Stephen Harper paid homage to Australian soldiers Tuesday, placing a wreath at the National War Memorial in Canberra, before he became the first-ever Canadian prime minister to address the country's parliament.

"The epic struggles of the 20th century -- against imperialism, fascism and communism -- pitted us against the common enemies that threatened our greater civilization," said Harper.

"Though our troops rarely fought on the same battlefield, Canadians and Australians fought for the same ideals. And in the First World War, the spark of our national identities was lit: Ours at Vimy Ridge, yours at Gallipoli."

His speech marked the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which prompted both the Canadian and Australian governments to send troops to Afghanistan.

Seventy military personnel "and one of our diplomats have fallen in Afghanistan," said Harper. "As well as a Canadian carpenter, murdered by the Taliban after he built a school for the children of a remote Afghan village."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard made a point of recognizing Canada's losses, when he later spoke with Harper at a joint press conference.

"Canada is carrying a very heavy burden," he said. "And I feel very much for your armed forces and for your people, for the losses that Canada has suffered, which are very high given the number of troops."

Canada has about 2,300 soldiers in Afghanistan, most in the turbulent province of Kandahar, located in the south.

Australia's soldiers have not suffered any casualties against Islamic militants in Afghanistan -- most are involved in reconstruction efforts away from the front lines.

But dozens of the country's citizens have died in terrorist attacks since 9/11. In 2002, bombings inside two packed Indonesian nightclubs killed 88 Australians.

"Both our countries have been bloodied by terror, and both of us are doing our part to confront it," said Harper.

While Harper said Canada and Australia have been called "strategic cousins," quoting Australian military historian John Blaxland, he suggested another term: "bookends."

"Spaced well apart, but holding together a vast store of knowledge and experience -- not just for ourselves, but for all those who aspire to share it."

Senate reform

Perhaps with a nod to the Conservative government's upcoming speech from the throne, Harper also took the occasion to praise Australia's elected Senate.

"As one Canadian political scientist I know likes to say, when we look at Australia, we suffer from 'Senate envy,'" he said.

Harper has said before he wants to limit Senate terms to eight years and he hinted at the need for change again in Australia.

"In Canada, Senators remain appointed, not elected," he said. "They don't have to retire until age 75, and may warm their seats for as long as 45 years. By the nature of the system, they're not accountable to voters."

He went on to say that the mandate to govern is chosen by the people, "and it is the minimum condition of the 21st century democracy."

Aside from an elected senate, the governments of Australia and Canada have several commonalities:

  • Strong historical ties to Britain, inheriting many of its traditions.
  • A governor-general as the Queen's representative. In 1999, Australians considered replacing the monarchy with a republic, but the idea was rejected in a referendum.
  • A federal system of government and two houses of Parliament. Australia's House of Representatives is akin to Canada's House of Commons and Senate.

Harper's speech wrapped up his stay in Australia, where he attended the APEC summit with 20 other world leaders.