PRIME MINISTER: Welcome to Hong Kong. Home to the second largest concentration of Australians overseas. Over 100,000 Australians live in Hong Kong, second only to London, and we will be meeting many of them later today.
But this visit is a very good bridge between the trade focus of the APEC meetings in Da Nang, and the security focus of the East Asia Summit in Manila.
Free trade and security, of course, are two of the most important foundations of our prosperity, both in the past and in the future.
Today, I'll be meeting with the financial regulators here in Hong Kong to talk about the importance of and the way in which they are ensuring that North Korea is not able to use this, one of the largest ports and financial centres in the world as a means to continue to raise money through their many illegal activities.
The North Korean regime is a criminal regime. You have got to see it really as a criminal operation under the, you know, operating as a government, as a state. And whether it is arms, whether it is cyber-crime, whether it is drugs, they are constantly raising money or seeking to raise money to finance their nuclear program. And it's vitally important that all of the financial sanctions, economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council are enforced.
They are very cunning operators. They're very sophisticated, like other, you know, criminal operations around the world. So it's vitally important that regulators are cracking down on them and we will be talking about that.
We work closely together with the Hong Kong authorities, there's always been quite a large Australian presence among their senior ranks. So it is going to be a very important meeting.
At the same time, we will be talking about trade. Talking about upgrading the free trade agreement we have with Hong Kong. That is a high priority of Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, who of course was there at APEC and I look forward to discussing that further with her today.
Going forward to Manila, the two key national security items on the agenda there are going to be North Korea - that is the single biggest threat to stability in our region right at the moment. And we need to continue to tighten the economic and financial sanctions on North Korea. It is vital that particularly China and the United States work closely together on that.
As I was talking with President Xi and President Trump in Da Nang yesterday, as we were discussing the importance of real solidarity on this, I said to them 'your relationship, your ability to work together is one of the single most important priorities for the world today'.
That relationship between President Xi and President Trump is of vital importance.
If they can see eye to eye and cooperate on North Korea, for example, that problem, that regime will be brought back to its senses.
That will be a big focus at Manila and then of course, it's fitting that it's being held in Manila, the battle against terrorism.
Again, talking to President Widodo about the cooperation and support he's providing the Philippines in the battle against ISIL and you know, extremism in the southern Philippines. Of course, Widodo, has, you know, the great credibility of being the democratically-elected leader of the world's largest Muslim majority country. So he speaks with great authority when he says Islam is compatible with democracy and moderation. He's a powerful voice for moderation in the region. So we’ll discuss that about how we're cooperating with the Philippines.
And of course as you know I'll be meeting with President Duterte again. I had a very good discussion with him in Da Nang as well, but we'll be having a formal meeting in Manila, and you know we are providing a lot of assistance to the Philippine armed forces in their efforts to eliminate the ISIL threat in the southern Philippines.
Having been up close with both President Xi and President Trump, what is your impression of their working relationship? And more broadly, of Mr Trump's foreign policy articulation this last week?
Well, President Trump has given a number of major speeches, and he has set all that out.
I think the personal chemistry between him and President Xi is very good, actually. I do think they see eye to eye. There will obviously be issues on which they don't agree.
But in terms of North Korea, the reaffirmation of the commitment to the UN Security Council resolutions, the commitment to a denuclearised Korean peninsula is vitally important.
Just being with them, together, you could see they're two leaders, they’re two big men in every respect, but I believe they have got a personal chemistry and an understanding that will, you know, that will never eliminate, you know, differences in national interest, and agendas, but I believe that, I'm confident they can work together.
Prime Minister, what is Australia’s role? What is Australia's national interest? We are yet to see the Foreign Policy White Paper so what is it that Australia tries to do as the region changes so much?
Our absolute vested interest, Chris, is the maintenance of a stable rules-based order in the region, where the smallest country cannot be pushed around by the biggest country. It is that. That is vitally important. We need to maintain that.
The rules-based order in this region has delivered peace and stability for all of those decades, you know, since the end of the Vietnam War and that has been a period in which you've seen the greatest rise in prosperity ever in the history of humanity. It's been literally over a billion people have been lifted out of poverty and we're surrounded by it here.
And so there's a lot at stake and everyone's got a lot to lose if it is shaken or broken, whether it is by the threat from North Korea or terrorism.
What more will you be urging President Xi to do that China hasn’t already done? Will it be further economic sanctions?
As you know, I've privately and publicly said the same thing on this and I'll be meeting with Premier Li Keqiang in Manila, but we've always been consistent that China does not control North Korea in the way that, say, the Soviet Union controlled East Germany. That’s very important to understand.
The Chinese are as frustrated with North Korea's conduct as everybody else is.
But as it happens, they have the greatest economic leverage. That's just a fact. And so they have the greatest ability to bring North Korea back to its senses.
Now, clearly, you know, they want to do so in a way that doesn't see the regime collapse in some kind of, some sort of disorderly manner and with all of the consequences that would follow. Everybody wants to see the North Korean regime come to its senses and China has got the greatest leverage.
But I do want to stress - the Chinese have been frustrated with North Korea's conduct, actually for a long time.
Prime Minister, you spoke about the rules-based order. How important is it to maintain pressure on China to allow Hong Kong to maintain its own autonomy in the region?
We are absolutely committed to ‘One country, Two systems’, with Hong Kong having the high degree of autonomy that it enjoys, an independent judiciary and the rule of law.
Chris Uhlmann just pointed to the extraordinary background here. This city, all of the prosperity that it has brought to its own citizens and the many residents that it has from other countries, including Australia, none of this would have been possible without the maintenance of that rule of law and that degree of autonomy that is part of the ‘One country, Two systems’, that is what has been established here and what we obviously always seek to support the maintenance of.
Back home, Christopher Pyne this morning has said what you said when you arrived the other night that you will refer the Labor members if they don't refer themselves. You're a number down at the moment. Are you going to discuss with the crossbenchers getting their support for the referrals if Bill Shorten doesn't?
I think that the pressure is really on Bill Shorten now. Is he really going to say that it's the Labor Party that decides who sits in the Parliament and not the High Court?
I mean, you've got to remember, Labor criticised us for taking the submissions we did to the High Court. And we went to the High Court and we argued that foreign citizenship by descent shouldn't apply to people who had not accepted, acknowledged or acquiesced in it.
And the High Court rejected that. They went for a very, very strict literalism.
Labor welcomed that. But now, of course, the worm has turned and now we see one Labor MP after another who could not pass that literal test.
Now, if Labor says they've got counter arguments, terrific. Let them make them in the court.
There is no question that Labor has a number of members who not only were, but knew they were, they knew they were foreign citizens at the time they nominated for Parliament. That makes them ineligible.
Now, if they believe they can persuade the court to take a somewhat different tack, good luck to them. But the place to determine that is in the court.
Bill Shorten has got to stop running a protection racket for his own dual citizens.
Prime Minister, can I just ask - have you got any other MP’s under a constitutional cloud that you think need to be referred? And particularly, there's been some doubts raised about Nola Marino back home - have you spoken to her?
Well, I speak to Nola Marino a lot – she is the Chief Whip as you know.
The position of the Italians, or people of Italian descent, I should say, was dealt with by the High Court in the Canavan case. So their position is very clear.
It is slightly different given it is by marriage, does this also need to be tested in the High Court?
The advice I have is that it's been dealt with by the High Court in the Canavan case in the advice that was considered there.
But again, look, I just want to make this point - because of the initiative I've taken, everybody's family history will be disclosed. Those people who were foreign citizens at a previous point, like many Labor MPs in particular, are going to have to - and a number of Coalition MPs - will have to explain exactly when and how they ceased to be a foreign citizen. We'll get all the cards on the table and the Parliament should consider them all objectively. That is the critical thing that we've got to do.
Look, the law, the High Court’s interpretation is not what I sought. I sought a different approach. But the High Court makes the rules. Now we have to do, what we have to do now is to comply with them.
Bill Shorten is saying that he won't refer these members to the High Court. So would you use your numbers and try, to Phil's question, try to negotiate with the crossbench to send them there?
Well, just remember there's a by-election in New England on December the 2nd. While we don't take it for granted we look forward to Barnaby returning after the 2nd of December.
There will be a by-election I hope as soon as possible in Bennelong and we certainly don't take the outcome of that for granted either, but we'll certainly be working very hard to ensure John Alexander is returned again.
I think that the fact is that if Labor has MPs where there is clearly a very serious question, there are clearly substantial grounds for saying they are ineligible then they should be referred to the High Court.
I thought Shorten’s request of me to in effect participate in a protection racket for his own MPs who had been dual citizens at the time they nominated was unworthy.
I mean look at what we did with Barnaby Joyce. We had advice from the Solicitor-General, no less, that said that the court would hold that he was eligible to sit in the Parliament. Now obviously, the law wasn't settled in that area. That was the Solicitor-General's advice.
As it turned out, the court took a different course and Barnaby was held to be ineligible. There is a by-election underway.
But we put forward our MPs and we did not hold back in referring them.
Now, the idea that Bill Shorten wants to protect MPs that were and knew they were foreign citizens at the time they nominated.
I mean, there is one law - you know what the rule of law means? The rule of law means that it applies to everybody. And that means it applies to government members, crossbenchers and the Labor Party.
Bill Shorten seems to think the Constitution does not apply to the Labor Party.
And I just say to Bill Shorten, it is the High Court of Australia and nobody else that determines whether MPs and senators can sit in the Parliament and he should stop running a protection racket for his MPs.
They can make their argument in the High Court. It will be an interesting argument. And we'll see what the High Court holds.
But where there are serious grounds for believing an MP is ineligible, then the MP should be referred, regardless of what part of the chamber they sit in.
Just one more.
In terms of your meeting with Premier Li-
Will you be raising China's interference in Australian affairs? And also the increasing control over South-East Asian countries in your meeting? And then will those by-elections as well be held before Christmas?
Well, the answer is to the second point, obviously the New England by-election is underway. It will be held on the 2nd of December.
As to the Bennelong by-election, that's a matter for the Speaker. But certainly, our desire is that, our wish is always that a by-election be held as soon as possible because you don't want, for the simple reason, you don't want the people of Bennelong to be without an MP for any longer than absolutely necessary. So I hope that it will be held as soon as possible.
In terms of my discussions with Premier Li, we'll be covering all of the issues that relate to our relationship.
I've got a very good relationship with Premier Li as I do with President Xi. We've had many meetings now. In fact, he and his wife were a guest at our home for dinner in Sydney not so long ago and we have a very frank and candid discussion on all of those issues.
And just reinforcing, and going back to where we began, our commitment to maintaining the stability and prosperity of the region and the maintenance of the rules-based order - we all have a massive vested interest in that.
Okay, thanks very much.