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Ambassador denies slavish approach to US

ABC News, Australia

Ambassador denies slavish approach to US

5 May 2005

Australia’s outgoing ambassador to the United States denies Australia’s relationship with the US is subservient and a threat to the national interest.

Ambassador Michael Thawley, who steps down at the end of this week after five years in the job, says his successor should push for the inclusion of sugar in the two countries’ free trade agreement (FTA).

Mr Thawley says a close working relationship with the US is not a threat to Australia’s independence.

"It is quite possible for us to get close to the United States and act in our national interests," he said.

"If you look at the last few years, I’d say there have been some very practical demonstrations of that.

"So I would say, let’s look at the results rather than pound our chests and get into esoteric debates about closeness, independence and so on."

PBS push

Mr Thawley has kept a low profile during his reign but has a reputation as an effective operator and networker behind the scenes.

He says the US does not take it for granted that Australia will automatically comply with its wishes.

"There are cases where we agree with the United States. We don’t agree because that’s what the United States says it wants," he said.

"We agree because we’ve made an assessment that this course of action is in our national interests."

Mr Thawley also warns that the United States is likely to continue pushing for changes to Australia’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS).

"They’ll push hard on a whole range of things - that’s real life - but I think if you want to win something, you’ve got to be in there," he said.

Sugar hope

Mr Thawley, who was one of the first people to float the idea of an FTA with the US, says he was disappointed that sugar was left out of the final agreement but Australia will continue to negotiate on the issue.

"I had hoped, right until the very end, that we would get something on sugar," he said.

"I think it’s very important that we regard the free trade agreement as a beginning and not an end.

"The free trade agreement provides for a variety of mechanisms for continuing to discuss a whole range of issues.

"I would be astonished if in three to five years’ time the free trade agreement is exactly the same as it is now."

Michael Thawley spoke exclusively to the ABC’s North America correspondent, Leigh Sales