This reference guide documents all in-person interactions between Australian prime ministers and US presidents since the beginning of the George W. Bush administration. It details the location of meetings, main topics of discussion, and enables conclusions to be drawn about the frequency and nature of leader-to-leader contact over the past 16 years under presidents and prime ministers from both sides of politics.
Since Bush was inaugurated in January 2001, the US president has hosted the Australian prime minister in the Oval Office on 12 occasions — more than the comparable figure for both the Japanese and Canadian prime ministers. During his eight-year term, Barack Obama hosted Rudd (2), Gillard (1), Abbott (1), and Turnbull (1) in the Oval Office a total of five times, while Bush hosted Howard (6) and Rudd (1) a total of seven times. Bush and Obama each visited Australia twice during their presidencies, for one bilateral visit and one international summit apiece.
Across the Bush and Obama presidencies, the president saw the prime minister roughly 3.4 times per year in a formal or informal capacity. During their eight-year presidencies, Bush held more official bilateral meetings with his counterpart (10) than Obama (6), but Obama conducted more meetings on the sidelines of international summits (6) than Bush (3). Bush attended a regional or global summit with the Australian prime minister on ten occasions, where for Obama the figure was 29.
The upward trend in the frequency of personal contact under President Obama — if not necessarily the length or depth of direct leader-to-leader engagement — was largely due to the proliferation of presidential attendance at multilateral meetings. In addition to longstanding presidential and prime ministerial attendance at summits such as the UN General Assembly, ASEAN, APEC and NATO, the United States has attended the G20 since President Bush first hosted the grouping in 2008, while President Obama was the first US leader to attend the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2011. Indeed, Obama was only absent at one EAS thereafter (2013) owing to a US government shutdown at the time. Presidential attendance at Asia-Pacific multilateral organisations is perceived by Asian partners as a sign of American commitment to the region.
If the Bush and Obama presidencies are an accurate guide to the future, we should expect to see President Trump interacting in a formal or informal setting with the Australian Prime Minister at least ten times by the time his first term expires in January 2021. This would include a couple of Oval Office meetings, interactions at Asian and global summits, and perhaps even a Trump visit to Australia — an intention he made clear at the Coral Sea Commemoration — including a potential address to Parliament.
Below is a list of all face-to-face interactions between the Australian prime minister and the US president since January 2001.
Official bilateral: Official working visit in the United States or Australia.
Sideline meeting: Official working meeting on the sideline of a regional or global summit.
Informal: Leaders attended the same summit.
Informal (G20): Hamburg, Germany, 7-8 July 2017
Turnbull and Trump attended the G20 Summit where North Korea, trade, and terrorism topped the agenda. Turnbull and his wife, Lucy, joined the Trumps in ‘The Beast’ — the US president’s heavily armoured car — in which the two leaders had a “good private discussion”.
Official bilateral (United States): USS Intrepid, New York, 5 May 2017
Malcolm Turnbull’s first meeting with Donald Trump was aboard the USS Intrepid in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. The pair held a 45-minute private meeting after an initial delay of almost three hours, as Trump had remained in Washington as a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare passed the House of Representatives. The leaders had a press conference where they played down the tensions from their infamous phone call in January. Trump labelled Australia as “one of the great, great places” and announced that he would “absolutely” visit Australia as president.
Obama Administration: second term
Sideline meeting (APEC): Lima, Peru, 20 November 2016
On his final overseas trip as president, Barack Obama held a 50-minute meeting with Turnbull on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Peru. The leaders discussed trade and foreign policy, with Turnbull reportedly eager to gauge Obama’s expectations of changes in US economic and security policy under the Trump administration. Turnbull concluded the interaction with a selfie.
Informal (UN General Assembly): New York City, United States, 20 September 2016
Informal (East Asia Summit): Vientiane, Laos, 6-8 September 2016
Turnbull and Obama attended the East Asia Summit in Vientiane.
Informal (G20): Hangzhou, China, 4-5 September 2016
Turnbull and Obama managed a brief greeting at the G20 Summit in China.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 19 January 2016
This was Turnbull’s first trip to Washington as prime minister. During his two-day visit he delivered the national security address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, held a working dinner with congressional leaders, and was invited to stay at the president’s guesthouse, an honour that had not been extended to Tony Abbott. Turnbull had a 90-minute meeting followed by lunch at the White House with the US president. Both leaders reiterated the strength of the US-Australia alliance, with Obama noting that he was “grateful for our friendship” and Turnbull highlighting that “right across the board, we have so much in common”.
Informal (Paris Climate Conference): Paris, France, 30 November – 11 December 2015
Both Turnbull and Obama attended the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) for the UN Climate Change Summit.
Informal (ASEAN/East Asia Summit): Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 18-22 November 2015
Turnbull and Obama attended the ASEAN and East Asia Summits in Malaysia. The South China Sea figured prominently, with leaders expressing “serious concerns” over developments in the region that “have resulted in the erosion of trust and confidence”.
Sideline meeting (APEC): Manila, Philippines, 17 November 2015
Turnbull’s first formal meeting with Obama occurred on the sidelines of the 2015 APEC summit in Manila. The leaders had a “lengthy discussion” on issues including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a unified response to ISIL, and the importance of freedom of navigation and maritime rules. Both leaders were resisting strong domestic pressures to commit more troops to Syria following terrorist attacks in Paris. Obama extended an invitation to Turnbull to visit the White House.
Informal (G20): Antalya, Turkey, 16 November 2015
The G20 Summit in Turkey was the first opportunity for Turnbull and Obama to work together.
Sideline meeting (G20): Brisbane, Australia, 15-16 November 2014
Tony Abbott and Obama met with Japan’s Shinzo Abe for a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane. According to the joint media release, the main topics of discussion included how to defeat ISIL and ending the Ebola outbreak, with the leaders also united in opposing Russia’s destabilisation of Ukraine. Tensions surfaced over climate change: Obama announced a $3 billion commitment to the Green Climate Fund at a speech at the University of Queensland, while Tony Abbott spoke of his repeal of Labor’s carbon tax in a speech to world leaders, including Obama.
Informal (ASEAN/East Asia Summit): Naypyidaw, Myanmar, 12-13 November 2014
Abbott and Obama attended the ASEAN and East Asia Summit in Myanmar.
Sideline meeting (APEC): Beijing, China, 10 November 2014
Obama held a bilateral meeting with Abbott on the sidelines of APEC. They discussed the coalition against ISIL and the importance of the upcoming G20 Summit.
Informal (UN Security Council): New York, 24-25 September 2014
Abbott participated in a meeting at the UN Security Council convened by Obama, which focussed on the war against ISIL.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 12 June 2014
Obama hosted Abbott in the Oval Office during the Australian leader’s first US visit as prime minister. Abbott followed in the footsteps of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd by meeting with Rupert Murdoch in New York before heading to the White House. Key topics of discussion in the bilateral meeting included additional agreements around force postures and the need to push towards finalisation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while the leaders took different approaches to climate change.
Informal (East Asia Summit): Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 19 November 2012
This was Gillard’s first meeting with Obama since he was re-elected to a second term. Gillard sat next to Obama at the meeting and had a "wide-ranging discussion" with the president.
Obama Administration: first term
Informal (UN General Assembly): New York, 25-26 September 2012
Informal (G20): Los Cabos, Mexico, 18-19 June 2012
Gillard and Obama attended the G20 Summit in Mexico and shared a light-hearted moment during the official photograph.
Informal (NATO): Chicago, United States, 20 May 2012
Obama hosted a NATO Summit in Chicago where Julia Gillard called on world leaders to fund Afghanistan’s security forces.
Informal (Nuclear Security Summit): Seoul, South Korea, 26-27 March 2012
Gillard and Obama spoke informally before the working dinner in Seoul.
Informal (ASEAN/East Asia Summit): Bali, Indonesia, 19 November 2011
Gillard and Obama attended the Sixth East Asia Summit in November 2011, where the pair managed a short greeting. This was the first time a US president had attended the EAS.
Official bilateral (Australia): Parliament House, Canberra/Darwin, 16-17 November 2011
On his first visit to Australia as president, Obama and Gillard discussed trade liberalisation and announced that 2,500 US Marines would be stationed in Darwin on a rotational basis under the US-Australia Force Posture Agreement. He addressed the Australian Parliament in Canberra where he declared that “the United States is a Pacific power” and is “here to stay” — an indication of his ‘pivot’, later ‘rebalance’, to Asia. Obama condemned the Chinese government’s suppression of its citizens’ political rights and visited an air force base in Darwin, where he addressed US Marines and Australian troops.
Sideline meeting (APEC): Honolulu, United States, 10-13 November 2011
Gillard and Obama met at the APEC Summit in Hawaii amidst concerns over America’s commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Gillard stated that Obama remained committed to the trade deal and the two leaders met to discuss the partnership.
Informal (G20): Cannes, France, 3-4 November 2011
Gillard received a warm welcome from Obama while the two were attending the G20 Summit in Cannes in November 2011.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 7 March 2011
Obama welcomed Gillard to the White House in March 2011 where they had a private meeting and a press conference. The Australian prime minister gave a speech to a joint sitting of Congress marking the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty. Gillard also paid tribute to Vietnam veterans at a war memorial, visited a high school in Virginia, and kicked an Australian football in the Oval Office with the president.
Informal (NATO): Lisbon, Portugal, 19-20 November 2010
Gillard and Obama both attended the NATO Summit in Lisbon.
Sideline meeting (APEC): Yokohama, Japan, 13 November 2010
Gillard and Obama held their first formal talks while attending the 2010 APEC Summit in Japan. During the 35-minute meeting, the pair discussed the future strategy in Afghanistan, reaffirmed their commitment to the Copenhagen climate change agreement, and agreed that the United States should continue to deepen its engagement in the Asia-Pacific.
Informal (G20): Seoul, South Korea, 11-12 November 2010
Gillard noted that she had a few brief discussions with Obama at the G20 Summit and said that the two countries are “great mates”.
Informal (UN Climate Change Summit): Copenhagen, Denmark, 18 December 2009
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 30 November 2009
Kevin Rudd met with Obama in the Oval Office to discuss Afghanistan, the global financial crisis, nuclear non-proliferation, and the upcoming Copenhagen conference.
Informal (APEC): Singapore, 15 November 2009
Rudd sat next to Obama at the APEC Summit in Singapore in November 2009.
Informal (G20): Pittsburgh, United States, 24-25 September 2009
Rudd and Obama met informally in Pittsburgh at the G20 conference.
Informal (UN General Assembly): New York, United States, 23 September 2009
Informal (Major Economies Forum): L’Aquila, Italy, 10 July 2009
Informal (G20): London, United Kingdom, 2 April 2009
Rudd attended the G20 Summit in London with Obama, for whom it was the first overseas trip as president.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 24 March 2009
Kevin Rudd had a 70-minute meeting with Obama in their first face-to-face at the Oval Office in March 2009, which Obama described as “a great meeting of the minds”. The global economic crisis dominated the consultation, with other major issues including Afghanistan, climate change, and nuclear non-proliferation also high on the agenda. Rudd arrived in Washington just two months after Obama’s inauguration — he was one of the first foreign leaders to meet the new president.
Bush Administration: Second term
Informal (APEC): Lima, Peru, 21-21 November 2008
Rudd and Bush attended the CEO Summit at APEC.
Informal (G20): White House Dinner, Washington DC, United States, 14-15 November 2008
Rudd flew to Washington amid tensions following a media report that Bush had asked a “stunned” Rudd “what’s the G20?” during a phone call in October. While Rudd denied that Bush had made the comments, relations were tense at the White House prior to the G20 Summit in Washington.
Informal (NATO): Bucharest, Romania, 3 April 2008
Rudd caused a domestic stir after saluting Bush when the pair met informally at the NATO Summit.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 28 March 2008
Rudd’s first face-to-face meeting with Bush took place in the Oval Office in March 2008. Rudd declared that Australia would be “in Afghanistan for the long haul” and confirmed a $165 million assistance package to Iraq. Iran and climate change were also on the agenda.
Sideline meeting (Australia, APEC): Sydney, Australia, 5 September 2007
Bush spent four days in Sydney in September 2007 for the APEC Summit. Howard hosted Bush on a boat tour around Sydney Harbour and the pair had a luncheon at the Royal Australia Navy Heritage Centre days before the summit began. They signed a Defense Cooperation Treaty at the Commonwealth Parliament Offices before attending the APEC summit later in the week. The pair also held trilateral talks with Japan’s Shinzo Abe.
Sideline meeting (APEC): Hanoi, Vietnam, 17-20 November 2006
Howard was joined by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer as he met with Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of APEC. They discussed Iraq, climate change, and the chances of reviving the Doha Round in the World Trade Organisation. Howard and Bush also met informally during the summit.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 16 May 2006
Bush welcomed Howard to the White House where the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the ANZUS alliance, with counter-terrorism high on the agenda. Following a joint press conference, the leaders exchanged toasts in the State Dining Room. Janette Howard travelled with Prime Minister Howard and was welcomed by First Lady Laura Bush on the South Lawn.
Official Bilateral (United States): Australian Ambassador’s Residence, Washington DC, 14 May 2006
Bush presented trees from the White House to Howard at the Australian Embassy in Washington. Howard considered them a “wonderful symbol of friendship”.
Informal (APEC): Busan, South Korea, 18-19 November 2005
Howard and Bush both attended the APEC Summit in South Korea but only had time for a brief informal meeting and photo.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 19 July 2005
George and Laura Bush hosted John and Janette Howard at the White House for “a true family lunch”. The leaders had an Oval Office meeting and discussed Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their shared commitment to freedom and democracy.
Sideline meeting (APEC): Santiago, Chile, 19-22 November 2004
Bush Administration: First term
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 2-4 June 2004
Bush welcomed Howard to the White House for an Oval Office meeting in June 2004. They discussed the coalition’s progress in Iraq and the deepening of bilateral economic relations between Australia and the United States.
Official bilateral (Australia): Canberra, Australia, 22 October 2003
Bush addressed Australia’s Parliament while protestors chanted on its lawns in Canberra. Senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle were ordered out of the House chamber for protesting, as Bush praised Australia’s war efforts and reassured senators that the two Australia prisoners in Guantanamo Bay would be “dealt with fairly”. During his 21-hour visit, Bush held private talks with Prime Minister Howard and Opposition Leader Simon Crean.
Informal (APEC): Bangkok, Thailand, 18-21 October 2003
Howard and Bush attended the APEC meeting in Bangkok.
Official bilateral (United States): Crawford, Texas, 2-3 May 2003
Bush and First Lady Laura invited John Howard and Janette Howard to their ranch in Crawford, Texas for an overnight visit. Operation Iraqi Freedom was the main item on the agenda, with the leaders also discussing the Bali bombings and developments on the Korean Peninsula. The setting was informal and Bush took Howard “for a good walk” around the ranch. The US president famously labelled his Australian counterpart a “man of steel”.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 10 February 2003
Informal (APEC): Los Cabos, Mexico, 26-27 October 2002
Howard had a brief discussion with Bush where the leaders discussed Iraq and the Security Council.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 13 June 2002
On his second trip to Washington in the Bush era, Howard addressed a Joint Sitting of the US Congress before meeting with the president the following day. The joint press release describes their discussions, which focussed on Iraq as well as the importance of bilateral trade.
Informal (APEC): Shanghai, China, 20-21 October 2001
Howard and Bush were both at APEC in China, and managed time for a joke and a photo.
Official bilateral (United States): Oval Office, Washington DC, 10 September 2001
Two days prior to the September 11 attacks, Howard hosted a barbecue at the Australian ambassador’s residence for Bush and several of his cabinet members, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and two Supreme Court Justices. The next day, the two leaders commemorated the 50th anniversary of the US-Australia alliance at the Washington Navy Yard before heading to the Oval Office for their first official meeting. Following the terrorist attacks, Howard attended a sitting in Congress before invoking Article IV of the ANZUS treaty on September 14, committing Australia to America’s defence.