, working together on trying to get us ahead of this pandemic to build back a stronger, better global health security system. Another powerful demonstration of collaboration not just between our governments, but between our private sectors and our academic institutions, doing things that are going to benefit people here in Australia and in the United States, but also around the world. And that’s a primary part of what we’re trying to do together as well. And again, I know a lot of support for these initiatives comes from here, comes from throughout the mission.
And of course, we have the Quad ministerial tomorrow, deepening collaboration on critical issues that really matter to our people. And let me just say quickly a couple of words about that. And maybe, Michael, to your point: Well, why bring people here? There are a few other things going on in the world right now, as some of you may have noticed, that are really challenging – Ukraine and Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine – and we’re working 24/7 on that.
But we know, the President knows, and each of you knows this better than anyone else, that so much of this century is going to be shaped by what happens here in the Indo-Pacific region. That’s in part why you’re here. We are the fastest-growing region in the world. Two-thirds of all economic growth over the last five years, here in this region. And half the world’s population. By definition, what happens here matters not just here but around the world, and as a Pacific nation ourselves, it matters profoundly to us.
So it’s important that we be present, that we be engaged, that we be leading throughout this region, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. That’s exactly the focus that President Biden has brought to our efforts.
As I was talking to the students this morning and we were having this exchange, I said something that’s repeated in a lot of places, but it is no less important for being repeated, and it’s this: What we know is that the issues that are really having an impact on folks back home, people here in Australia, and around the world – whether it’s climate, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s the impact of emerging technologies – not a single one of these issues can be effectively dealt with by any one of us acting alone. Even the United States, with all our resources and all our strength, we can’t do it alone. More than ever before, we need partnerships, we need alliances, we need coalitions of countries willing to put their efforts, their resources, their minds into tackling these problems.
And so we’ve spent the better part of the last year revitalizing, reinvigorating, and reinventing those partnerships, those alliances, and those coalitions of countries. And nowhere is that more important than here in Australia and in the Asia Pacific more broadly, with AUKUS, with the Quad, with our own alliance with Australia. We are putting these partnerships, these alliances to the service of actually making progress on the issues that matter to our people, and that’s what we’re all about.
None of that happens – none of that happens without each and every one of you. You’re doing the work every single day to advance those partnerships piece by piece, step by step, issue by issue. And so I mostly wanted to come by to just say thank you because the work that you’re doing is making a big difference. It’s going to matter. And it’s going to matter to people back home in ways that most of our fellow citizens can’t really fathom, but it’s going to be felt in their lives. And I hope that you take inspiration and joy in doing that work.
The reason that it’s so important that we do that work here is because as we’re building these partnerships, these coalitions, we start, as always, with those who share our basic outlook, our basic values, our basic interests. And of course that’s the case with Australia. We celebrated 70 years of ANZUS. We’ve been allied through thick and thin around the world. But what really drives us is a shared vision, an affirmative vision of what the future can be, an affirmative vision of free and open societies with all of their challenges, which we believe profoundly is what benefits our fellow citizens.
So thank you for the work that you’re doing every single day to advance this partnership, to make it even stronger, to help it deal with the challenges that are actually affecting the lives of our people.
I know that none of this has been easy, precisely because you’ve been dealing with COVID. I know some of you have felt this personally in your own lives, loved ones, family members. It’s made work incredibly challenging. We’ve had to adjust, to adapt, to do things in different ways. And we’re not quite at the end yet, but we’re getting there. And throughout you’ve managed to keep going, to do all of your work with resilience, to come together as a community, have each other’s backs. And that, too, makes a very, very big difference.
Australia and the United States together are also leading the effort around the world to bring this pandemic to an end and to build a stronger global health security system in its wake.
But I just want to say a couple of quick words in closing, because I’ve heard about some of the work that you’ve been doing in the face of having to navigate the pandemic and also stepping up to other challenges that we’ve had over the last year. Folks here in Melbourne and in Perth stood up, raised their hands to help with the Afghanistan evacuation. I can’t tell you how much that means. It made a huge difference, the fact that we’ve had people from around the world with the State Department volunteering, raising their hand, jumping in when most needed. It made a huge difference, and I thank you very, very much for that.
You’ve made adaptations, I know, the facility in Sydney under its own renovations, I appreciate the flexibility that people have shown as that’s been happening.
To our colleagues who are working in American Citizen Services, this has been a particularly challenging time. You’ve risen to the task, getting emergency passports out, for example, despite teleworking, despite the challenges that that posed.
I understand that here, Kathleen, in Melbourne, you’ve processed over 90 percent of the mission’s nonimmigrant visas over the last many months. That’s remarkable. For those of you who were working on this, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Again, we saw how connected we are across the world. Folks in Perth helped Embassy Djibouti process hundreds of applications so that Yemeni Americans who are affected by the crisis in Yemen could travel to the United States. So in ways big and small, you’ve been standing up not only for each other but for our team around the world.
I want to single out a couple of individuals. I really appreciate the extra effort that you put in.
Matt Thompson – I don’t know if Matt is here or in Canberra, maybe on the video screen – managed to find ways to help people keep in touch, to stay connected with each other, with families, kept mail deliveries going despite flight cancellations due to COVID. That really matters. Being able to make sure that we could all stay connected, families could stay connected, made a huge difference to people. Matt, thank you for the work you did there.
Ty Campbell and Ryan Ruta in Canberra, I understand they got an award for getting air purifiers to DOD personnel across Australia during bush fire season. There, too, standing up for the partnership that we have with our colleagues in other agencies.
In ways big and small, I know each and every one of you has done something to make things work a little bit better, a little bit smoother in a really challenging time.
Finally, I just want to say to Mike, thank you for your extraordinary leadership at this time. We have nominated Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and we’re pushing hard for her confirmation to come here to Australia. I’ve known and worked with Ambassador Kennedy for a long time. She is going to be a terrific leader for this mission across the board. She knows the region well, has served, as you know, as ambassador to Japan previously. And she is going to be a remarkable asset to the relationship between our countries. I have total confidence and trust in her and very much look forward to seeing her (inaudible).
Finally, last word. In every mission that I have the privilege of visiting, I know that of all the things, the lifeblood of a mission will always be the staff. And to you especially, thank you, thank you, thank you.
A couple of people I want to mention – (applause). A couple people I want to mention. Jodie Byrne in Sydney, 20 years of service. Kathy Topley 30 years of service. Mary Robinson in Perth, 41 years of service. That is incredible. Thank you. (Applause.)
And to every single member of this team, whether you’re a Foreign Service officer, a civil servant, family member, a contractor, part of our other sister and brother agencies, each and every one of you, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are doing so much for the partnership between our countries. You’re doing so much for our fellow citizens back home. I know it, the President knows it, and I’m here to say thank you. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)