CANBERRA, Australia -- President Bush addressed a special session of Parliament Thursday, and quipped that Prime Minister Bob Hawke's swift ouster gave him greater appreciation for the United States' form of government.
In remarks referring to Hawke's removal last month by the governing Labor Party, Bush said, 'You have a wonderfully vigorous political climate ... that has got to be the classic understatement of the year.
'I see this rough tumble that goes like this, and I thank God for the presidential system at home,' he added amid laughter from the members of the House of Representatives, the lower house, and the Senate. Bush may well have been thinking of his own decline in recent public opinion surveys while making his remarks.
Under the Australian parliamentary system, the leader of the party with a majority in the lower house becomes prime minister. Paul Keating became premier when the beleagured Hawke declared his leadership vacant and submitted himself for re-election as party leader. Keating won the vote, 56-51.
In the first address before the Australian Parliament by a U.S. president, Bush defended the Export Enhancement Program, which Australia's farmers claim is hurting them financially.
Bush reinforced his contention that the program targets the European Community, and was aimed at minimizing the effects on Australia and other non-subsidizing nations.
'While I don't like having to use these remedies, I will safeguard the interests of American farmers and without EEP, the European Community would absorb additional markets, forcing out those who can compete fairly ... farmers in countries like Australia and the United States,' he said.
The president also recalled various armed conflicts that Australians and Americans joined forces.
'This year marks the 50th anniversary of the fateful Battle of the Coral Sea,' Bush said, referring to the naval battle northeast of Australia in May 1942, in which Australian and U.S. naval forces turned back a Japanese fleet preparing to invade Papua New Guinea and Australia.
'We remember the courage and fighting skill of the Australian and American naval forces. Their valor spared Australia from invasion and stemmed the tide of totalitarianism.
'In the Persian Gulf, we stood together against (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein's aggression,' Bush said.
'The joint defense facilities here in Australia played an invaluable role in detecting launches of Iraqi Scud missiles. And today, two of the three navies represented in operations enforcing the embargo against Iraq are those of Australia and the United States,' he said.
Touching on the Asia-Pacific region, Bush said the coming future presents great potential for economic growth in the Pacific Rim nations.
'In 1990, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for a total of $300 billion in two-way commerce with the United States -- nearly one third larger than America's volume of trade across the Atlantic,' Bush said.
'This region is the fastest-growing market in the world and still there are voices on both sides of the Pacific calling for economic isolationism.
'And while for some nations, including Australia and the United States, these are tough, hard economictimes, we both know that protectionism is a fundamentally bankrupt notion,' the president said.