US acting ambassador James Carouso was in Washington only weeks ago travelling with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
On Wednesday night, he was socialising with members and friends of the Bendigo Historical Society, a last minute central Victorian visit that allowed the society to hold a fund raiser and Mr Carouso to test the depths of US/Australian relations by also visiting the Central Deborah Gold Mine.
As distinct as the two audiences may seem, Mr Carouso acknowledged his job is to maintain the relationship in the absence of an appointed representative of the US government.
Given the long history of the relationship, he said that his job as acting ambassador “is to not screw things up”.
President Donald Trump has officially nominated Admiral Harry Harris, the current US Pacific Commander based in Hawaii, to fill the role that has been empty since September 2016.
Admiral Harris awaits a Senate confirmation, but Mr Carouso is already hosing down reports of the implications of his military background and tough stand on China in the South China Sea.
“He is a great guy and the things you read in the paper about him being some sort of super hawk, he is a highly intelligent man who has studied all over the world, he was Hillary Clinton’s adviser for three years, he is the cop on the beat so when the cop on the beat says to someone you are breaking the law, does that make him the hawk or the cop on the beat?” Mr Carouso said.
“He is going to come here not as a military leader, but as ambassador, one who cares deeply about the relationship, who wants to build on it, maintain it and bring it forward and not just in a military sense.”
Mr Carouso’s tenure has taken in the first year of the Trump administration which has come with disagreements with Australia over the Trans-Pacific Partnership from which the US withdrew, and tariffs which Mr Trump applied to aluminium and steel.
“Last week was all about tariffs, there was a pretty good disagreement and what happened?” Mr Carouso asked.
“At the end of the day, president Trump, who doesn’t change his mind terribly often, did (change his mind), because he understands the nature of this relationship, the nature not just of the trading relationship, but of the historical relationship and the military relationship.
“So what countries have been exempted from the tariffs, well basically it is Australia, and that says something.”
Of the personal insights he gave his Bendigo audience on Wednesday night, it was the tariff issue he gave the closest look into including Mr Trump’s tweet referring to a new security agreement which allowed the US to exempt Australia.
The tweet, he said, was scrutinised by lawyers. He was in the room when it was posted.
“For all of you here tonight, it was about the legal format in granting exemptions because the rationale for these new tariffs is national security so to get the exemption for Australia it has to be national security-related,” he said.
Bendigo Historical Society scored a coup in getting Mr Carouso and his wife Elizabeth Visbeek to come to Bendigo, but the society has a recent history in attracting high profile speakers.
Prominent author Don Watson spoke at a BHS event hosted at Fortuna Villa which was also attended by US diplomatic staff.