APEC Virtual Informal Leaders' Meeting

17 Jul 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Kia ora koutou katoa, Jacinda, congratulations on bringing this together this evening, our time and the other times of the day for everywhere else, it's great to join you from this part of the Pacific. Can I also start off by congratulating Prime Minister Suga. The Tokyo Olympics are seven days away. This is a statement of incredible determination by the people of Japan. And I wish you all the very best, Yoshi, for the Tokyo Olympics in seven days time from now. All the best, my friend.

As this pandemic started and we had these meetings, we spoke about saving lives and saving livelihoods. In many ways that's been achieved. But many lives have been lost and many livelihoods destroyed. Here in Australia, we estimate we've saved more than 30,000 lives and livelihoods. We've seen our economy now return to levels before higher than what it was before the pandemic. And just our jobs figures this week showed that a million people have come back into work. And so there are more people employed now in Australia than before the pandemic hit.

We have had a successful suppression approach and we're particularly pleased that the jobs that have come back in our economy have particularly come back for women who were hard hit by the pandemic, more so than men. And secondly, we've seen our youth unemployment level drop now to the lowest level since 2009. So young people and women getting back into the workforce, getting back to the jobs has been extremely important. That has been assisted greatly by the fiscal support packages we've put in place and the successful suppression strategies we've put in place, mirroring similar to what has occurred in New Zealand. And Jacinda and I have worked closely in the bubble that we have in this part of the Asia-Pacific.

The work that we're currently involved in now is defining what those critical threshold levels are for vaccination that can effectively answer James's question. And the Doherty Institute, which is a very well respected worldwide institute based here in Melbourne and Australia, are doing the work for us now, which will be advising all of our provincial and our national jurisdiction on what are the key threshold marks we have to reach with our vaccination programmes that enable the easing of restrictions, the opening up of travel, particularly for vaccinated persons, the role of quarantine, and what are the safe levels to do that and balancing that up against our economic interests as well as our health system capacity. And be very pleased to share that with the APEC group, because hopefully that can inform the decisions we're all trying to make. Australia's vaccination programme is really gathering pace now and we expect to have Australians vaccinated by the end of the year who wish to do so.

So we remain in the suppression phase in Australia and until we can reach those thresholds, then we will have to do that. And that is quite a challenge. Can I commend particularly Prime Minister Marape, President Phuc, President Widodo as well on the incredible job you're doing in your countries, which we're quite familiar with. And we're very pleased to continue to provide support, not just to those countries, as I know so many are. And I know how difficult it is for you at this time. But we're thinking of you very keenly.

Lending that hand to other economies is incredibly important. We're pleased to be participating in the COVAX Market Initiative, the G7 initiative, and I see Justin there and others from the most recent meeting in Carbis Bay, 20 million doses there, the Quad Initiative joining with Prime Minister Modi, President Biden and of course, Prime Minister Suga.

Scaling up the production of vaccines really is the challenge for all of us. We produce the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia, but particularly the MRNA vaccine production capability is something we really have to lift globally, so we can get that to more and more of the population.

On the issues we need to work together, we cannot have a recovery without a free and open Indo-Pacific. And that means respect for the rule of law. It means regional stability and security. It means the region being able to operate free of coercion and free of interference. And where we respect the law of the sea, where we respect the rule of law, we respect human rights right across our region, and that we hold fast to those important values for a free and open Indo-Pacific. And it also means we have rules based trading system that we can all trust, one that has binding mechanisms to resolve disputes. And it's an urgent issue to ensure that the WTO's appellate body is restored and fully functional, because without a referee, it's very hard to play the game. And we all want to be on the field as we come back from this recovery. And the WTO plays an absolutely essential role in policing the rules of world trade and ensuring that no country can be subject to economic coercion, which can take place.

I might leave it there, Jacinda, because there's many other contributions. But I really do commend the other leaders for the great work that they're doing, we've still got a long way to go and we need to keep working together.