Doorstop Interview - Suva, Fiji

14 Jul 2022
Prime Minister
Pacific Islands Forum; relationship with Pacific Island neighbours; rugby league; climate change; relationship with China; Conference of the Parties; Mark Buddle; Rugby League; Pacific Islands visa scheme; State of Origin

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much for joining us. It has been a very successful meeting of this Pacific Islands Forum. And it has been a great pleasure and honour to represent Australia here. We are family when it comes to the Pacific. And there was a good spirit of cooperation and dialogue, speaking about our common interests. Australia's new position on climate change was particularly well-received, and that is reflected in the communique. It was also reflected in the comments made in every single one of the person-to-person dialogue I had with prime ministers and other leaders from our Pacific Islanders neighbours.

I want to congratulate Frank Bainimarama, for his hosting, because it was a successful effort. It HAs not met in-person first three years because of COVID, and there was a lot to do. There were divisions, earlier this year, but the fact that 17 of the 18 nations have signed the Suva Declaration or the new structure of the Pacific Islands Forum, which has brought countries together, is very positive indeed.

This afternoon, the leader of Kiribati called Prime Minister Bainimarama and indicated to him that he wanted to have dialogue and the door is open for them to re-join the Pacific Islands Forum and once again, bring the family together. It was a good meeting, where we discussed issues of national security and security here in the Pacific, where we talked about climate change and talked about the range of challenges which are there, the economy going forward and how we will continue to have growth in these economies and the successful region. There is a real sense of regional cooperation here.

This afternoon as well, we adopted the plan to 2050. Once again, looking for the long-term, rather than just short-term interest. That is still a great credit of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders, who have done a lot of work in the lead-up to this conference and it marks a real success going forward. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: How did the leaders receive Australia's pledge to co-host COP with them? Did one nation express more interest than another? And did come with conditions attached?

PRIME MINISTER: They all expressed support for the bid. And you will set up reflected in the communique. Every nation expressed support and were very enthusiastic about the idea. What it will do is it will provide a focus on the very real threat of climate change has to our Pacific Islanders neighbours for countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati, it is a threat to their very existence. In the communique you will see that threat very directly mentioned. There were very supportive. And indeed in the communique it is reflected the support of all of, every single one of, the island nations support for our bid for a Conference of the Parties on climate change to be held with Australia and the Pacific. The conference itself, the lead-up to COP, consists of a big and large meeting of the world's leaders and also consists of a range of lead-up forums and activities in the years leading up to it. That is something in which I asked Pacific Islanders leaders to think about what contribution they could make and how they could be involved and engaged and involved. They were interested in doing that. There is time, of course. The decision will not be made until the COP27, which is being held later this year in Egypt. That will make a decision about where the future conference is in 2024. There are other bidders, my understanding is Germany, for example, is one bidder to host the conference. I think it really helps Australia's chances of hosting, the fact that we have such strong support from the Pacific.

JOURNALIST: Can Australians trust Mr Sogavare at his word that there won’t be a Chinese military base in the Solomons? (Inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: What we can do is engage, not just with the Solomons but with all of our neighbours. That is something that was missing, frankly in the lead up to the announcement earlier this year. I had a good one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister here yesterday afternoon. And then I sat next to him at dinner and we talked again today. What we need to do is make sure that regional security issues are looked after by our regional security partners. I note the Prime Minister has made very positive comments about the engagement that we had. I welcome that. I think you have to deal with people at face value. And he has made those comments. We, of course, have made very clear what Australia's position is on any proposal such as the one that was mooted in the media, prior to it being ruled out by Prime Minister Sogavare. I welcome his comments in ruling out there being a Chinese base in Australia.

JOURNALIST: We saw a tweet today from the Fiji Prime Minister saying that while they welcome our climate action, they are pushing us to do more. What is your response to those comments, and will Australia do that?

PRIME MINISTER: We will do exactly what we said we would do. And that was exactly what was welcomed unanimously in the communique that was adopted. We had a bit of a debate about targets. The truth is we went to the election campaign with an ambitious but achievable target of 43 per cent by 2030. With a fully-costed plan that included a shift to renewables to 82 per cent of the national energy market by 2030. That's a real plan. And if you ask someone in abstract if you want a high number in absence of how you get there, then of course people who care about climate change would want action to be as soon as possible. What you have to do is to have a real plan with a real timetable. That is what we have. And that is why it has received the unanimous support of our Pacific neighbours today in the communique. That is why we received such strong support as well at the NATO Summit.

JOURNALIST: Then why did he send that tweet?

PRIME MINISTER: The Prime Minister of Fiji, who chaired this conference, supported very strongly the actions that Australia is taking, and that is reflected in the communique.

JOURNALIST: Australia's emissions cuts is not in line with 1.5 degrees warming and if any communique says that is the goal, then Australia falls short.

PRIME MINISTER: What you are missing, if you follow the climate change debate, with respect, and I thought you did. It is not a national debate of where it gets to 1.5. How you determine things is global action. Australia starts from a point whereby unlike some other countries that don't have the sort of industry and resource base that we have. We have an economy that is very similar to Canada. The shift in our economy is far more difficult than if we didn't have the sort of economic structure that we start from. What is important is the trajectory and whether you are playing a role to get net zero by 2050. Whether you have a plan to reduce emissions that is consistent with getting net zero by 2050. Every other country understands that. That is why our plan has been welcomed by the Biden administration, by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, by people across the political spectrum around the world. Everyone expect for the people who have consistently opposed climate action in Australia and formed a Coalition and some others who just come up with figures without any plan to deliver them. That is why our plan has been supported by the Business Council and by the Australian Industry Group, by the Australian Conservation Foundation and by the National Farmers’ Federation and these groups. The idea that you don't equate action to being part of global action is just not right. And our plan has been welcomed very strongly.

JOURNALIST: For years, Pacific leaders have been strong in their assertion that a future in which global warming is kept to under 1.5 degrees is incompatible with that being any new coal or gas fossil fuel projects. Have any Pacific leaders asked you about Australia's commitment to no new coal or gas? And what answer would you give them as to why you are not ruling out new coal and gas projects?

PRIME MINISTER: The answer to the question is no. You can't then ask me a hypothetical. You've asked me the question.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: I was not asked about that. That is part of what is going on here. The Pacific leaders and people who actually follow the climate change debate in a serious way and who are impacted by it, not one person today raised those questions in the meeting, nor was it raised in any of the meetings that I held.

JOURNALIST: You said that Frank Bainimarama reach the President on the phone, is that correct?

PRIME MINISTER: That was this afternoon. And they had that and the Prime Minister conveyed to the other leaders that it was a very constructive dialogue, that he convened conveyed on our behalf. The door is open to Kiribati re-joining the PIF. And they said that they were committed also to the door being opened and a dialogue.

JOURNALIST: Do you now feel a sense of relief when it comes to China in the Solomon Islands?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that we have set about an objective to, I guess, reconfirm Australia's position in this region. We have been, since the Second World War, a security partner of choice. We are now very much re-engaged with the Pacific. I note that previously this meeting would have still been going for many hours. I'm told that one of the reasons for that is the changed position of Australia. For example on the communique, we dealt with that pretty expeditiously today. It was all over not long after three o'clock today. That represents a success. What that represents is me doing what I set out to do on behalf of Australia coming here in listening to people's concerns also engaging with discussions and we have been growing here not just in the couple of days but in the lead-up as well.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why is Australia spending two billion dollars of taxpayer money to buy Pacific TelCo? Is it to stop China getting its hand on it?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a commercial arrangement by Telstra. It is in their interest as it is in Australia's interest as well to successful Australian companies. They have had discussions with Andy Penn who informed me yesterday about these arrangements, about the timing of the arrangements and I was aware obviously of it being commercially confident, some of those arrangements, because of government involvement, I was involved. It is very much in Telstra's interest. This enables it to expand its operations. And that is a good thing.

JOURNALIST: What do you know about the situation happening in Turkey involving the Comanchero bikie boss, Mark Buddle? Are there any Australian representatives trying to get him to come home?

PRIME MINISTER: I've been in a meeting to 10 hours. So, I came to you as soon as possible. I haven't had any briefings.

JOURNALIST: No briefings? Not aware? Are we trying to extradite?

PRIME MINISTER: I've been in a meeting for 10 hours and I got here as soon as I can to brief you about the PIF. I'm happy to come back to you tomorrow on that.

JOURNALIST: In terms of rugby league and last night. We know the importance of soft power and soft diplomacy for this region, many people are passionate about rugby league. We saw this last night with State of Origin. Is it time we took State of Origin to the Pacific Islands?

PRIME MINISTER: That would be a very welcome initiative. And I've also had discussion with the NRL, very directly and I have spoken to Peter V'Landys and Andrew Abdo about the Pacific and the engagement with rugby league. It is a passionate sport here. It's the number one sport here. Rugby league, rugby union of course is very big in Fiji here as well. But in places like Papua New Guinea, the Prime Minister who was sitting next to me last night watching the Origin said it's the one time in PNG that everything stops. Everything stops through the entire country. And they are very passionate. And it would be a great thing for such an event to occur. It would also be a good thing if we gave consideration about how you get a Pacifica team, a team with connections to PNG, Tonga, Samoa. And if you had a look last night, there was some representation from Pacific Island countries there, running around in State of Origin. That is a good thing. So, I do think, that in terms of the engagement and people-to-people relations, these things are important. The event last night hosted by the Australian Government was attended by I think eight heads of countries. If you think about the events in which you get prime ministers and presidents of eight countries to come to an event with Australia, that's a good thing. It's a very good thing and it was a very positive thing last night. It was a great game last night. Congratulations to Queensland on a deserved win, even though I'm a loyal NSW person, clearly the best team won last night. The courage they showed playing with just 15 men, for that long period of time for 77 minutes was extraordinary.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: The President is in here but the Minister for Nauru was telling me AFL as the number one sport in Nauru.

JOURNALIST: The declaration of a climate emergency, is that the same kind of words you would use to describe what the world is facing with climate change? Is Australian policy consistent with such a declaration?

PRIME MINISTER: People have used that term before many times. What I say is that the world’s climate emergency is Australia's opportunity, a jobs opportunity for Australia. We could be a renewable energy superpower for the world of just seize that opportunity.

JOURNALIST: Mike Baird has called on you to extend the Pacific Island visa scheme to help with this serious Labor shortage at the aged care sector. What is your view on that?

PRIME MINISTER: Have a look at what we promised in the election campaign. We promised a Pacific island visa scheme to be extended. Not just that, we promised more permanent migration from the Pacific for a specific visa to be applicable, to come to make people from the Pacific permanent Australian Citizens. It's one of the things I've been working on, whether it be here or with New Zealanders who are in Australia, we need to give people more security. I want people who are in Australia, there will always be a role for temporary migration, but I am someone who believes people should have a stake in the country they live. And there is huge opportunities there, I think. And it is something that is consistent with the policy. And we will look at that. Thanks a lot.