Doorstop National Mall, Washington D.C.

Transcript
22 Sep 2016
Washington D.C.
Prime Minister
E&OE

Thank you, good afternoon.

It’s great to be here in Washington meeting with security leaders, reinforcing our strong alliance, our strong partnership for freedom. We’ve met today with the Director of the National Security Agency, the Director of the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence and with the Defence Secretary Ash Carter. At all those discussions I’ve heard of a great appreciation for the role Australia plays around the world, working with our great ally the United States, in defence of freedom - whether it is on the battlefield in the Middle East, whether it is within our intelligence arrangement around the world, standing firm against terrorism, working shoulder-to-shoulder to ensure that we keep our people safe.

This is a very strong alliance, it is a very trusted alliance. It’s very committed to ensuring that we defeat the terrorists in the field, in cyberspace, around the world. As you know I’ll shortly be giving a speech about Cyber Security and that has been a very consistent theme through all our discussions. Our enemies – terrorists - use cyber space very effectively and we are constantly evolving our countermeasures in collaboration with our allies, to defeat them.

We spoke about the activities, the destabilising, unlawful activities of North Korea, this rogue state with its nuclear tests. We spoke about the struggle in Syria and in Iraq. The good news in terms of the battle against Daesh or ISIL, is that we are continuing to roll them back and we look forward to further gains over the course of the next six months or so. There is a very real prospect of completing the defeat of Daesh in the battlefield, ending their so-called caliphate. Of course the struggle against terrorism will continue for many years to come. I’ll be talking later with the Speaker about the importance of the TPP. This is a critically important element in our free trade agenda. It’s part of our national economic plan, as well as the economic plan of countries around the Asia Pacific, who are committed to stronger growth and more jobs as we are.

Free trade drives jobs, it drives growth, it drives prosperity. It has underpinned the prosperity that we’ve seen over the last generation. Now the TPP is controversial here in the United States politically, you understand that. But there is an opportunity for it to be passed, to be ratified by the Congress during the lame duck period. I’ll be pressing that case on Speaker Ryan when I see him later today.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, did Secretary Carter say that you’re rolling back Daesh and there is a possibility of victory? Did he give any indication, an update as to when that might be?

PRIME MINISTER:

We did discuss timing and dates but I’ll be circumspect about those discussions if you’ll understand why. But there is real progress being made towards the recapture, the liberation of Mosul and of course Raqqa as well. But these operations will take their own course, I’m not going to flag dates or times with you.

JOURNALIST:

But you’re a little more optimistic?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am more optimistic about the defeat of ISIL on the battlefield and the end of their caliphate, or their so-called caliphate, their so-called state. The challenges of finding a political reconciliation in Syria however, remain formidable.

JOURNALIST:

Did you talk about President Assad’s interview and comments that he believes that airstrike that involved Australian personnel, deliberately targeted Syrian forces?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me be very clear about this, our rules of engagement are very, very clear and unambiguous; Australian forces, Coalition forces in that particular operation, believed they were targeting Daesh units, Daesh fighters, units of ISIL.

JOURNALIST:

So is he mistaken or do you think he’s being deliberately provocative?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not going to say anything other than it is absolutely clear, our rules of engagement are unambiguous. We are targeting Daesh, that terrorist group. We are absolutely not targeting or intending to target units of the Syrian Army.

JOURNALIST:

Given what you’ve just said there, it means that it was either a terrible mistake or something else has gone on whereby uniforms have been swapped, a bit of mischief. Which one is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that’s why there is – again, very astute question. I’ll simply respond by saying there is a very careful investigation underway at the moment and that will tell us what happened. Certainly I can be – what were the events leading up to the strike, that is the subject of the investigation. But I want to be very, very clear; our rules of engagement are unambiguous, we are in the defence of Iraq, operating in Syria to destroy Daesh full stop.

JOURNALIST:

But you don’t think it was a mistake? Of the two options?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I’m not going to speculate. There is an investigation going on.

JOURNALIST:

In relation to cyber security, arguably the biggest setback in recent times has been the rogue internal element like the Snowdens of the world. Were you briefed on any measures the US are taking to avoid that sort of debacle again?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, there are some things I can’t go into obviously, publically. Let me summarise it this way. You can have flaws in hardware which enable penetration or malicious actors to get into a network. You can obviously have flaws in software and we see that, that’s why all of our applications get updated all the time. But very often the biggest risk is what I call the ‘warmware’, which is the human beings, who whether it’s with malicious intent like Snowden, or simply through negligence –it might be somebody opening an attachment which turns out to be part of a phishing exercise and lets some malware into their computer system – it is human error that is at the heart, human error or malicious action is at the heart of many of these security breaches. It’s one of the reasons why organisations need to be very, very focussed on who has access to the system, in particular who has administrative authority. “ Know your systems administrator” is a very good watchword.

JOURNALIST:

When you say there is some optimism now about defeating ISIL on the ground, what sort of outlook have you been given about the ISIL-inspired attacks in urban centres around the world?

PRIME MINISTER:

We share a lot of experience and intelligence in that regard and we are talking here about the lone actors. When we were in New York and we were at the 9/11 Memorial, I talked about the way in which the nature of terrorism, the terrorist threat had evolved. 9/11 was an elaborately planned operation, many months in the making. Increasingly what we are seeing is lone actors who are often not controlled or directed but motivated by radical propaganda put out on the internet by ISIL and often radicalised very quickly indeed. So that is a feature of the terrorist threat at the moment. Now, it is a new one. The critical thing there is obtaining intelligence – whether that is through careful analysis of social media and or human intelligence  - but it is critically important to do that but it is very much part of our collaboration between the United States and ourselves and of course many other countries. As you know at the East Asia Summit, I was discussing this with the President of Indonesia, so these are very key issues.

JOURNALIST:

Do the Americans have any idea if this defeat of ISIL on the battlefield does happen, do the Americans have any idea who will fill the vacuum? Will there be another bunch of murderous clowns or? I mean there is always a problem in the Middle East, you get rid of one and someone else steps in.

PRIME MINISTER:

This is why –

JOURNALIST:

Or are the Western troops going to have to stay there?

PRIME MINISTER:

You’re right in raising this again - paying lots of compliments to the press pack here today - but you raise a very important point. The solution in Syria and indeed Iraq has to be a political one. Just dealing with Syria, it is a scene of such political complexity that to date there has not been sufficient progress to achieve a political solution but the only way, ultimately, the bloodshed, the killing, the instability, the war, will come to an end is through a political solution. That is what all the parties are grappling with at the moment.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any expectation that as a result of the setbacks on the battlefield there will be an increased terrorist threat in these urban settings?

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you. A very good point too. There is a concern that the terrorist, the lone actor terrorist threat in countries like the United States and Australia and the West, if you like, will get worse before it gets better. That ISIL which had been focused on very much building its caliphate and so-called state - and you remember they made it a part of their marketing was this image of invincibility and inevitable victory so as they portrayed it. Remember their boast? They said they were going to sweep across Europe and stable their horses in the Vatican. Well that is not going to happen.

They are on the way out in terms of their caliphate, but their scourge of terrorism and the propaganda of terrorism and their extremism will, we are sure, continue. That will continue to be. That is where the voices of moderation in the Muslim world are so important. That is why, I mentioned him earlier, President Widodo is such an important spokesman, such an important advocate. He says again and again that Indonesia proves that democracy, moderation and Islam are compatible. Because this extremism within Islam, which we call Islamist extremism, Islamist terrorism – this is at the heart of the problem that we are grappling with. Now defeating Daesh on the battlefield is critically important, absolutely vital. But the battle to keep Australians safe and Americans safe from extremism, from Islamist extremism will continue until that battle of ideas is won within Islam.

JOURNALIST:

On the voices of moderation, you referred to, it is just as important to have that here isn’t it? In countries like the United States so you don’t alienate...?

PRIME MINISTER:

Moderation is always important. We’ve got to remember that what the terrorists want to do - I made this point at the United Nations yesterday – what the terrorists want to do is divide us. They want us to turn on each other. That is part of their very calculated, very deliberate objective and so that’s why we mustn’t do it. That is why inclusion, moderation, proclaiming and defending and reinforcing ours, the most successful multicultural society in the world, is so critically important.

I'll have to go now but can I just conclude on this and thank you for accompanying us on this trip. This has been a very successful visit to the United Nations, to the United States. We’ve covered in the course of many discussions some of the most important issues of our time. Trade, the rise of protectionism - why we must resist it. The importance of the TPP as a symbol and substance not only of free trade but of America’s commitment to the Asia Pacific – it is as a strategic a document as it is as an economic one. The big theme of the week at the United Nations of course was irregular migration, the refugee crisis, 65 million people. We were able to set out Australia’s experience and how we are able to combine strong border protection with a compassionate and generous humanitarian program and we are only able to do that, because the Australian people know that their government controls their borders.

It has been an opportunity to reinforce the very strong alliance ties between Australia and the United States and of course to engage with so many leaders to get a better understanding of their vision, their understanding of global security and economic issues. Because you know, while it is going to take us a long time to get back to Australia, all of us have a long flight ahead of us, nonetheless in the 21st Century, every part of the world is just next door. It is a very tightly connected global economy and our security, each nation’s, each society’s security depends on the other.

Thank you very much.