It’s one of former ambassador Kim Beazle y’s favourite White House stories: the time Tony Abbott met Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
“I was deeply worried,” Beazley told an audience gathered for a superannuation conference in Sydney yesterday. “It didn’t matter if it was social policy, or environmental policy, whatever it was, Tony Abbott had a totally different view to Barack Obama.”
Beazley diligently prepared briefing notes for the visiting PM, but Abbott wasn’t interested.
“It’s all bullshit. Don’t worry about it. I’m not going to use any of this stuff,” Beazley recalled Abbott saying.
So in they went to the Oval Office to find Obama, vice-president Joe Biden, secretary of defence Chuck Hagel, secretary of state John Kerry and national security adviser Susan Rice.
“I thought, ‘My god we are in for a belting’.”
Obama opened: “Courteous, erudite, pointed,” Beazley recalled, dreamily.
Then the president handed over to Abbott. Perhaps you might like to say something?
“Well, Mr President, I don’t actually have a list of complaints,” Beazley recalled Abbott opening. “I know most people who come to this office have a list of complaints. I’ve got nothing to complain about to you. Others come with a list of things that they want from you. We don’t want anything from you.”
Beazley recalled Abbott continuing: “But I want to say one thing. I think you’re about to get into a lot of trouble in the Middle East. And when you do, I want you to understand this. We are going to be with you and we are going to be with you in numbers.”
Our former ambassador still remembers a sharp intake of breath along the line of Americans.
Australia’s 28th prime minister certainly made an impact.
Beazley said for months after that encounter, it was reported back to him that whenever Obama was frustrated by his various opponents, domestic or international, he would say: “We need more Tony Abbotts.”