We're family, Abbott tells US

Speaking out ... Tony Abbott.
Speaking out ... Tony Abbott.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has introduced himself in the United States with a speech at the nation's most prominent conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, at its headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Evoking in turn John Howard, Lord Tennyson, Ben Chifley, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Graham Greene, Winston Churchill, Alexis de Tocqueville, Mitt Romney, Robert Menzies and finally Franklin Roosevelt, Mr Abbott argued that the rise of Asian powers did not mean America's power must decline, and that the world would be safer for America's continued strength.

He said America continued to have the world's largest economy and remained the nation the world turned to in times of trouble or disaster.

"What's remarkable is that, right now, perhaps for the first time, the world appears to have more confidence in America than America has in itself," he said.

He conceded that America's high debt was a concern, but boasted that the Howard government had managed successfully to cut spending and government programs and that the Key government of New Zealand had also done so.

Mr Abbott said Australia and America were so close that, "few Australians would regard America as a foreign country", and compared Chifley's notion of the "light on the hill" to Reagan's "shining city on the hill".

"We are more than allies, we're family. Around the world we seek no privileges, ask no favours, crave no territory," he said.

But he said the relationship was not cause for Australia not to pursue regional ties.

"Australia doesn't have to choose between our neighbours and our friends because our neighbours are also our friends and because our best friends are increasingly at home in our neighbourhood."

And he said America should not take Australian support for granted.

"Australia's national interest might not always be identical with America's," he said.

"Our values, though, invariably coincide and Australia's foreign policy should be driven as much by our values as by our interests."

But he reaffirmed his support for the recent wars Australia has followed the US into.

"Over the past decade, there's been much 'expert' advice that Australia would be a better ally by ostentatiously refusing to participate in America's so-called follies, such as Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

"Narrow self-interest would have kept America out of Iraq, as it did the French and German governments of the time."

Asked if he was worried about Australia's cuts to its Defence budget, Mr Abbott said he believed savings were possible in defence, but that "it was irresponsible to save money in defence in a way that compromises your military capability, given that Australia's military capabilities are not vast".

"Certainly the last thing we want to do is disappoint our friends and allies at what is for everyone a difficult time," he said.

Both members of the Democrat administration and the senior Republicans have voiced concern at Australia's Defence budget, as well as at cuts to defence budgets of the member nations of NATO.

This story We're family, Abbott tells US first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.