Doorstop Interview - Madrid, Spain

29 Jun 2022
Madrid, Spain
Prime Minister
NATO; bilateral meetings; Australia European Trade Agreement; AUKUS; AP4 Meeting; Russian invasion of Ukraine; China; relationship with France.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: This morning I attended and participated in the NATO Public Forum with the Belgian Prime Minister, with the Spanish Prime Minister, our hosts here at the NATO summit and also the Foreign Secretary from the United Kingdom. I then as well have had a number of successful bilateral meetings, including with the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council. At those discussions I've advanced and got a commitment from the European Commission to progress the Australia European Trade Agreement that has been stalled in recent times. I also had a breakfast meeting this morning with the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. I spoke about AUKUS and our support for AUKUS, as well the Australia UK Free Trade Agreement which we hope to come into effect later this year, but also the important relations that we have between our two nations. In addition, we had a very successful meeting of the AP4, the Asia-Pacific 4, who were invited to this summit with Prime Minister Kishida, President Yoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand. There we discussed the important focus of this NATO's summit on the Asia-Pacific region. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has solidified the support amongst democratic countries for the rules-based international order and a determination to continue to provide support to the government and the people of Ukraine who are suffering as a result of this breach of international law and this brutal invasion by Vladimir Putin's regime. Vladimir Putin has made a strategic mistake because what his actions have done is unite the democratic world and provide a real determination to make sure that the resilience being shown by the Ukrainian people is backed up by resilience and support from democratic countries, including NATO, but also countries throughout the world. This meeting has been very important, as shown by the fact that NATO now has two additional applicants to join. Sweden and Finland, that historically have taken neutral positions, have been motivated by the Russian brutality in Ukraine to seek to join NATO. This is a very positive development and shows just how wrong Vladimir Putin's judgement and ongoing actions have been in advancing what he saw as the cause of Russia. Indeed, what it has done is to strengthen NATO and strengthen the democratic forces throughout the world who are determined to support international order. I also had a meeting this morning with Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO, and congratulated him on the successful outcomes we have already seen from this summit and recommitted Australia to providing support for NATO and for participation in some NATO exercises that we will do later this year.

JOURNALIST:  So Mr Stoltenberg is asking nations to be in this, backing Ukraine for the long haul. Is Australia ready for the long haul?

PRIME MINISTER: Australia is certainly here for the long haul. We've already been Australia's largest non-NATO contributor with $285 million dollars of military assistance, but also $65 million dollars of humanitarian assistance. This is a struggle that must be won because it's not just about Ukraine and Russia. It is also about whether the rules-based international order will continue to apply. It’s about a breach of that order by one of the UN permanent Security Council members. It's about whether the UN Charter means something. And that's why this attack, unprovoked, by Russia, must be resisted. And the international community must show the same resolve and courage that the people of Ukraine are showing.

JOURNALIST: China accuses NATO, and through them the AP4, of constructing an imaginary foe in China. How should NATO view China?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we saw is prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we saw a without limits partnership between Russia and China. We've seen a failure of China to condemn any of the Russian aggression that has occurred against Ukraine. China must look at what is happening and look at the resolve that is there from throughout the world and should be condemning Russia's actions.

JOURNALIST: You said that you had an agreement from the EU commissioner to progress free trade talks. What does that actually mean?

PRIME MINISTER: It will mean that there will be further talks as soon as October, but perhaps even sooner. We know that in order to progress the agreement, we want to see between now and March real progress. That had stalled. That means holding multiple meetings, identifying what the issues are that need to be resolved, and then set about resolving them. It is quite clearly in Australia's interest to diversify our trade relationships. Europe is a market with some 450 million people. We have close people-to-people relations, but we haven't always maximised the economic opportunities. What has provided an opportunity to break through is the Australian Government's different position on climate change; that has meant that Europe are much more willing to re-enter negotiations and to progress this agreement.

JOURNALIST: Just a couple more questions, PM. Can you give us some idea about the extent of that opportunity that a deal with the EU presents to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: It presents an enormous opportunity, both in terms of people-to-people relations, in terms of education and other services. As well it provides an opportunity for European businesses to be located in Australia and to use it as a springboard into the fastest growing region of the world in human history. It provides an opportunity for us to potentially sell more products into the region. Australia has the best produce in the world, we should be very proud of it. It is a product that is well worth countries buying, but at the moment there are various barriers to our trade here in Europe and we need to make sure that with like-minded countries we engage in more trade to the benefit of both Europe and Australia. Essentially what it comes down to, it's about jobs and our economy and our growth.

JOURNALIST: Just finally, PM, just throwing forward to France. How confident are you of repairing the relationship there? Malcolm Turnbull says that you're leagues ahead because you're not Scott Morrison. I think that's a compliment.

PRIME MINISTER: I had a very constructive discussion with President Macron last night. He's a warm character and we have had phone conversations previously. I very much look forward to my visit to Paris. I thank President Macron for his welcome, and I thank him for the discussion that we had last night. Last night was a real opportunity for Australia to engage in a less than formal setting with a range of people from President Macron, President Biden, Olaf Scholz, a range of the leaders who were there. I took the opportunity to talk about Australia's national interest, to talk about our different plans. One of the things that is clear to me is that the whole world has noticed that Australia has a different position on climate change. What that does is give Australia a seat at the global table of opportunity and I intend to seize that opportunity.