Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Joint Media Conference with Rt Hon John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand

19 February 2016

Sydney

Prime Minister

Prime Minister the Rt Hon John Key

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, well, welcome everyone.

John, it is great to see you in Sydney.

We have had a very good meeting, a very good discussion on a range of issues.

I want to touch first on what is a very important issue, particularly for our very good friends across the Tasman. 

What we are announcing today is a new pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders who are here in the special category visa and who have lived here, resided here, for 5 years or more and during that time have earned income, assessable income in excess of the Temporary Skills Migration Income Threshold, which is currently just a little bit under $54,000 a year.

And obviously it is indexed so it's lower in previous years and it will be higher in subsequent years. And that TSMIT figure is the minimum amount that employers can pay somebody who comes to work in Australia under our main skilled migration visa, the 457 visa.

This will enable a large number of New Zealanders who are here and have been working here for 5 years, to be able to apply for citizenship. And they will obviously be subject to the usual health and security checks in the normal way.

So, I think this is a very important recognition of the very close ties between Australia and New Zealand.

Of course, this applies to people, New Zealanders who are living here as of today.

And so into the future, New Zealanders who wish to become Australian citizens , have got many other visa categories to use.  Of course, the skilled migration categories in particular, the 457 category is available to them and they should take - we would encourage them to take advantage of that.

So that is an important step and I have to say it's in recognition of the advocacy that John Key has made on behalf of the many New Zealand citizens who are in Australia who are working here and part of our community.

We've also, naturally, in our discussions covered a range of other issues.

We've talked about the important work that Australians and New Zealanders are doing together in Iraq. Only recently, I visited our troops in Iraq and indeed in Afghanistan where we are working with New Zealanders as well.

And I have to say, John, that the contribution of New Zealanders at Taji and the training taskforce there is remarkable. They are a great credit to you, a great credit to the ANZAC tradition. The tight collaboration between the Australians and the New Zealanders was there, and the Prime Minister of Iraq, when I met with him told me how much he appreciated the assistance the Australians and New Zealanders had given to his country.  How significant their assistance had been in the retaking of Ramadi in training Iraqi defence personnel to achieve that very important victory, which has been important in military terms, but also very important in terms of building confidence in the Iraqi Government. And he asked me to pass on his thanks to you, as I know he has done to you in person in the past. So they are playing a very important role.

I will just touch on a couple of the other things we have dealt with and they are dealt with in more detail obviously in the communique.

We are going to increase the level of cooperation and communication between our two countries and our two security services in respect of cyber security.

This is a very dynamic field. The people who seek to do us harm, whether they are state actors or non-state actors are very talented, and very nimble and we have to be just as nimble and smart as them.

And because of the complete trust between Australia and New Zealand, as part of the Five-Eyes security relationship, we are able to share experiences, share techniques, share learnings, and that is absolutely vital for both of our countries to continually do a better and better job in keeping us safe from cyber dangers.

Trade and economics, of course, is at the heart of our discussions and the relationship gets closer and closer. And there is a lot of work going on about looking at a joint infrastructure pipeline.

Andrew Robb, of course, as you know, John, just recently retired as Trade Minister, but Andrew has set in train a number of projects which his successor, Steve Ciobo, will continue with, in terms of bringing our two markets closer together, because they are in many respects effectively one market.

John and I are both passionate about innovation and science.

We both recognise that the key for New Zealand and Australia to remain prosperous First World economies - high-wages, generous social welfare safety net is to be more innovative, is to be smarter, more competitive, more productive.

The key to that is science, and so it was good for us today to both witness the signing, by our two High Commissioners, of an arrangement for intense, or more intense collaboration between Australia and New Zealand on the Square Kilometre Array, which as you know, is being funded to the tune of 293, $294 million, I should say, over ten years, as part of our national innovation and science agenda.

And we also welcome the collaboration between our two countries on the Australian Synchrotron, again the recipient of very substantial funding as part of our national innovation and science agenda.

I mentioned trade, and perhaps I might conclude there, but for one final point.

John is a passionate, effective free-trader.

He has achieved a free trade agreement with China, somewhat in advance of us, but we've caught up - you led the way - and of course the Trans Pacific Partnership which was signed in Auckland just a little while ago had its originals in a free trade agreement between Singapore and New Zealand, and so from that agreement sprang a 12-nation free trade agreement representing 40% of the world's GDP.

And that's a great credit to both our countries in fighting for more open markets. We plainly as open trading economies, both of us, benefit from that.

Finally, I would simply note that we are also absolutely of the same mind in terms of security in our region.

We know that the prosperity of an Australia and New Zealand depends on peace. It depends on harmony, and that is why we urge all claimants in the South China Sea to refrain from any building of islands, any militarisation of islands, any land reclamation.

It is absolutely critical that we ensure that there is a lowering of tensions because our prosperity and the prosperity of every single person in our region depends on peace.

And any actions, regardless of their motivation, which undermine that, which create tensions, are working against the best interests of everybody in this region - Australians, New Zealanders, and all our neighbours.

But welcome, John, and look forward to your remarks.

PRIME MINISTER KEY:

Malcolm, thanks very much Look, it's great to be back in Australia, and have an opportunity to reflect once more on the relationship between our two countries.

Officially, Malcolm, I want to thank you for the leadership you are showing between Australia and New Zealand.

So, as you pointed out, for some time now there has been advocacy on our side for the plight of New Zealanders living in Australia who have been in a particular category that hasn't allowed them to become Australian citizens.

This step today will help tens of thousands of those New Zealanders to one day potentially become Australian citizens.  And I think they are fine Kiwis, they will make fine Australian citizens, they will be ones that will both want to claim as great New Zealanders and great Australians, and, you know, it is an important step you've taken and I think it's great for both of our countries. So I want to thank you for that. It is a really positive step in the right direction.

Just in terms of the other issue that is obviously on the table, and has been up for discussion in recent times, obviously the issue of deportees to New Zealand. 

We did have a discussion about that issue. We traversed some of the concerns that we continue to have. We appreciate the work that you have been doing around ensuring that people can appeal those decisions and we thank you for honouring all of the commitments you made when you were in New Zealand late last year, but we just register that issue.

I'm not going to go through all of the points of the communique because we are unified and you've summarised them extremely well. Except just to simply say that we travel around the world, we have lots of opportunities to be together from everything from East Asia Summit to APEC to CHOGM, but Australia and New Zealand have a really unique and special relationship and there is something about that relationship where we understand each other, we understand what we are doing, and we have genuine concern for each other.

And I just want to thank you for what you're doing in terms of the hand of friendship that you show New Zealand, always great to be here. I'm looking forward to the lunch and I guess it has been defined now the pyjama diplomacy that will take place this evening. Looking forward to a couple of fine Australian red wines I have no doubt.

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Well very good.

PRIME MINISTER KEY:

Thanks very much.

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Ok perhaps a question from the New Zealand media contingent.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Turnbull, Corin Dann, One News. In the past, Australia has expressed concerns re the citizenship issue around welfare, about Kiwis coming over here to bludge. Has this change today signalled a shift in Australians' attitudes to Kiwis living here?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Well I wouldn’t, it demonstrates a change in Australian policy, but I wouldn't characterise Australians' attitudes in the way you just did. Australians and New Zealanders are very close. I mean our histories are absolutely indelibly entwined and so, by the way, is our destiny.

So it is important that we work closely together and I think the changes that we have, the avenue, the pathway to citizenship that I've announced today and I'm announcing this obviously on behalf of the Immigration, Minister Peter Dutton, as well, this is a very important step.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Andrew Thomas from Al Jazeera English. This is a question for both Prime Ministers. Mr Key, you said earlier in the week that New Zealand’s offer to take some of the 267 asylum seekers currently in Australia facing transfer to Nauru, was compassionate. Mr Turnbull, was that discussed again today and is there any prospect of Australia taking up that offer, and if not, will Baby Asha be among those transferred back to Nauru?

PRIME MINISTER KEY:

Maybe I could begin by saying, look the appropriate classification of my comments, if you look at them on Monday in my post-Cabinet press conference was simply in relation to a question about, ‘does New Zealand still stand firm on the 150 refugees we have agreed to take on an annual basis from camps on Nauru and the like’. The answer to that question is, yes, that still stands.

Up until this point, that hasn’t been exercised by the Australian Government, but in the future, if the Australian Government decided they wanted to, that's definitely a possibility and it's definitely a possibility that we would take people. But the only point I would simply say is that they would have to fit within the category, as defined by the UNHCR - genuine refugees, meet the good-character test that New Zealand has.

So I can't tell you who might or might not be able to come, or whether the Australian Government would want to exercise the right to do that. All I can simply say is the offer remains on the table.

JOURNALIST:

And as an in-principle offer, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

We appreciate that this offer has, as John said, has been longstanding.

We are utterly committed to ensuring that we give no encouragement, no marketing opportunities to the people smugglers. The change as you know in Australia’s border protection policies in 2007 or 2008 following the election of the Labor Government here in 2007 resulted in over 50,000 unauthorised arrivals, over a thousand deaths at sea. It was a catastrophic failure of policy.

Now, to give Mr Rudd credit, he did recognise that his policy had failed and he sought to reverse it when he came back for his last term as Prime Minister.

We are managing the consequences of that mistake and we are managing the situation of the people who came during that time with compassion and great care. We are assessing their situations on a case by case basis, and we will take into account what John has proposed, what John has offered.

But we do so very thoughtfully, recognising that the one thing we must not do is give an inch to the people smugglers, because believe me, we are not talking about theories here. The alternative approach has been tried by Labor and we know what the consequences are.

Remember there were several thousand children in detention in the last quarter of the Labor Government. Now there is less than 100 and that number reduces. Peter Dutton is working through this problem carefully and compassionately, on a case by case basis and we'll continue to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Can I follow up, on the other big international story…?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Perhaps if someone else could have a question, do you mind? Ok.

Perhaps a gentleman at the back.

JOURNALIST:

Yes, Patrick Gower from Newshub New Zealand. My question is for you Mr Turnbull.

Looking at the deportation policy, many of these criminals that are being sent back are New Zealand-born but have spent all their lives here.

How is it fair that these Kiwi-born, but Australian-made, criminals are sent back to New Zealand? Why is it fair? What’s the fair part of that?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Well, look, our rules - our law, and we are talking about an act of Parliament here, that was passed with the support of the Opposition, in fact.

Our law applies to people from every country. So this is not specific to New Zealand. And the law applies to you whether you are a New Zealander or a Brit or Romanian or American or whatever you may be.

JOURNALIST:

Are we not special case though, the mateship between the two countries, are we not a special case, with so many of them here, why is there not some discretion for Kiwis?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Well there is, the people whose visas have been revoked in accordance with the legislation are able to appeal. And as you know, and consequent on my discussions with John last year, we've made it crystal-clear that people who are deported can pursue their appeals from New Zealand.

So they are not prejudiced in their appeal by being back in New Zealand, and a number are doing so, and there has been actually quite a number of these appeals, close to 50 per cent of the appeals have been successful.

So you can see the policy is being administered in a very thoughtful and practical way. But it applies to everyone. It is not targeted at New Zealanders. I know it may look like that from the perspective of across the Tasman, but it applies to people from every country in the world. It is a law that, like all good laws, should apply universally.

JOURNALIST:

Michelle Brown from ABC News, a domestic policy question, if I may?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Sure.

JOURNALIST:

Do you see bringing back the Australian Building and Construction Commission as an economic reform, and if it is voted down by the Senate, will you call the double dissolution election?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Ok. Well, to the first part of your question, yes, it absolutely a very important part of micro-economic reform. The increase in disputes and stoppages in the construction sector following the Labor Party's abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission is there for all to see.

The ABCC worked to reduce lawlessness in the construction sector. It’s a sector that employs over a million people, it’s a very big part of the economy, and ensuring that it is efficient and lawful and that laws are applied, that it is not a lawless zone, is absolutely essential.

So, yes, this is a very important economic reform. And of course it is, in effect, reinstating a reform that was made, if it were passed, if the Senate were to pass it, and I urge the Senators to do so, it would be reinstating a reform that was made by John Howard.

And you have to ask yourself, in the light of the findings of the Heydon Royal Commission, in the light of all of that evidence, how can the Senate continue to oppose it? You cannot deny the facts that were found in the Heydon Royal Commission.

Now as to the question about double dissolution under Section 57 of Constitution, that is obviously available in circumstances where Bills have been rejected within the appropriate time period.

And that's available, but it is an option available to government in those circumstances, but at the moment your question is a hypothetical one.

JOURNALIST:

James Smith, Financial Times.

Can I ask both Prime Ministers, what practical steps can your governments actually take to try to stop China from militarising those islands in the South China Sea? Both of your economies are very dependent on China. Does that make it more difficult for you to speak out?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Let me answer that first, and I think it's - I'm drawing on what I said earlier in my introductory remarks.

President Xi of China has said that one of China's biggest challenges is falling into what he calls the Thucydides Trap, which is where, essentially where a rising power creates anxiety among other powers such that conflict occurs. And this is, this is what Thucydides said was the real cause of the war between Athens and Spartans. President Xi often refers to this.

The way that we see it, the way that Australia sees it and New Zealand sees, we all have a vested interest in harmony, we have a vested interest, everyone - in a peaceful Asia-Pacific.

That is what has enabled this extraordinary economic miracle to occur.

Does anyone imagine that China could have gone in 40 years from barely participating in the global economy to now being arguably the world's largest single economy? Could they have done that in the context of tension and conflict? Of course not.

So President Xi is right in identifying avoiding that trap as a key goal. And our proposition, very simply, we take no sides on whose claims, Australia and New Zealand have no claims in the South China Sea, we can confidently assure you of that. 

But the fact is that there is a massive vested interest in reducing tensions and not doing things, any measures that would inflame tensions. So that is why we've said in the communique that we urge restraint, on all claimants not just China, but all of them, because it is, we all have a big vested interest.

And if China wants to avoid falling into the Thucydides Trap, as President Xi describes it, then resolving disputes in the South China Sea should be done through international law, through all of those mechanisms that are available to us.

PRIME MINISTER KEY:

Look, I agree with the Prime Minister.

But the only other point I would really make is that in the end, the power of diplomacy is the only tool that is really available to any of us, and the question is, as we get a deeper and closer economic relationship with China, does that give us more opportunities to make that case, both privately and publicly? And my view is yes.

Australia and New Zealand now have free trade agreements with China, we are both part of the Asian Investment Bank - we have regular contact and dialogue.  And I don't think it's lost on any of the parties that are, in a disputed position in the South China Sea that any blow-up of activities there would be very bad for security and both economic issues in the region.

So we just have to continue to, I think, to make the case that the parties have to look to resolve that amicably and lawfully.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Turnbull, Barry Soper, Newstalk ZB, New Zealand.  I’m just wondering - a couple of questions actually. Will you make good Tony Abbott's assurance, given to our Prime Minister, that Helen Clark would have your backing if she stood as Secretary-General of the United Nations? And the pyjama diplomacy, are you going to make a habit of inviting visiting leaders for sleep overs?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Well, Lucy and I are very hospitable, but we will just start with the Keys, I think and see how we go.

Look, as far as the United Nations Secretary-General is concerned, there are a couple of distinguished antipodeans whose names have been mentioned in dispatches in that regard and at this stage it is very hypothetical.  Any decision we take for whom we may support will be taken by the Cabinet and will be taken when we know who is in the field.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Catalina Florez, Ten News. When you became Prime Minister elect, you nominated John Key as a world leader you would like to emulate on economic leadership. So far, how do you think you are living up to those standards given that there is no key policy direction yet on tax reform and you have given up on GST?

And Prime Minister Key, is there any advice you would like to offer our Prime Minister on that front?

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Well, why don't you start, as the senior leader?

PRIME MINISTER KEY:

I'm certainly not here to critique the Prime Minister, but what I can say about all the discussions we have about economic issues, it is absolutely crystal-clear that Malcolm understand those, he is passionate about them, and he has got a very strong sense of what Australia needs to do to transition to the modern economy that all of us face.

I think, secondly, it is really important to understand that in each country those policies are

different. So, if you look at the GST tax which took place in New Zealand, that was distributionally neutral and positive in New Zealand because we don't, for instance, have a tax-free threshold.

It is a very different position in Australia. So, what works in New Zealand doesn't always work in Australia. The last point I make is that I've been Prime Minister of New Zealand for the better part of 7.5 years now.

These things take time, all of our reforms, and I think we’ve done quite a lot over time, have been very incremental and taking the public with us.

In Malcolm's defence, he has been Prime Minister for four months, its pretty difficult to get things done in day one.

The real test of a Prime Minister, of whether they make a difference for a country, is one you have to assess over a reasonable period of time. And from everything I see, Malcolm has got a really strong sense of where he wants to go and what he needs to achieve and he seems very committed to doing it.

PRIME MINISTER TURNBULL:

Good. Well, thank you.

I can't think of a better way than here to end the press conference.

Thank you all very much.

PRIME MINISTER KEY:

Thank you.

Ends