Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
PRIME MINISTER: First of all, can I congratulate President Macri for chairing a very successful G20 Leaders Summit over the last few days. You would have seen the communique that has been released which covers off on all of the matters that were able to be addressed over the last few days.
I want to come back to those in just a few minutes but before I do that, for domestic purposes I have been keeping in very close contact with Australia regarding the bushfire situation in Queensland. The Deputy Prime Minister, along with Assistant Minister Reynolds has been visiting the fire-affected areas in central Queensland and north Queensland, around 100 fires continue to burn. We’ve had 600 –or thereabouts – firefighters out there, some who have been fighting these fires for days now, five days with very little rest at all. As you know, we’ve had firefighters coming from right around the country to assist in these efforts and I want to thank them most sincerely for their bravery, for their courage and for their tirelessness as they’ve gone about protecting communities. To date, despite the very sad loss of a young man, 21 years old, who died while clearing a fire break west of Rockhampton, so far I think the efforts have been extraordinary and we’ve been able to minimize the damage. Of course it is still a very difficult situation and people’s lives have been very significantly disrupted by the evacuations and the other actions that have had to be taken. We ask for continued patience, not just while the fires are being fought of course but for many, many days ahead as there will be clean-up work and the restoration work that will obviously have to follow. Now, severe to extreme heatwave conditions are forecast for Sunday right across central and northern Queensland and over the interior regions. Severe fire weather are forecasts at Maranoa and Warrego, in the Darling Downs, to Granville and winds are forecast to increase so we are still expecting many more days of very difficult conditions in all of these areas. So I continue to ask Australians in those areas to continue to take the appropriate advice and just remember, as always, to look out for each other particularly with these heatwave conditions. That may not result in fire directly but that will particularly for older Australians, those who are frail, there is a need to ensure that we’re keeping an eye out for each other, we’re looking after each other in what’s sure to be a very difficult period of time. So, I want to thank particularly the Queensland Government for the work they’ve been doing, as well as Emergency Management Australia who have been working closely in managing these issues.
Turning back though to the G20, or before I do that, let me also say we also mourn the passing of President Bush. I had the opportunity to forward a note of condolence to the President today expressing our country’s sincere sympathies both to the American people as well as to the Bush family. President Bush was a great friend to Australia, he was a great friend to democracy, a great friend of freedom and he had advocated and fought for these things all of his life, from his time of service to his country and to freedom during World War 2, all the way through his public life and of course his service as President. He was a great friend to Australia and he’ll be truly missed by his people, but also by all friends of his nation, which Australia is. So, we express our sincere condolences to the American people and the Bush family.
In terms of the outcomes here, international trade and investment have been, once again, affirmed here at the G20, in particular in par 27 of the communique. These were the very words that Australia has been seeking to ensure were confirmed in the communique, which speak very directly to our interest. See we have come here to secure jobs for Australians. One in five jobs in Australia is trade-related, that’s why we’re here. The stronger economy that comes from an open trade outlook means jobs for Australia’s livelihoods for Australians and a stronger economy that delivers the essential services Australians rely on. It was a recognition, as it says, of the contribution of the multilateral trading system provides, but acknowledges that the system is falling short of its’ objectives and that there is room for improvement and there is need for necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functioning.
Now today I had the opportunity to meet with the Director General of the WTO as well as a series of bilateral meetings. I’ve just concluded one with Chancellor Merkel and prior to that having meetings with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, as well as the Prime Minister of Great Britain earlier this morning and the President of the EU. At each of these meetings, there was a strong resolve to ensure that we preserve the rules-based order for multilateral trade. Australia is a great beneficiary of that process and what I’ve seen in these meetings, which is an improvement on where we were a few weeks ago, is a greater articulation of the more specific issues that require being addressed as we improve the world trading system. That represents an acknowledgement of issues being raised, whether it’s by the United States or China or others, including ourselves, about how that system needs to be modernized and how that system needs to deal with unresolved issues that have held the global trading system back. Also today in our meetings with particularly the European nations – I caught up yesterday with the President of France – has been our focus on the EU Free Trade Agreement. Now, this is the next premier league deal, free trade deal. We’ve been successful in securing the arrangements, obviously, with China, Japan and Korea and the EU free trade agreement which we began negotiations on earlier this year, today received a very strong accelerator. We met today, Minister Cormann and I, with our counterparts and we were able to agree on the need to accelerate the development of the EU free trade agreement and we’re looking forward to that advancing promptly now in the months ahead. While I can’t give a specific timeframe of that, that would be unfair to those officials who I know are already working very hard to progress it very quickly, the machinery of these arrangements will work at particular speed. There is no doubt about the political commitment and resolve to address those issues. It was important to have the opportunity to talk with the European leaders, they will form part of that agreement ultimately with the EU. In my discussions with Prime Minister May, obviously we gave her every encouragement and every support in what she is seeking to achieve in the Brexit arrangements. That arrangement, if unsuccessful could have very significant implications more broadly on the global economy in Europe and the UK, particularly for the UK. That’s why we want to see those arrangements successful, but that’s a matter ultimately for the Parliament of Great Britain and we’ll see how those issues play out. The Prime Minister is very keen once we get to the end of March, for Australia and the UK to be able to start moving forward on an agreement between the UK and Australia. There was also very strong interest shown in Great Britain joining the TPP. This is something that was first discussed many years ago between Phillip Hammond and myself when he was Chancellor and I was Treasurer. We spoke about whether they might be able to participate in the TPP and that’s a ready-made agreement which would offer a lot of opportunities for the UK to take and also I think, add to the great momentum that is building around the TPP.
So with that introduction, one last thing I’ll mention is, like I said yesterday, our Pacific ‘step up’ initiative received very strong support also from the European nations I met with today, particularly Great Britain but also France indicated that yesterday and also the EU. Our Pacific ‘step up’ provides the opportunity for alignment, and for Australia’s leadership to align the existing contributions and investments that have been made around the sort of strategic investments Australia is pursuing through that Pacific ‘step up’ initiative.
JOURNALIST: Mr Morrison you describe that, almost, breakthrough on paragraph 27, but the commitment to trade in this communique is nowhere near as strong as last year’s which had such language as “fighting protectionism”. There was a lot of debate in the lead up to this one about “free and fair trade”, none of those words appear in this one. Is this a case of one step forwards, one step sideways?
PRIME MINISTER: No I don’t think that at all Phil, I think that’s a very incorrect way of looking at it. The discussion and language of previous communiques I think we’ve moved on from. I think there’s a willingness - as I said yesterday, I don’t think anybody is about protectionism. The allegations that have been made against the United States about protectionism, I don’t buy. What we’re trying to achieve here is a modernizing and an improvement of the world’s trading system. That’s what the communique reflects. So no, I wouldn’t take that interpretation at all, I think this is actually a sign that we’re moving on from those ideological discussions into quite practical discussions about how we make the world trading system modern and better. The Director General of the WTO was pretty clear; they’re ready to get working, they just need that further political leadership to allow them to start doing that. When I met with him today, we just worked through some practical issues that will help achieve that. One of the things they have been impressed with has been Australia’s work on e-commerce and setting out new rules and new ways to ensure consistency of how you engage in e-commerce. Australia is a world-leader when it comes to the rules that we’re seeking to set out.
JOURNALIST: So you don’t think the words “free and fair trade” should have been included?
PRIME MINISTER: I’m very happy with the words that are here, these are the words. I mean I was reading these words out in the first session of the open session of the G20, so these were words that had been worked on going into the G20 and I think I’m very pleased to see that we’re understanding firstly that trade is an engine of growth, productivity, innovation, job creation and development. It’s an acknowledgement of the economic virtues of trade. It then goes on to reassert the importance of the multilateral trading system, the rules-based system, acknowledging that there are weaknesses in that system and that they need to be reformed to fix them. So I think this is a very practical to-do list.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what do you see as the finish line for tonight’s Trump-Xi dinner, or what do you need to hear after the dinner to say it’s a success from Australia’s point of view.
PRIME MINISTER: Well as long as they’re talking and as long as they’re identifying the practical things that now need to be addressed, then I think that’s always a positive thing. I think it’s unhelpful to impose unrealistic expectations on these meetings and so as long as they’re in a room and addressing the fundamental issues that they have, well that’s better than the alternative.
JOURNALIST: You don’t expect much Prime Minister, from the sound of it.
PRIME MINISTER: It’s for them to determine what they’re going to do Tim, they’re the ones in the room. They’re the ones that are going to be discussing what the issues are between their two economies. We would say – and I’ve made this clear over weeks now – that the tensions between the G2 run very real risks to the global economy. The IMF has estimated those tensions could cost global growth as much as 0.7 per cent growth a year. That’s serious and I think both leaders have a very good understanding that it’s important these matters be resolved. What they do is between them.
JOURNALIST: Did you say that directly to Donald Trump?
PRIME MINISTER: I did.
JOURNALIST: Did he give any indication at all that he’s heading in that direction? That he’s likely to be able to break the impasse?
PRIME MINISTER: I think he very much wants to break the impasse and I think ultimately he wants to be able to come to a new deal. I think that’s been his whole point.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister ideally though, you say you’d like both China and the US to drop the tariffs [inaudible]?
PRIME MINISTER: I’d like them to sort out their differences and enable both countries to move forward and continue to trade happily and prosperously.
JOURNALIST: In a practical sense, do you want them to drop those tariffs?
PRIME MINISTER: I want them to be able to resume open trading relationships. Of course I do and I’m not alone in that, I’d say every economy represented here wants that. It’s a statement of the obvious, nothing remarkable about it.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister in your discussion with Theresa May, did you address this [inaudible]? This summit marks the end of all your international consultations on the matter, I assume [inaudible]? Can you bring the public into your current disposition, having consulted so widely and also, give us some insight into Prime Minister May’s attitude?
PRIME MINISTER: We had the opportunity to discuss this issue, not just with Prime Minister May but in many of the leaders meetings I had over the course of the East Asia Summit and APEC as well. When the Cabinet has concluded its deliberations on the issue drawing on the inputs that we’ve had not just from these meetings but direct engagements with each of the administrations, then I’ll make that decision public.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister one of the other moments of this summit, in Middle Eastern affairs is that televised moment between Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman from Saudi Arabia. I know that the murder of the journalist Khashoggi is on the agenda for Theresa May for her discussions with the Saudi Arabian Prince [inaudible]. Is that an issue that Australia has a view on?
PRIME MINISTER: We denounce it and we call for those responsible to be brought to justice.
JOURNALIST: And has that come up in any of your discussions here in particular?
PRIME MINISTER: It has.
JOURNALIST: And would you want to elaborate on that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’s not much more to say than it has come up in the general session.
JOURNALIST: Just back to Brexit, has Prime Minister May expressed a view on the embassy proposal?
PRIME MINISTER: We discussed a whole range of issues.
JOURNALIST: We’ve seen President Xi today has had about eight different bilateral meetings, it’s been joked about, being the Xi-20 Summit. Being so prolific in holding these bilaterals, how hard is it for you to talk about free trade when so much of the focus is on China and Chinese influence?
PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s very easy, it’s what we believe in. We’ve come here seeking to champion the cause of free and open trade because that’s what makes Australia a prosperous country, when one in five jobs are the result of trade. I think the fact that we’re moving ahead with the EU Free Trade Agreement is a demonstration of our commitment and despite the fact that there may be issues between some economies, the rest of the world was getting on with free and open trade because we know it’s what delivers the prosperity for our countries. Now, whether it was a discussion I had with Mark Rutte today from the Netherlands or others, we’re all committed to it. We’re getting on with it. We’re going to keep getting on with it and that’s why we’re hopeful that the US and China will be able to make progress on their issues, but that doesn’t stop the rest of the countries getting on with what is in their economic interest. That’s what we’re doing.
JOURNALIST: You talk about getting on with it, but there’s been about 165 different outcomes on trade since the G20 was founded and compliance levels for countries like Argentina are 35 per cent or less. How can you say that free trade is happening, it’s still an ideological debate isn’t it?
PRIME MINISTER: It goes back to when APEC started. I mean APEC has seen tariffs fall about 16 per cent, or 6 per cent on average. We’ve had 1 billion people come out of poverty since 1990 in our own region as a result of greater trade. You know, if anyone can’t see the benefit of trade in our own region, and what is a continued, great prosperity they must be reading different economic statistics to the rest of us.
We continue to make progress. That’s why you have these meetings. You make progress or seek to make progress every time we meet and I believe at this meeting, again, we’ve made progress. Sometimes the progress is made simply by bringing issues to a head as occurred at APEC. The issues of difference were brought to a head and a very clear light was shone upon it and I welcomed that development as well, because when we’ve come here to Argentina, I think there was an even greater resolve to ensure that we achieved the consensus we did on these issues.
PRIME MINISTER: You missed out yesterday.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, one on domestic politics. Julia Banks has said that she’s willing to send Dutton to the High Court. This is, you’ve said that [inaudible] other people have constitutional issues [inaudible]. Are you willing to do that and does that include Julia Banks herself, given that she [inaudible]?
PRIME MINISTER: The issues that are germane to the case you raise are different to those that –
JOURNALIST: In general terms?
PRIME MINISTER: That were relayed to Ms Banks. So no, we have not suggested that. There are three other House members that have the same issues that have been suggested about Peter Dutton, so any principled position, any consistent position, anyone seeking to be truly fair about this would apply the same rule to all of those members. The Government isn’t seeking to refer any of those members, but if the Parliament sought to do so, then it would only be the principled thing to do to apply the same treatment to all members similarly affected. But we might finish on something that has to do with being here in Argentina?
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] World Trade Organisation [inaudible] architecture by which such things are usually resolved, what about, I just wonder how would you say progress has been [inaudible] between this year’s G20 to this year’s G20? The language there, do you think it’s going to keep markets open? [Inaudible] continue to fight protectionism, confirms the government’s [inaudible]. If the system was working, [inaudible] President of the United States be using the WTO to resolve these differences with China?
PRIME MINISTER: The argument is, as this communique illustrates Chris, is that the architecture of the WTO needs modernizing in order for it to address the very issues you’re talking about. That’s why I think where we got to today is an improvement on where we were last year. This is the post-ideological position on trade, this isn’t about those sort of ideological positions; it’s about, okay, we get it, trade is a good thing, we all want it, that’s where we all want to end up, so how do we get there? We need to tidy up some things at the WTO, we need to modernize it, we need to deal with some unfinished business of issues that have caused great frustration to some of the biggest trading players. That’s what they’re resolving to do, so as always, I’m an optimist.
Cheers, thanks a lot.