Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you so much for the opportunity to visit the crew here of the HMAS Adelaide and all the other parties who’ve been joining us here. Our allies, our supporters, our partners who have been part of this very important effort around the APEC Conference here in Port Moresby. It was a great privilege today to thank everyone on board today for their service and to remind them that our Government will always have their back while their serving and after they’ve served in supporting them in civilian life as veterans.
Earlier today, I had the very unique honour to be able to visit the Bomana War Cemetery, which is a place I’ve visited many times before. It was a great privilege to revisit today as a Prime Minister and to walk through the headstones, to go to the grave of Johnny French and Bruce Kingsbury – our VC recipients here in the Pacific – and it was a telling reminder of the deep commitment that we have here in the Pacific. Our position here in the Pacific, our friendship we have here in the Pacific, has been paid for with a very, very steep price and the men and women serving here today are serving in the same way. To enable the APEC Conference to go on here, under their cover, with their support, as part of a broader operation so people can gather in peace and talk about future prosperity. That’s what we’re about as a people. Our instincts are always towards peace, our instincts are always towards looking out from our shores and ensuring that we can deliver prosperity for our own people and for those in our region. So, I want to commend all those involved in the operation here over the last few months but not only those who’ve served in the Defence Forces but the volunteers who’ve come and been part of this effort here in APEC to ensure that PNG have put on such a tremendous performance when it comes to hosting APEC. The civilians, the volunteers and others who’ve been working on the ground – whether it’s St John’s Ambulance or others – they’ve done a fantastic job so we thank them for all of that.
Can I also thank Prime Minister O’Neill and all the people of Papua New Guinea for putting on such a successful APEC. You know, it’s not easy to host a meeting of this nature and for PNG to step up to do that over the last few weeks, obviously here but also the last year as the Chair of APEC, has been a very testing time. We all know there are lots of tensions presently when it comes to issues of trade and for APEC to be chaired by PNG at a time when there are tensions adds an additional burden and I think the way Prime Minister O’Neill chaired the meetings and chaired the year is a great credit to him and his wisdom and his commitment to the APEC principles which he observed to the letter and so I commend him on the way he did that and I also commend him on taking the actions yesterday – he’ll be issuing a Chair’s statement from the meeting which is how APEC works – and I’m sure that is a statement that will reflect his views about what was able to be achieved here and I know you’ll look forward to seeing it.
JOURNALIST: But no communique, Prime Minister, does that mean APEC is a failure?
PRIME MINISTER: No, it doesn’t. I mean, people have got to understand when there isn’t agreement that just means that the dialogue continues. I mean, we’ve got to stop kidding ourselves that everyone’s going to agree all the time. I mean, what family does that happen in?
JOURNALIST: It’s been happening for a long time.
PRIME MINISTER: Not everybody agrees all the time.
JOURNALIST: But they haven’t…
PRIME MINISTER: And on other occasions, when they do, fine, and when they don’t, they don’t. The issues we’re dealing with are real, the issues we’re dealing with are difficult and what was able to be achieved here were many areas of agreement and particularly in areas of a connectedness in the digital economy, we’re all still absolutely committed to stronger trading outcomes because we understand it here in the APEC family. We’ve been able to reduce tariffs, we’ve been able to increase the level and size of our economies and that’s all welcome but there are still some points of disagreement between the major players here at APEC and the fact that they disagree on a number of things that will be picked up at the G20 and this will be an ongoing discussion but that’s a matter for those parties. In terms of PNG, I think they’ve had a very successful chairing of APEC and I commend them strongly for their leadership here at APEC because, you know, sometimes if they’re not going to agree, you’ve just got to call it out and that’s what Papua New Guinea did. That’s what we did.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’re going to have, obviously, very important meetings [inaudible]. Will the stakes for that meeting be raised by the failures to reach a consensus here in Papua New Guinea?
PRIME MINISTER: I think they’ve just being focused. Again, expectations in these sorts of environments that everybody’s going to agree all the time, I think, is sometimes very unrealistic. You know, whether a communique is reached or not I don’t think is the point. The outcome is the point. There was plenty of sound and fury when it came to NAFTA and NAFTA was realised. The agreements were landed with Mexico and with Canada and there’s plenty of noise at the moment about these issues now but what Australia has been doing is pursuing our interests and our interests are to continue to work with our partners in the region. Our comprehensive strategic partner in China, of course, but also our dear and long-held friend and ally, the United States. So we’ll continue to pursue our specific interests here and work together with our other partners – whether it was at the East Asia Summit or here at APEC and particularly last night, I was able to host our Pacific family and friends at the residence and we were able to talk about these issues together as well and our step-up initiative has been very warmly received by them and we announced last night, a number of other initiatives in Vanuatu and the Office of the Pacific and they were well-received.
So, we’ll keep pursuing our interests, these dialogues and these debates will continue, the Chair will issue a statement, I thought that took a lot of courage from the Chair to do that yesterday because if they’re not going to agree, if the major powers here are not going to agree, we shouldn’t be pretending that they do and we shouldn’t be trying to smooth that over for the sake of a communique and we should call it out. I can say very clearly that the other economies around the table here and nations that sat around the East Asia Summit, it has been made very clear to both the United States and China that we want to see these issues resolved. That’s what’s in our interest and we’ve reflected those positions to both China and the United States with the opportunities we’ve had here and as well in Singapore.
JOURNALIST: Is it fair to say that China and the United States are now further apart on trade and diplomacy in many respects than they had been in many decades and is it also fair to say that Australia is caught in the middle?
PRIME MINISTER: Australia will always be caught pursuing our interests.
JOURNALIST: But are we in the middle?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have partnerships with both and I’ve made that pretty clear. What I would say is I think we are making progress, just in the same way that progress was always being made to the landing of NAFTA when there was plenty of commentary which was suggesting otherwise and so I would just caution people not to get overly excited in their commentary about these sorts of things. The G20 will be coming up, we’ll see where that goes and I think there’s a clear frustration that has been expressed by many of the countries around the table and economies around the table at APEC that these matters need to be resolved and let’s not forget, there are real issues here. I mean, the WTO and the multilateral trading system was built largely by the Americans and it has been responsible for the biggest period of prosperity in the world’s history. I mean, we’ve had over a billion people come out of poverty as a result of what we’ve been able to achieve through these systems.
Now, something that was acknowledged and agreed at APEC was that systems like the WTO need a service simply because the economy is changing, and in particular the digital economy and the role that services are playing in our global economy. And the WTO has never really been well-geared to deal with those modern challenges of a modern trading environment. So of course the WTO needs a service. It’s not a perfect institution, there are no perfect institutions. And when you have large powers which have rapidly advanced economically over a relatively brief period of time in the space of history, then of course that is going to present issues that now have to be resolved between countries like the United States and China. So my point about all of this is, is these types of debates, these types of differences I don’t think are surprising. I really don’t think they’re surprising. What matters is getting the result.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] that the level of the two superpowers, is it now dangerous for our region and the rest of the world?
PRIME MINISTER: No I haven’t moved to that assessment. I think what can be dangerous is overstating these things.
JOURNALIST: PM, you’re just on an aircraft carrier off the coast of PNG. We had the Lombrum announcement. When will the Defence Force personnel on board vessels like this and Australians have a bit more clarity about what that trilateral agreement will mean for them?
PRIME MINISTER: Well as I said yesterday, we are participating in a PNG initiative. This is not a US-Australia initiative in Lombrum, this is a PNG initiative which the United States and Australia have been invited to participate in. So it will proceed at the progress and pace that is set by Papua New Guinea and there has already been quite a lot of work done on that leading into this announcement and more will be done and when we are in a position to make further announcements we will. But I just want to stress, we must absolutely respect the fact that this is a PNG initiative and we are working with them.
JOURNALIST: What does initiative mean though? What do you mean by initiative?
PRIME MINISTER: It’s their base and how the base is developed and what takes place there and how we cooperate there will be done at their invitation and on their terms.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the WTO. Do you think it’s appropriate to consider China a developing country within that organisation given its depths these days?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s certainly the position that China has been presenting quite passionately over the last couple of weeks, and look I think it’s a judgement that countries are going to have to make ultimately in some time. But you look across the span of China’s development and of course, when you go to places like when you go to Shanghai and Guangzhou and Beijing and so on, well they’re great cities of the world with as much sophistication and developed status as, you know, Singapore, Sydney, London and New York. But when you look at the broad expanse of China’s population, I mean China is much bigger than Beijing and Shanghai. And there are hundreds of millions of people still who live in China who live in quite difficult circumstances. So look, I don’t think the question is as easy as that. I think it’s a much more complex position.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on domestic issues the Channel 9 and Fairfax merger [inaudible]
PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s a matter for shareholders, and the law permits it and it’s been through the ACCC. So, you know, I always have a live and let live view of the Australian economy and this is what people have decided to do with the companies they own and they’ve come to those arrangements in a market-based system and good for them and it’s up to their shareholders to say yay or nay. So it’s not for me to suggest one way or the other. I have shares in neither operation so they’ll make their call and off they’ll go.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can we just get a word on your interaction with the troops on board today please?
PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you for the question and I’m happy to take another one. It was a great privilege, it was a great privilege to be able to talk to men and women right across many services here as well as our partners from PNG who you’ve been working with closely. And just the enthusiasm, the commitment and also to be sharing a few stories about my trips here and walking Kokoda and the Black Cat Track and some of the marvellous places here in PNG and to connect back to that tradition of service and values. I thought it was very special and I want to thank them very much for the honour of inviting me on board to share some time and I hope they liked the eggs.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, briefly on Nauru. You’ve said the Government that the children currently temporarily in Australia will be returned to Nauru at some point. When will that happen, is that a likely prospect?
PRIME MINISTER: Well there are no changes to the Government policy and we’ll continue to administer that in accordance with Government policy. But last one here?
JOURNALIST: I was going to ask, what have you learnt personally from the past seven or eight days during this diplomatic period? How have you found it face to face with other foreign leaders and what have you taken away from that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well the first thing is Australia always has to stand up for its interests. Australian interests must be defined in Australia and that Australia must pursue that very independently as its own sovereign nation. And that’s what the other countries are doing and I think what I’ve learnt and what I was of the view before I came here is that we all work well in this region because we respect each other. And we work with other countries and we respect their independence and the more we connect, and this is Indonesia's position, President Widodo’s vision of the Indo Pacific, it’s about a connectedness of independent, sovereign states and economies respecting each other that within our economies, within our countries, we make our own decisions, we make our own way. But we look for opportunities to work together and that’s what makes our region prosperous. It’s not about control, it’s about collaboration and it’s about partnership.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, your shirt last night. How did the barbeque go, did they like the kangaroo snags? First of all, who were you wearing and what designer was it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well who knew that there was a Sharks Pacifica shirt? But there was and you’ll get to see it pretty regularly when season opens next year down at Shark Park. But it was a lot of fun, it was a great gathering. It really was a Sunday night family barbeque, it really was. We got together, we talked about the events of the last few days. They were very, very appreciative to Prime Minister O’Neill and myself and I must say Prime Minister Ardern as well for ensuring that the Pacific Island voice was given such a focus here. And I think that was a real achievement of Prime Minister O’Neill and we heard, we heard very carefully and we listened very carefully again last night. So the step up program will enable us to continue on with that, Assistant Minister Ruston was here with me last night and she’s now following through with all of those leaders and we were very happy to provide assistance where we did for them to be here and we’ll continue with all of those initiatives. So step up is stepping up and it’s now time for me to step up and get back to Australia, I’m looking forward to returning. Thanks very much.