Doorstop interview, Portsmouth, UK

05 Jun 2019
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: It’s a great honour and a privilege to attend today’s commemoration here as a guest of the British Prime Minister and of course to join Her Majesty and other world leaders who are here today.

It was very moving and I think a very personal ceremony in telling the personal stories, and to be able to afterwards go and speak to veterans, who were there on the day; 19-year-olds, 21-year-olds, on ships and planes and landing craft. Those memories of that day are still very vivid in their minds.

It’s a great privilege to speak to any veteran, but on this particular day of historical significance, and for Australia to be represented here as forming part of that allied force that set out from here and secured peace and generations of prosperity, building international institutions that secured that peace and prosperity over so many years. It's important that we reflect on that, understanding the causes of the forces that brought the world to that point at that time to make sure that in today's world, as we were just discussing at a meeting with leaders who were here today, that we ensure those lessons are never lost. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the ABC raid [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Well first of all, let me say that my government is absolutely committed to freedom of the press. Secondly these are matters that were being pursued by the AFP operationally at complete arm's length from the government, not in the knowledge of the government, not at the instigation of government ministers. 

These were matters that have been referred to the federal police some time ago, last year, proceeding even my time as coming to be Prime Minister. They were referred by department heads, not by Ministers. And then it is a matter for the federal police to make judgments about how they proceed. 

Matters are referred to police on a regular basis and it's only the federal police that ultimately then makes decisions about how they proceed with those investigations and it would be entirely inappropriate for the government of the day to be interfering in those.

And that has led to the raids that have taken place on two very separate issues, unrelated. And of course for raids to take place there needs to be warrants. And they were obtained in the normal process, there are checks and balances around that. So look I can understand why these issues can cause great anxiety, particularly for members of the press, but more broadly. 

And it’s important I have been in discussion with editors today, and others, and they have expressed their concerns to me on these issues. And I think it’s important we just pause and as these issues are worked through in the days ahead that if there are any issues that we have to address then I am open to discussing those. But at the moment what we are dealing with is two separate investigations following a normal process and any suggestion that these were done with the knowledge of or with the instigation of government ministers is completely untrue.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that we should reconsider the laws that have led to this scenario?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it would be premature to be drawing those conclusions at this point.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you seem very relaxed about the fact that we seem to be taking tips on media freedom from China?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I don't understand the point you are making, maybe you should be a bit clearer.

JOURNALIST: Well do you believe that this is an Australia you are happy to be Prime Minister of, where the press is treated like this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well as I said, I believe firmly in the freedom of the press, I believe firmly in our laws and our laws being upheld and no one is above the law. No one is above the law. And it’s important that law enforcement authorities conduct themselves in accordance with the rules that govern their behaviour. As the Prime Minister that is something I will always seek to ensure is done. If there are issues regarding particular laws they will be raised in the normal way that they should be in a democracy, and they are matters I am always open to discuss as any Prime Minister would be.

But I think it’s important to understand what is occurring here and this is a process of investigations being pursued by an independent law enforcement agency and they are acting in accordance with the laws that govern their behaviour. And that is done at arm’s length from the Government. This is not a matter that has been directed or in any way involves government ministers and it would be inappropriate if it did.

JOURNALIST: Were you made aware of the raid?

PRIME MINISTER: After they had taken place.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how do you reconcile with the fact that you want freedom of the press but the current laws don't allow that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think that is a very strong statement to be made on the back of two raids and which the consequences of and what is learned from those and the application for the laws is still undetermined. 

JOURNALIST: Would you agree that two raids in two days is not a great look for press freedom? 

PRIME MINISTER: I can only make the observation that the raids that took place occurred in accordance with Australia’s laws and in accordance with the Australian Federal Police that acts independently of government ministers doing their job. So whether it’s the police investigating potential acts in other areas of criminality or in this area, that’s the job of our police forces. What we are seeing here is the working out of an investigatory process and the gathering of evidence on a particular matter that they are pursuing. The nature of their investigation and the nature of their inquiries, at an operational level, and I am not obviously privy to that and nor should I be.

JOURNALIST: Is it at all uncomfortable for you on a day celebrating freedom of democracy to have these stunning images in Australian newsrooms and beamed across the world? It does seem like quite an unusual juxtaposition.

PRIME MINISTER: I can only refer you to what I’ve just said, and Australia is a place where the rule of law stands and no one is above it, and the way that our laws are enforced and upheld is by the actions of independent law enforcement agencies acting in accordance with the statutes that govern them. That’s what happens in democracies and that’s what’s happening in Australia. 

JOURNALIST: Do you believe we need to change those laws?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’ve already commented on that, I’m open to having discussions about concerns that have been raised and we would consider that in relation to any issues that are raised with us.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that journalists have the right to protect their sources and that whistle-blowers have a right to protection?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe in freedom of the press. 

JOURNALIST: Mr Morrison, can I ask you about your trip here? You met with Emmanuel Macron. You met with Theresa May. What was top of the agenda for those meetings?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there were a number of issues that we have discussed and the most significant one has been my recent visit in the Pacific and the Step Up program because we work together on so many projects in the Pacific. Both France and the United Kingdom are very active with their aid programs and their development programs, and infrastructure programs. And it’s important that we work closely together to align those activities, and work together as we always have. So there was a lot of interest in how Australia is pursuing that and Australia has been active in the Pacific for a very, very long time and we will continue to be and we want to work closely with our partners in how we go about that.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to Mr Macron about the submarine issue, the cost issues and the time issues?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we discussed the program today and it’s on track.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned yesterday the tariff war between China and the US, putting the livelihoods of millions at risk. Did you raise this issue with President Trump at all?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we didn’t have a bilateral meeting today, we exchanged a few remarks – friendly remarks – as you do at these types of events and we have a very strong relationship with the United States, but it is a general topic of discussion, that this issue as I said yesterday, is having an impact on the global economy. It’s in the interest of all states, all nations, that this matter is able to be resolved in a positive way and it will enable our trading system to continue and make very – what I think are constructive and positive comments about how we need to ensure that the multilateral institutions that govern world trade are modernised – and the United States has some very legitimate concerns about how those rules are operating, and particularly when it comes to protection of intellectual property and they raise a lot of genuine issues. But equally we need to work within the rules-based system because that is what has been very important for Australia and other trading nations like Australia. And we want to see that continue. And there’s a lot of support for that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when there are sensitive raids, such as on the ABC, it’s not unknown that the relevant Minister would be advised ahead of time. Did that happen?

PRIME MINISTER: I refer you to Mr Dutton’s statement. And I refer to the AFP’s statement which makes it very clear that Mr Dutton was not advised in that timetable that you’ve suggested and nor was I.

JOURNALIST: Do you think he should have been?


JOURNALIST: What about these Department Heads?

PRIME MINISTER: You’re putting the position to me. So I’m wondering why you think he would be?

JOURNALIST: Well, there’s a discretion in these cases. And there are important principles at stake here. You yourself have said that you believe in the freedom of the press.

PRIME MINISTER: Are you suggesting the government should be interfering with police investigations?

JOURNALIST: I am suggesting that perhaps this whole incident could have been managed better.

PRIME MINISTER: What you’re suggesting is that ministers should be involved in operational issues in police investigations. I don’t think that’s a very good idea. 

JOURNALIST: Can you see how raids would have been intimidating to journalists or their sources?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s what I said earlier. I can understand, particularly for the journalists involved, this would have been very upsetting and a very anxious and concerning event – of course it would be.

JOURNALIST: What about their sources? Journalists have thick skins. Do you think this is about intimidating them from coming forward?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a suggestion you’re making. All I know is that the AFP are pursuing an investigation independently under their authorities created by statute and it’s their job to do that consistent with that statute. And they are conducting investigations each and every day, all the time, and they have their standards and rules for conducting those investigations, and I’d expect them to uphold those. And so where there are any concerns about how anything has been conducted or how they’ve handled these matters, and if there are any complaints to be made, then those complaints should be raised with us and we could look at those.

JOURNALIST: Do you support whistle-blowers coming forward if there is someone who is in a position that feels they need to be compelled to get something out?

PRIME MINISTER: Australia’s a free country and that freedom was hard won, and not least by the events we were here to commemorate today. But part of that freedom ensures that we all operate according to the rule of law. And that rule of law and its enforcement and its management are all part of those processes and it’s our job to ensure that they’re upheld. I do appreciate why there is great anxiety, the Opposition has sought briefings on these matters and they’ve been provided immediately.

The Opposition has sought briefings on these matters and they’ve been provided immediately and those issues have been addressed with the Opposition.

And so we will continue to manage this issue sensitively.

But at the end of the day it’s important that I think Australians understand that this is not a matter that has been pursued by the government’s ministers.

This is a matter that has been pursued at arm’s length by an independent law enforcement agency.

It was not referred by government ministers or at their direction. It was referred by departmental secretaries.

And that is the process that departmental secretaries follow where they believe that there have been potential breaches. And that’s why the AFP is the agency that then investigates those and they are the ones who decide how they carry matters forward.

And for government ministers to be placed in the middle of that, I think would be very troubling, and that is what has not occurred here.

JOURNALIST: You saw Mrs May, can you explain what you spoke to her about?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes I did. Well I congratulated her on first of all bringing all of this incredible event together today, and the British Government for doing that. And I wished her all the best in her future, and she is always welcome in Australia from Australians. And I’ve enjoyed my working relationship with her as did my predecessor.

So I wish the UK Conservative party all the best as they go through their process.

And there are some very significant issues here to be resolved, and I have no doubt that they’ll get about that as quickly as they can. It’s another area of instability, obviously for the global economy, but particularly in this part of the world needs some resolution.

Now the fewer uncertainties there are in the global economy, whether they’re trade tensions between great powers or unresolved issues in relation to Brexit – economies always work better where there’s greater certainty. I would simply just like to see, and I’m sure many other countries who are here today, to see that certainty improved. Because that is what will lead to a stronger economy, and that is what will lead to better outcomes for our citizens.