The former Barry girl and her friend the most powerful man in the world; US MARINES WILL BE BASED IN NORTHERN AUSTRALIA.



Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON

FORTY-FIVE years ago Julia Gillard's parents decided to leave their home in Barry, South Wales to start a new life in Australia.

Their four-year-old daughter suffered from bronchopneumonia and her doctors advised moving to a warmer climate would help her recovery.

The family arrived in Adelaide in 1966 with John Gillard working as a psychiatric nurse, with his wife Moira working at the local Salvation Army nursing home.

But yesterday, their daughter Julia welcomed the most powerful man on the planet as an equal when US President Barack Obama arrived on Australian soil.

Ms Gillard was elected Australian prime minister in June 2010 and yesterday unveiled a strategic defence partnership with Mr Obama.

Mr Obama's announcement that US Marines will be based in the northern territory ensured that his visit to Australia has made waves across the Asia-Pacific region and is widely seen as a response to China's growing military confidence.

His statement that the US has "no stronger ally than Australia" came as UK Prime Minister David Cameron was widely mocked for impersonating Ms Gillard during his white-tie speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet.

Mr Cameron's mimicry of Ms Gillard saying Australia's hosting of the Commonwealth heads of government conference was "good news for Sheilas everywhere" was described by a columnist in Sydney's Daily Telegraph as "so bad it could cause a diplomatic row". The Sydney Morning Herald said it was "bizarre". In contrast, Mr Obama heaped praise on Ms Gillard.

The president said: "In my friend Julia, we see the qualities we admire: down to earth, easy to talk to and says it like it is, straight up."

This was Mr Obama's third attempt to make it to Australia. An earlier visit was cancelled so he could stay in Washington to lobby for passage of his healthcare bill, and the second was scrapped after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The highly informal friendship between Ms Gillard, who welcomed the president with a broad smile and a kiss, extends beyond photo-opportunities.

According to Phillip Hudson of the Melbourne-based Herald Sun: "Gillard sent Obama a 50th birthday card in August, purchased from the Parliament House florist, with pictures of a kangaroo, the Parliament building, native flowers and the Captain Cook water-jet on Lake Burley Griffin. Inside she wrote a personal note, including the line, "Your life has been remarkable to date but I'm sure the best is yet to come."

Ms Gillard, who also turned 50 this year, has said she frequently jokes with him that they are "both 1961 kids" and it was "a good year."

China responded to the US plans to expand its military presence in Australia by saying the proposal deserved greater scrutiny and might not be appropriate.

About 250 US Marines begin a rotation in northern Australia starting next year, with a full force of 2,500 military personnel staffing up over the next few years.

Mr Obama said: "This rotational deployment is significant because what it allows us to do is to not only build capacity and co-operation between our two countries, but it also allows us to meet the demands of a lot of partners in the region that want to feel that they're getting the training, they're getting the exercises, and that we have the presence that's necessary to maintain the security architecture in the region."

He also stressed it was important for China "to play by the rules of the road".

China's defence spending has increased threefold since the 1990s to about pounds 100.8bn last year, and its military has recently tested a new stealth jet fighter and launched its first aircraft carrier.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said the goal of the new security pact is to signal that the US and Australia will stick together in face of any threats. The only American base currently in Australia is a secretive joint Australia-US intelligence and communications complex at Pine Gap in central Australia.

The president's arrival on Air force One Australia ended a 10-hour flight from Honolulu.

The travelling was reported to have taken a slight toll on the president, who admitted he was having trouble keeping up with the time change.

"I'm trying to figure out what time zone I'm in here," he said.

CAPTION(S):

* Barack Obama and Julia Gillard following their joint press conference in Canberra, Australia, yesterday * US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia

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