Canberra: US President Barack Obama will address the Australian Parliament next month, eight years after his predecessor George W Bush provoked a passionately mixed response with a speech to the same often-rowdy chamber.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on Thursday that Obama`s speech to a rare joint sitting of the nation`s House of Representatives and Senate on November 17 will be the highlight of his first visit to Australia as US leader.
Australia`s Parliament is renowned for its caustic and even abusive debates. Tensions were running high when Bush gave the last US presidential address to a joint sitting on October 23, 2003. Months earlier, the Australian government had divided the nation by sending combat troops to support the US and British invasion of Iraq.
Two senators from the anti-war Greens party and the son of a Guantanamo Bay detainee heckled Bush during his speech. Many members of the centre-left Labor Party, which now forms government but in 2003 was in opposition and critical of the war, remained seated in silent protest during Bush`s standing ovation.
But Bush shrugged off the hecklers, smiled broadly and won applause by saying: "I love free speech."
Without the backdrop of Iraq, Obama can look forward to a more enthusiastic reception.
Greens leader Senator Bob Brown, who was manhandled by government lawmakers when he heckled and approached Bush during the speech and was banned from Parliament for 24 hours for misbehaviour, said he was looking forward to meeting Obama.
"President Obama is sure to get a warm welcome Down Under," Brown said in a statement.
Gillard said Obama`s visit will have "historic resonance" coming on the 60th anniversary of the US-Australian defence treaty, which was last invoked 10 years ago with the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"I`m sure all members (of the House of Representatives) and senators will warmly welcome the President to this place," she told Parliament.
Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott agreed.
"America is Australia`s greatest friend and strongest ally and the President of the United States will always be our most welcome and our most honoured guest," Abbott told Parliament.
Gillard addressed a joint meeting of US Congress in March during her first visit to Washington as Australia`s leader.
Australians have been generally understanding when Obama last year twice cancelled planned trips — once so he could stay in Washington to lobby for his health care overhaul and a second time because of the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But hopes are high that he`ll make it this time since his two-day trip is scheduled between two important summits in the region.