By James Jeffrey.
There was a hint of magic from a bygone era in Sydney on Monday night as former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans and former Liberal defence minister Robert Hill took to the stage at the US Studies Centre's summit dinner.
When USSC chief Geoffrey Garrett cited the example of Kevin Rudd repeatedly hugging Hillary Clinton, and Julia Gillard getting teary on the floor of Congress, Hill's train of thought was momentarily derailed. "Hillary's always liked Kevin; Kevin was looking for friends at the time," he said, giggling, before adding, appropriately, more gravely, "Julia wasn't going to hug him." Evans focused on the lachrymose: "I think mawkishness comes with the territory in terms of the Australia-US relationship. I mean, [Bob] Hawke used to tear up at every conceivable opportunity in the White House or anywhere else. For the rest of us who weren't so mawkishly inclined, this was a little bit tricksy."
Finally a mention
NOW for a short break with special guest, US ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich. Bleich expressed some concern to us as to his non-appearances in Strewth; well, those aren't exactly (or even barely approximately) the words he used, but that's how we interpreted them. We hope this makes up for all our lapses.
BACK to the Hill and Evans show. Regarding relations between the US and Australia, Evans said it worked best when Australia had an independent voice rather than being in "pink-tummy exposed, four-paws waving mode". The Howard government, he suggested, had erred on the side of the "comprehensive embrace". Hill, not surprisingly, rejected this ("You don't actually have to lecture everyone to get your point across"), but yes, John Howard had been very committed to the US alliance. "I think he did really well out of his relationship with [George W.] Bush," Hill mused. "The thing about Howard is he's reasonably [short pause to raise eyebrow and subtly change vocal pitch] . . . honest." Cue uproar. Amid the fun, it was the other panellist - former US diplomat turned diplomacy professor Nicholas Burns - who came out with the cut-out-and-keep line of the night, saying of China: "I don't trust them as a great power."