Doorstop Interview - Tokyo, Japan

18 Nov 2020
Tokyo, Japan
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Well, I've just enjoyed a very pleasant evening with Prime Minister Suga and his senior colleagues as we rounded off what has been a very productive day meeting with Japanese industry leaders, meeting with members of the Diet, friends effectively, of Australia in the Japanese Diet which is meeting presently. And this afternoon's bilateral discussion, our one on one, and of course, our rather informal dinner this evening, reinforced once again why it was so important to come.

And that was, with the transition of leadership from Prime Minister Abe who I also had the opportunity to have a private lunch with today, along to Prime Minister Suga. And for us to be the first contact, the first to be able to sit down in an event like we have had today has ensured a continuity in what is one of the most important relationships Australia has in the Indo-Pacific. I've said it many times today, and that is that Australia and Japan have a very unique perspective on the Indo-Pacific.

As liberal democracies, market based, with the similar issues of having a great alliance, each of us, with the United States and a significant relationship with China, particularly on trade, and being able to manage both of those opportunities, as well as engaging with the rest of the region as we did on the weekend at ASEAN.

This is a pivotal relationship for Australia at a time that could not be more important for both of our countries.

Journalist: Prime Minister, under the Reciprocal Access Agreement, the in principle agreement signed today, will Australian troops be subject to the death penalty in Japan?

Prime Minister: Well, what we've been able to achieve is that Australia will meet all of its obligations under its international agreements in relation to that matter.

Journalist: It’s a yes or no question, what’s the answer, sorry, I'm just not clear. That's always been the hurdle in this over the death penalty?

Prime Minister: No we’ve been able to resolve it by ensuring that Australia could satisfy all of our international obligations in relation to that matter. And that has been a key factor for us as we work through this issue. And we're pleased that that was able to be worked through with the Japanese government. And I thank both Prime Minister Suga and his predecessor, Prime Minister Abe, for getting to that point.

Journalist: So there has been progress over the issue of the death penalty?

Prime Minister: the progress of ensuring that Australia is able to meet its commitments under its international obligations. Yes.

Journalist: Can you just explain what that is?

Prime Minister: That's exactly what I just explained to you.

Journalist: I'm not, I'm not clear how the document sets that out?

Prime Minister: It is satisfied in the series of documents which are now finalised as we move to the conclusion of the agreement, which we hope to be able to put in place next year.

Journalist: So Australians won't face the death penalty?

Prime Minister: Australia will comply with all of their obligations in relation to the death penalty.

Journalist: Does China have anything to fear about the increasing cooperation between Australia and Japan, especially in light of the signing of the RAA in principle agreement. And do you think there is a risk of further trade or implications if this particular agreement is taken badly by China?

Prime Minister: Well, I couldn't see the justification for that, at all. Both Japan and Australia agree and always have, that the economic success of China is a good thing for Australia and Japan. Now not all countries have that view, and some countries are in strategic competition with China. Australia is not one of those, and nor is Japan. And what this I think says is that Australia and Japan, as liberal, market based democracies, have a lot in common and we have strategic interests in common. And so this relationship, which is effectively a status of forces agreement that we will seek to conclude next year. The only other such agreement is with the United States, which occurred back in 1960. So this is a significant evolution of this relationship. But there's no reason for that to cause any concern elsewhere in the region. If anything, I think it adds to the stability of the region, which is a good thing.

Journalist: Did you discuss China's assertiveness in the region, Japan considers China to be a significant challenge in its defence white paper, particularly around the Senkaku islands, did that come up?

Prime Minister: Look, we have many, many shared interests in how we see the region. But one thing we absolutely agree on is that the sort of region we want is one of stability and prosperity for China, for Australia, and for Japan. And the way we achieve that is ensuring that all of us can be prosperous within the region, in the way we deal with each other. And I think what we've agreed here today and what we’ll continue to work on in the future, I think only adds to that. And so we look at this quite positively. How others look at it is really is really for them. But we do share that outlook that the Indo- Pacific region benefits from a China that is engaged economically in the region and one that is respecting of, as Australia should, and do, the sovereignty of all nations within the Indo-Pacific. It's also one that benefits from the stability of the presence of the United States and the partnership that Japan and ourselves have also with India and the United States together.

Journalist: Would you like to go to Beijing, as you have now been to Tokyo, to explain Australia’s security position and provide that sort of traditional balance of Japan and China visits as previously undertaken by

Prime Minister: Well there’s no obstacle for that happening with Australia. None whatsoever. Australia is always available for open dialogue with China. I made that very point of view at the East Asia Summit on the weekend and in the discussions about RCEP on the weekend. The very clear point that is there are ever any issue there, that cover any of our trading relationships whether it's between Australia and Japan, or Australia and China, or Australia and South Korea or anywhere else within the region, then there's a responsibility on leaders and ministers to be open to engage in those discussions. And if there are issues that others wish to discuss with us, then we're always very open to discuss them as leaders. And I certainly, in my own case and of course, my ministers are very open to have those discussions. And of course, we welcome them.

Journalist: But no current plans in the works to go to Beijing?

Prime Minister: Well, there's no opportunity for that. And that is that is a matter for China.

Journalist: Will the signing of this in principle agreements on the Reciprocal Access Agreement, will this facilitate more exercises between Australia and Japan in the South China Sea? Do you expect to see more of them?

Prime Minister: We expect to increase our regional cooperation in many forms. And the MALABAR exercise that recently have been conducted together with the United States and together with India, and we would expect to further expand our cooperation in those areas. That's the whole point of streamlining the arrangements with the status of forces agreement of this nature.

Journalist:  Japan's carbon neutral commitment by 2050. You mentioned you talked about hydrogen today. You had a meeting today. That is one possibility for Australia going forward. But do you see any threat to Australia's coal exports from Japan's 2050 carbon neutral commitments?

Prime Minister: Not based on the discussions I had today, no. Particularly with the industry leaders that I spoke with today. I mean, Japan's energy mix is weighed heavily towards obviously, LNG and and coal, currently, it's almost three quarters of their energy mix. And that has actually increased since the reduction of the component that has been previously done in nuclear and as nuclear element has fallen, i think it’s about 10 per cent now used to be about 20. And that's been taken up by those other sectors. And there’s a good reason for that. All countries, wherever they are, need reliable baseload power. And Australia has been playing a key role for that in Japan for a very long time, and I’d I expect that to continue for some time. So I don't think there's any immediate, imposition there. And that's certainly what was conveyed to me today. But that said, we share an ambition, although we are not in a position to give a specific timetable around it, a net zero emissions position. Our view is, and all countries deal with this differently, but our view is that some countries, for example, don’t include methane emissions in their net zero commitment, like New Zealand and others will make a complete commitment, like Prime Minister Suga has. In Australia's case, we would like to get zero emission as soon as possible. But our proposal is that we will work out the plan of how that can be achieved, which leads to when it can be achieved. Now we had a very good discussion tonight about our lower emissions technology, technology roadmap and to share and work with Japan as we already are with hydrogen about how they can achieve that goal. And so, a wonderful partnership we've had in energy to date will mature into another relationship, into the future, and there'll be a continuity in that. But in the medium term, then I suspect Australia will continue to be a very reliable partner, supply partner when it comes to Japan meeting its energy needs.

Journalist: Earlier this week it was announced the Moderna Vaccine has 95 percent efficacy. Obviously Australia's entered into a number of vaccine agreements but doesn't have access to this particular vaccine. Are we able to procure some doses of the Moderna drug?

Prime Minister: Well it’s part of the COVAX arrangement. So, we are part of the COVAX arrangement. So it’s not quite correct to say at all that the Moderna vaccine is not included in Australia's existing arrangements, just as it is included in Japan's arrangements who have also made a significant commitment to the COVAX arrangement. But we have an expert panel that is advising us on the vaccines that we've committed to specifically in terms of making available doses, and whether that's Pfizer or Novavax, and the Pfizer vaccines is very similar to the Moderna one in terms of how that's put together and and we are very well advanced as you know in the agreement that we have with Pfizer. But on the other vaccines, particularly AstraZeneca, I mean production has already commenced, I was at the production plant two days ago.

Journalist: As part of the COVAX facility, do you know how many doses Australians have access to in terms of the Moderna vaccine?

Prime Minister: Sorry, could you say that again?

Journalist: Do you know how many doses Australia has available?

Prime Minister: I'll leave that to the health minister to go into, [inaudible] but it is part of the COVAX arrangement.

Journalist: Prime Minister, did you discuss the issue of Australian parents whose Japanese partners have taken their children from them, it’s known as parental abduction here in Japan? Did you discuss that with Prime Minister Suga?

Prime Minister: It wasn’t a matter that came up tonight no. There were many issues that came up tonight and there are many issues that make up the ongoing dialogue between Australia and Japan. And that's a matter I understand that the Ambassador has raised on a regular basis. As you would expect in a sensitive way, it's a very sensitive issue, which I know you appreciate, you've been covering stories now for some time. And when these things occur, they are very difficult and they're very complex and there are different legal systems. And you have to sensitively work our way through those issues. And that's exactly what the embassy here in Tokyo is doing.

Journalist: Do you think there is more that the Australian embassy could be doing to help these families, pushing more publicly, advocating for joint custody, for example?

Prime Minister: I think these things are best achieved, not just here, but all around the world. Our consular and other officials in our posts around the world get an enormous amount done. And the way they get most of that done is not by engaging in open media advocacy, they engage in it through the relationship. I mean, we're bringing, we're bringing thousands upon thousands of people home at the moment, just working carefully around the world and getting people home. We're dealing with sensitive issues like the one you mentioned and many others. And they are never greatly assisted I find, by that type of public approach.

Journalist: What was your first impression of Prime Minister Suga when you met him today, it was your first meeting with him in person. Are you confident that you will be able to form a strong relationship with him as you had with Shinzo Abe?

Prime Minister: I am very confident. I think our first impressions were shared, and they were very warm. We did have the opportunity tonight to have a one on one discussion, obviously, with interpreters because I don’t speak Japanese and he doesn't speak English. But what was quite amazing is that despite the language barrier, there was a very easy and warm connection. And Prime Minister Suga is no stranger to the Australian relationship. In many ways, we share quite a few experiences, both how we came into our various parliaments and indeed how we, in rather unpredictable circumstances, found ourselves in the roles we are in now. And he has had seven years serving in the role that he has. And so he's very, very, very familiar and has played a role in the relationships that Prime Minister Abe has had with both myself and my predecessors. And so it was a very, very comfortable and very warm start. And seldom do you get the opportunity for such a seamless transition. But on this occasion, both in content and the warmth of the relationship, I think we've got off to a cracker of a start.

Journalist: How did the name Yoshi, how did it come up? How did the idea to call him Yoshi come up? Did he bring it up?

Prime Minister: It was mutual. I mean Prime Minister Abe, he used to refer to me as Scomo, right from the start. And Yoshi had observed that over a period of time. And look, I think in all of these relationships, that's why it was so important to come. You know we can write letters to each other, we get on  virtual summits, we can attend global summits. But I think the opportunity for such an important relationship to sit down together today, to speak candidly about the challenges we face together, and there's so much we have in common, so much we have in common, our interests, our outlook, our objectives, our ambitions. They align heavily, far more than, there are few relationships, particularly given the geography that you could say the same things about. And that's why it was so important to come and it's not a small thing for a Prime Minister in the middle of a pandemic to take that opportunity and have two weeks effectively when I return, including having to participate in parliament, via video link. That's how important it was for me, this  relationship, to ensure that it continue the momentum that we had with Prime Minister Abe and I, I'm leaving here knowing, absolutely confident that the momentum has not just been maintained, but I think it's been enhanced and we will continue to go from strength to strength.

But on other matters today and I appreciate we are dealing with matters here. But I earlier today I was in touch with the South Australian premier and I kept in touch with the Deputy Prime Minister over the course of the day including getting those updates and what's been occurring there. I commend Premier Marshall and all the team in South Australia, the health offices, the public health response, the Western Australian government who has pitched in quite significantly when it comes to the contact tracing effort, the isolation of thousands of those in South Australia. This has been a very rapid response, one that they've prepared for, on the Commonwealth is prepared for. Additional ADF support has been put in, in response to that request from South Australia. Other the states will respond as they, as they see fit to, the federal government has no issue with that. And they will do that across the spectrum based on the health advice that they have in their state and my hope and and confidence is that the response will meet the risk of this outbreak, but there is still a lot more work to do in the days and possibly weeks ahead. But from, for a first start in dealing with this, then I think the indications are positive but we've got some distance to go. And when I return to Australia, I'll obviously be following that up and be speaking to the Premier again in the morning. There's been a few additional cases that have been identified over the course of the day, but the speed at which all contacts have been able to be identified has been critical. I mean, there are, one of the challenges when we’ve dealt with outbreaks before is when contacts remain undetermined for days and days, every day costs you. And I think the speed and the sense of urgency that has been applied in South Australia is protecting the rest of the country. So I commend them for the work. It's a team effort and I, we will continue to stay on the job.

Thanks very much.