Press Conference - London
Well it’s been a very successful visit to the G20, to France and to the United Kingdom.
At the G20 we were able to secure unanimous support for a strong statement on counter-terrorism and in particular on ensuring that there will not be ungoverned spaces online. That the rule of law will prevail online and offline. A very strong commitment.
One of the leaders said at the meetings: “We’ve been talking about this for years. Now we’re actually coming to an agreement, bringing it to a head so that there is a clear signal from the leaders of the largest 20 economies.” So that was a great achievement for us. We led that intiative and I’m very glad that we were able to deliver it.
We saw strong outcomes on other measures, on other issues too. It was also a great opportunity to meet with other leaders and secure strong commitments on trade in particular. As you saw, we had a very good meeting with President Widodo, President Jokowi of Indonesia. He gave his commitment to concluding an Australia-Indonesia trade agreement by the end of the year. That’s a very strong commitment, strong leadership on his part.
And of course we’re working to get a free trade agreement with the European Union and you saw that we had a meeting with the President of the Commission and the European Council, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker. They made a commitment too, as indeed supported by other European leaders like Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and others, to get that agreement settled before Britain leaves the EU sometime in 2019.
So you can see that we’re moving. We’ve got our skates on and we’re getting things done, getting the initiative, the momentum going on all of these matters.
We were able to have a very, very long period of time, both on the plane from Hamburg to Paris and then of course the Élysée Palace, to get to know the new President of France, President Macron. Really a fantastic opportunity as you can see. He is a very warm and generous host and a great meeting. Really a great opportunity and understanding to have with him at this early stage in his Presidency.
Of course we were then able to go to Cherbourg and to see the work that is being done there on our future submarine program, and open the Australian Future Submarine Project office there. To see that strong collaboration between France and Australia, you saw how warm and committed to the project was the President Macron and also the Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly.
Then we came here to the UK and of course the focus of the visit with the government has been continuing our work in the fight against terrorism. It was very moving to visit, with Prime Minister May, the London Bridge and the Borough Market.
To see where those brave young Australian women were killed.
To see the men, the police officers that sought to revive them.
To look at and admire the resilience of that community and the determination of the British people and of course all the Australians that are part of this community, not to be cowed by terrorism; to stand up, defy them and defeat them as we are doing in the field and as the Metropolitan Police did in the Borough Market where we stood.
Then we were able to have very detailed, in depth meetings with the British intelligence community. Our intelligence relationship with the UK is one of absolute trust. It could not be more intimate and it’s always good to meet with the UK intelligence community, the leaders of MI5, MI6, GCHQ and others. To learn how we are working closer and closer together all the time to counter the terrorists, to defeat them as we defy them.
As you know we had a very good meeting with Prime Minister May at Number 10, a fine lunch cooked by Skye Gyngell, my old mentor Bruce’s daughter which is very touching. Then we were able to talk about another free trade agreement which will be the free trade agreement we have with the United Kingdom which we aim to enter into as quickly as we can, as soon as Britain is free to deal with us.
So its been a very good and productive visit and this afternoon, I look forward to an audience with her Majesty the Queen. Then we’ll be returning home to Australia.
Prime Minister, what’s your understanding of which royal will open the Commonwealth Games next year? Will it be the Queen or one of her representatives?
I can’t advise you on that but I may be better informed this afternoon.
What do you intend to discuss with the Queen?
Well the discussions as you know are always confidential, but I’m sure her Majesty would be keen to learn about what the major issues are and developments in Australia. I obviously look forward to her advice and wisdom. She has after all known and advised many, many Prime Ministers.
Prime Minister, all those years ago when you led the republican campaign on the referendum, did you ever think in 2017, you would be going to Buckingham Palace as Prime Minister to visit the Queen?
No I don’t think I did imagine that David. But as I said last night, you know, politics is full of unpredictable events. All I can say is that many, I would say most Australian republicans, are Elizabethans as well.
Soon after you became Prime Minister you indicated your support for the release of the letters that have been marked personal between the former Governor General Kerr and the Queen relating to the dismissal. Is that something that you still support, the release of them, and will you raise that with the Queen today?
You’ll forgive me if I'll be discrete about that matter.
The first part of my question? Do you still support the release of those letters?
Let me leave that, given I’ll be meeting with her Majesty shortly, I don’t want to say anything that could be interpreted as suggesting what we will be discussing. Certainly after the meeting we won't be going into what has been discussed.
Prime Minister can I ask you, if the Queen were to seek your counsel on how long you think it will be before Australia is a Republic, what counsel would you give her?
Again, thank you, I think my views on that are very well known.
Prime Minister on the innovation roundtable this morning, did you get any concrete ideas out of that as to what, any policy adjustments?
Yeah look, thanks that’s a good question.
There is a lot of concern in the British educational community about the consequences of Brexit. You know, there are a lot of collaborative research programmes and funding through the European Union. While there is already a lot of collaboration with Australia, they are looking forward to do more.
So I think while obviously the decision to leave the EU is a matter for the British people - and it’s a decision that they’ve taken - you can see, whether it is on the trade front, or on the education, research and innovation front, British people and leaders are looking to do more with Australia.
So that may be a, you know, a silver lining at least from our point of view, in respect of the Brexit decision.
Do you think the Australia-Britain FTA may have some sections in place to allay some of those concerns?
Well it could, but I’d say that I think we can do more on the research and collaboration side with perhaps more fellowships going in each direction. We could do more of that now. I don’t think there is any limitation under the EU rules on that front.
So I think what you’re seeing is, Britain has naturally been part of the European Union for a long time. They’ve been very focused on their role in Britain, or their role in Europe I should say. But you can see that now Britain is looking more widely afield.
Britain has always been a global power while part of the European Union, but I believe they will become more so because they need to obviously have more relations, more connections all around the world. That’s what I was talking about yesterday at Number 10, you know a lot of people in this country frankly are very downcast about the Brexit decision, they think it was a mistake.
I don’t comment on that, it’s their decision. But the point I was making at Number 10 was, British people should see this from an optimistic point of view. They should be able to say: “Well we’ve made that decision, we are a global power, we are part of a global economy, there is a world elsewhere beyond Europe and we should embrace it”. I think Australia is a big part of it.
Prime Minister we know that you can’t tell us about what you’re going to talk her about, but you are a student of history, can you reflect on the Queen, she’s been Queen longer than any of us have been alive. And your friend across the channel Emmanuel Macron has pointed out the fact that he believes the French people mourn the loss of the King in their society, still. So can you reflect on the Queen and her role in the UK’s life and Australia’s life?
Well you know her ancestors also had the title of Queen of France too, but I’m not sure – I don’t think President Macron is thinking about that.
Look, the Queen has embodied selfless public service, dignity, wisdom, leadership for longer and more magnificently than anyone alive today. There is no doubt about that. She has been a remarkable leader of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. She has been our head of state for all of that time and I’ll be very honoured to meet her, as Australia’s Prime Minister and to share my thoughts about Australia and hear what she has to say.
So I’m really looking forward to it. As I say even republicans like myself can be, and in my case are very strong Elizabethans.
A newspaper report in Australia is suggesting that your Government is considering new emissions standards that would have the effect of raising the cost of the average new vehicle by about $5,000. Can you tell us, is that report right? And if not-
Well I haven’t seen the report. Certainly no decisions have been made in that regard at all, but I haven’t seen the report.
Your speech last night has provoked some anger among conservatives back home in Australia.
Really? I saw Eric Abetz said it was a magnificent speech.
Well Alan Jones’s rant, or Cory Bernardi or Pauline Hanson reacting saying that the Liberal Party is not the home for conservatives in Australia, have they misunderstood your message?
I am proud to lead the party Robert Menzies founded.
And as the Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party I stand on the same political ground, with the same political principles with which he founded our great party, so many years ago.
As I said last night, the most fundamental standard of our party is a commitment to individual freedom. Not just freedom for unions and big businesses, but freedom for the men and women Menzies called ‘the Forgotten People’. Freedom for the people that Edmund Burke called the little platoons, the small platoons.
That commitment to freedom is what distinguishes us from the Labor Party.
We combine conservative and liberal traditions, as I said in my speech.
We stand at the sensible centre, as Tony Abbott said.
We are a broach church, as John Howard said.
But as Menzies set out when he founded our party, we are a party that is committed to freedom.
My speech last night was about freedom and the way it is not threatened by strong security, it is enabled by security. That security which my Government delivers through strong laws, strong agencies, strong values, that was the speech, that was the content of my speech last night about how freedom – our fundamental value - is protected by the security we deliver for the Australian people.
Thank you all very much and have a good flight home.