Doorstop - Hanoi, Viet Nam

23 Aug 2019
Hanoi, Viet Nam
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, everyone. Before I make some other remarks, I just wanted to say something about my dear friend, Jenny and my dear friend, Tim Fischer. I know that there have been tributes flooding in from not just all around Australia but no doubt all around the world, including from here. I spoke to his wife Judy yesterday afternoon after we arrived and we reflected on some wonderful memories. I worked with Tim for a number of years. He was larger than life, and I think over the next few days the stories about Tim's remarkable life, his incredible wit and charm, his passions which knew absolutely no bounds. You could not be in a room with Tim Fischer and not tap his enthusiasm, his love for his country. Tim just loved people. That's why he was in politics, that's why he in public service. He just loved people wherever he went, and they reacted to him just so warmly. I'm not going to recount all of those situations that I'm thinking of right now, but they are very warm and lovely memories. And so the Government is, of course, offering a state funeral to Judy Brewer and the family and I think that will be a wonderful celebration of a life just so beautifully well-lived. And so I expressed to Judy and the family my personal best and from Jenny and on behalf of all Australians. We loved you very much Tim and we look forward to having now the opportunity to just tell you as a country just how much we loved you.

Now, more broadly I won't go over my remarks from earlier and I think what we have done here is really elevated the relationship and friendship to mateship. I think that really does provide in more simple language what's been going on here. We've had an excellent relationship with Viet Nam for a long time and it has just continued to build. But what has become more apparent as time has gone on is we very much do share a similar outlook in terms of where our region is going, where the opportunities are. And it was a very long agenda of issues mutually pulled together by both Viet Nam and Australia. It deals with training issues, it deals with peacekeeping issues, it deals with environmental issues, it deals with trade, it deals with strategic engagement, it deals with regional architecture. It is a very broad-ranging relationship. And where we've taken the relationship now is that annual leader-level dialogue, combined with the many other engagements that go into those which will ensure, I think, we can take this forward significantly. It is about becoming a top-ten trade partner, it is about increasing our level of defence and security cooperation in the region.

When you look at what RMIT does here, they train people here on cyber-security. They are filling in the skills gaps here in Viet Nam. Later today I'll be visiting the F1 partnership that they’re doing for the Grand Prix here. Very exciting no doubt, but it's not just about a car race, an F1 race - it's actually about a partnership that's coming together at many levels and is a demonstration of what it really means. I mean, this is a country with an enormously big future, and we want to be part of that, and we want to support them as they support us in ensuring that we have a stable and secure Indo-Pacific region where countries can continue to live in their sovereignty and their independence and realise their objectives, which is all about raising the living standards of their people.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, today again in the South China Sea you've called out the behaviour but not the perpetrator. Is it time to name China?

PRIME MINISTER: All I've done today is stand up for the principle of international law and that's all we're doing. And that principle of international law applies to everybody, and we simply stand with whoever is standing for that principle. So I'm not here to make accusations, or to do any of, things of that nature. We don't take sides in these disputes. That's not what Australia has ever done. We just stand for the principle of international law to be applied in these circumstances and that for everyone to be able to operate with that confidence.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned though by China's actions in the South China Sea? You're in Viet Nam so obviously you've been speaking to the Viet Namese Prime Minister about it, and are you talking about China? In your message last night when you say, ‘If we allow the sovereignty or independence of any of our neighbours to suffer coercion then we're all diminished’?

PRIME MINISTER: Again, I’m speaking to principles that are important to the independence and sovereignty of the Indo-Pacific region and these are things that Australia feels strongly about. And these are things that I‘ve found in my own engagements with leaders across the Indo-Pacific over the past year that they are also passionate about. See, it isn't about picking sides. It's about ensuring that each and every nation in this region can have confidence in its own independence and its own sovereignty. And so everyone is picking their own national interest and I believe trying to foster a region where that can be respected and that countries can make their own decisions and that they can work together constructively and that's what we're advocating for. See, I've come here to advocate for things, not against things.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister when you talk about coercion, what are you talking about in this region? What is the risk that the nations are facing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, any impingement on their own sovereignty and independence that would prevent them in any way from pursuing lawfully what is their objective.

JOURNALIST: When you talk about international law though, the problem is that China does not recognise the 2016 decision, it's not a party to UNCLOS. What more can your comments sort of do when one country patently does not comply with international law?

PRIME MINISTER: We simply continue to work with everybody to uphold those principles and continue to reinforce them.

JOURNALIST: On another note, Prime Minister, I was wondering if you had a chance with your Viet Namese counterpart to raise the case of Australian citizen Van Kham Chau who has been in a Viet Namese prison now for months without access to a lawyer. Is there any update on that case?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, simply to say this, that as part of the engagements and through our mission here we regularly engage on consular matters, and it is never helpful to be canvassing how that's done in the public domain.

JOURNALIST: But more generally on human rights, did you raise any concerns with the Viet Namese about those issues?

PRIME MINISTER: Today we covered many issues, and particularly issues that might directly involve Australian citizens then obviously these matters are canvassed. But they've done in, I think, a very respectful way of what is Viet Namese law. And I've said this on many occasions, I was saying it just last week - Australians need to abide by the laws of the countries which they visit. They must. They don’t get a leave pass from laws when they go into someone else's country and commit crimes. That is not something that Australia can support or excuse. But we will always seek to support our citizens in these difficult circumstances.

JOURNALIST: Now you’ve had some time to meet with the Viet Namese and appreciate the history and culture do you think it was a mistake for Australia to go into war with them?

PRIME MINISTER: One of the things that Prime Minister Phuc and I are very focused on is the future. I said today in my remarks as we did as we sat in this room. It's amazing the relationship we have today when you think about our history, when you think about the points of differences from which we've come, to the points of agreement we're now at. It enlivens my hope. It is… look, at the best of times and the worst of times I'm always optimistic. You know that. But days like today only reinforced my optimism.

JOURNALIST: Just a domestic question, PM. Tomorrow is obviously the first anniversary since you became PM, congratulations on achieving that. I'm wondering could you reflect on the past 12 months and perhaps the differences in Australian politics from 12 months ago to today? It certainly seems much more stable, perhaps?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh look, frankly anniversaries I find quite narcissistic, so I tend to not to engage in that sort of self-assessment. I'm sure there'll be plenty of others who do. I have a simple task and that is to continue to make Australia stronger, for Australians to be in charge of their own future, for Australians to have their aspiration rewarded, and for them to be able to make the choices they want to make for their lives and their futures. I think the stability that our Government has brought to those aspirations I think is very positive. I appreciate the strong support we've had for pursuing those policies as we did in the last election. And so I said at the time it wasn't a win for the Liberal Party, or me, or anyone like that. It was just a victory for those Australians who wanted to get on with their lives and wanted the government to get on with its job, and that's what they'll continue to get from me. I'll let others go through the calendar. My job is big enough.

JOURNALIST: Just looking ahead to G7, what are you hoping to achieve there?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's an opportunity at G7 obviously to meet in one place with some of the biggest countries, leaders in the world, and obviously that's the first opportunity to meet with Boris Johnson in his new role as Prime Minister. I’ve obviously met him before, and we’ve spoken many times. But this will be a good opportunity, particularly given the announcements I’ve made this week regarding our involvement in the multinational force in the Straits of Hormuz, the opportunity to talk to Americans about that as well. It’s an opportunity to catch up with Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. They play a very important part in this region of the world and are increasingly becoming an even more important partner, both strategically and economically for Australia. And we share a commonality as well on many things. I suspect I'll give Boris a hard time over the cricket and he will try and do the same to me. But that's the nature of our relationship. And I suspect the Prime Minister of India will take a shot at both of us on that front.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the U.S. State Department has put out a strongly worded statement overnight saying it's deeply concerned China is continuing its interference with Viet Nam's EEZ. Do you agree with the wording of that statement and do you also hold strong concerns?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's not for me to agree or disagree. It's a statement by the United States. I'll let them speak for the United States and I'll make my remarks on behalf of Australia. And my remarks I think are reflected in what I've said today. To stand side by side with the Prime Minister of Viet Nam and on what is contained in the official statement which is being issued today which is consistent with the statements that were made as part of the AUSMIN process when Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Esper were recently in Australia. So Australia's position has been consistent. This is very important. The reason Australia is held in such high regard in the region is because we are consistent. I mean, we've been here for 45 years. We were the only embassy, for example – mission, I should say - to be in Myanmar for all of that time as well during their period of estrangement. So we are very consistent and we maintain our presence in these forums and in these relationships and they all improve as a result. So we’re careful and calibrated with what we say. But most importantly we are respectful and we honour our friendships and indeed our mateships.

JOURNALIST: And just in regards to Andrew’s earlier question - 12 months ago the Liberal Party was quite divided. Has it been able to set aside those differences and move on? Or is there still a way to go to heal some of those wounds from 12 months ago?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re delivering the stability that Australians voted for.

JOURNALIST: Just on trade there is obviously a new agreement for Viet Nam to be in the top ten of our largest trading partners. How do you achieve that and could there be a specific FTA with Viet Nam on the cards in the future?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, I don't rule that out at all. At all. And let's just see what happens on that on that front and as we go forward. This is a relationship that just continues to strengthen every day. And I've got to say the relationship between Prime Minister Phuc and me has only improved, and it started in a pretty good place I’ve got to say. But it's only got better and there's a real candid nature about those discussions. We can speak very openly and honestly with each other and we have a good understanding. So I wouldn't be surprised if we're able to take that even further forward. We’ve got the TPP though, which I think provides a very strong platform for us to achieve what we’ve set out. There was a goal. There was also the RCEP agreement, which I think will also support that. But, I mean, let's take energy for example. I mean, I’m up here with two Australian companies, Woodside is here and Macquarie is here, and both of them are looking to address the energy needs of Viet Nam both in ocean wind power as well as an import arrangement here for LPG. And we’ve also seen in the figures the significant increase in our resources exports here that support Viet Nam’s energy needs. The energy needs of Viet Nam are critical to their continued growth, and so that is a very important place for us to plug-in to what's happening here is the Viet Namese economy. And the stronger the Viet Namese economy gets then obviously the stronger the two-way trading relationship is going to develop into the future. So we're participating, investing, engaging in their economy. Whether it's in skills development, resources, energy, services, tourism and hospitality. We were talking about our air service arrangements between Australia and people coming out of Viet Nam flying right into Avalon in southern Victoria, which I think is tremendous given it was our Government that invested so heavily in the development of the Avalon Airport and to facilitate being able to have those international flights. And having been the Treasurer that was in place to see Avalon Airport developed and Prime Minister to see it opened, it's great to be standing here today and seeing agreements signed that will see more planes, more flights going between Viet Nam and Avalon.

JOURNALIST: Just on recycling, is it frustrating for you that Australian states raise $1.5 billion in waste levies each year, yet only $200 million is actually spent on recycling each year?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, it is frustrating. And this goes to the point I'm making about recycling. We've got a lot of work to do here, and to be fair to states and territories last week… sorry, the week before last when we agreed to work together on this, these are the things that we've got to sort out. I mean, it's a pretty simple promise - you pay a levy, it's supposed to help recycling. Well, that's what it should do. You put a plastic bottle in a plastic bucket and it says recycling on it – well, it should be recycled. Now, this is not happening. That's not good enough. And this isn't a criticism of any one part of the chain. It's a criticism and an observation of the overall system not doing what it's promising Australians. And I want it to do what it's promising Australians. I think the transparency around this has exposed a real problem and exposed it to me when I first saw it. I was like anyone else. You think you're doing the right thing by putting the bottles in the right tub. Well, it can be a bit of a con, and I want to get rid of the con. I want to make sure that when your 10-year old says, ‘Dad, make sure you put that bottle in the bucket.’ That when you do, it actually does what she believes it's going to do. And that's the promise I’ve made to my kids, that we're going to deal with this, and I make it to all kids. And so anyway that's… there's a lot of work to do and it's going be a big part of what I have to say globally. This is a big environmental issue. We talked about illegal fishing today, we talked about the health of our oceans today, we talked about plastics going into our oceans. This is a very big global issue, one that I intend to take a much keener interest in not just at home, but in the opportunities I have as you’ve seen today. It was in today's statement, it was part of our conversations today. This is a very, very important issue. Thank you very much.