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Addressing the National Press Club on his second-last day in the job, Jeffrey Bleich said the Australia-US alliance has strengthened in every way since he took up his Canberra posting in 2009.

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But Mr Bleich has very diplomatically questioned the wisdom of some Australian spending decisions.

 

Ambassador Bleich says the importance the United States places on its alliance with Australia can be gauged by the number of recent high-profile visits.

 

He says during his time as Ambassador, Australia has seen the US largest delegations in history, with over half the Cabinet visiting, the president himself and even – he jokes – Oprah.

 

Mr Bleich says when he arrived, the outlook wasn’t so rosy.

 

“When I first arrived in Canberra I’d say there were serious questions about the US-Australia alliance. Four years ago the narrative for the region was pessimistic. Some pundits claim that the US was in a permanent decline and they urged Australia to start looking to alternatives to its alliance with the United States.”

 

But Mr Bleich says when faith in the alliance was tested, Australia answered with greater faith.

 

During his tenure, Mr Bleich says there was a “re-balancing” of the Australia-US relationship.

 

He says in tandem with Australia, the US has made a series of economic, diplomatic and security shifts that place more importance on the Asia-Pacific.

 

“We built a new and incredibly powerful web of connections among Asia-Pacific countries, because the way we’re going to stop conflict is to from these new connections, to agree upon certain rules and to commit to working together through whatever differences we have peacefully. We signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, we’ve made our first ambassador to ASEAN, we have joined the East Asia Summit at the principals level. We’ve become a dialogue partner in the Indian Ocean Regional Cooperation Group, and we have reinvigorated APEC.”

 

In his sometimes emotional farewell to Australia, Mr Bleich declared there is no better model of partnership in the world than the one between the United States and Australia.

 

But with all the diplomacy of a great diplomat, Mr Bleich appeared to make some indirect criticism of Australia’s overseas aid spending decisions.

 

Twice in two years, the outgoing Labor government deferred a promised increase in aid spending, while the incoming Coalition government has promised to slash the aid budget by $4.5-billion over four years.

 

Mr Bleich has not passed judgement on these decisions directly, but stressed the importance of maintaining aid spending in tough economic times.

 

“The US perspective on foreign aid is that even in tough times, if you look during the global financial crisis when our stock market was plummeting to 6500 and people saw their life savings evaporating, we continued to put money into foreign aid and we did it because we knew our economy was going to come back. The question was what was it going to come back into? Was it going to come back into a world rife with human suffering and conflict, or would it be one in which you had greater stability and a world that we care about?”

 

Asked if the United States feels Australia is pulling its weight in terms of defence spending, Mr Bleich said the US wanted more defence spending from all its allies.

 

“We have always relied on Australia to meet its international obligations, its alliance obligations with whatever resources it has at a particular given time and if you look over the last seven years that has been a pretty good bet. Australia has. In terms of philosophically, I think the US is looking for all of our partners to share the burden bigger. US taxpayers are bearing a disproportionate share of responsibility for the world security.”

 

Mr Bleich will be replaced by 54 year old John Berry, who served as the head of the Office of Personnel Management – the body which oversees the US public service.

 

Mr Berry is the highest ranking openly gay man in United States history and married his partner of 17-years last month.

 

He’s already recieving praise from Australian marriage equality campaigners who hope the new ambassador will help their cause.

 

 

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