Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to journalists at a press conference during the 2018 ASEAN Summit in Singapore, Wednesday, November 14, 2018. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Doorstop, Singapore

15 Nov 2018
Prime Minister
Australian foreign policy; the Australian economy;

Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

PRIME MINISTER: Australia’s economic plan is working. It’s one of the reasons, one of the many reasons, why we’re here at this important East Asian Summit. Australia’s economic plan, which is about getting taxes down, ensuring that there is the confidence for businesses to invest, backing in small businesses, assisting the transition of our economy through our investments in things like defence industry, technology, ensuring the research infrastructure is in place, the medical industry and a lot of these new sectors, FinTech, financial services. All of this combined with expanding our trade, expanding our markets, providing opportunities for Australian businesses to do well.

This is all part of the strong economic plan our Government has been putting in place for the last five years.

That's why unemployment is at that lowest level since April of six years ago. That's why the participation rate is up. That’s why there are fewer unemployed people in Australia today, not just than 2016 at the last election, but back in 2013. That's why the female participation rate is at it’s highest ever level. Our plan for the Australian economy, to make it stronger, is working. That means real benefits for Australians who are in jobs, which means that small businesses do better, that means Australian families have greater certainty. We already saw this week as well, when it comes to wages, that we saw real wages growth in the most recent September quarter’s data.

So better wages, more jobs, a stronger economy. That is what delivers for Australians every single day and that's what our Government will continue to deliver, by sticking to the economic plan that is working. That's why I’m here at this forum representing Australia once again, engaging with other leaders - whether it was Premier Li Keqiang last night or Prime Minister Modi or earlier today with the Thai Prime Minister and engaging with leaders around the world - to ensure that we keep a focus on regional stability, which delivers regional prosperity in which Australia shares a very great dividend, which means more jobs. Our trade arrangements, our trade successes are delivering more jobs in Australia, which means unemployment is at five per cent, we’re keeping it there and the Australian economy is doing well.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, China’s Premier last night talked about a turning point in relations. Do you believe you are at a turning point in relations and what do you take that to mean.

PRIME MINISTER: We’re getting on with business with China. That’s what I said last night and not just the business of the commercial relationship, but a broad-based relationship. We have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China and it’s the opportunity to engage - like we did last night - over a wide range of issues. Within the security of that discussion and within that partnership, it was a very positive meeting, as I know that you’ve seen the reports of. We’ll continue to get on with business in that manner.

JOURNALIST: Did you talk about specific projects that you could work on together?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we did talk about was that the announcements that I’d made in relation to the Pacific were not exclusive; that I had deliberately, when I made the announcement when I was at Lavarack up in Townsville, that I noted that we would work with all partners which would include China. But I made the same remarks when I was talking to other leaders as well. That’s been well-received and yesterday, I met with Prime Minister Ardern and we spent most of our meeting not just talking about issues at Bunnings – which was only a passing remark, I should stress, we actually spent the meeting talking about quite serious issues - and that was our joint initiatives in the Pacific and how we can bring their reset initiative, together with the initiative I announced in Townsville. I think together with New Zealand, we’ll be able to make some real progress.

JOURNALIST: Presently it’s been referred to as “ups and downs” with your predecessor with that relationship. Do you feel under some sort of pressure to make sure there’s no more “downs” with China?


JOURNALIST: Did Premier Li ask you to explain your comments backing in Trump’s trade strategy?


JOURNALIST: What about the refugee resettlement [inaudible] -

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, couldn’t hear you.

JOURNALIST: Ms Ardern said she’s brought up the refugee resettlement offer with you again last night. What would you have said to her?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we didn’t discuss it at yesterday’s bilateral, but it was raised casually last night when we were at the dinner. The Government’s position hasn’t changed.

JOURNALIST: How important is it for Australia that Jim Mattis remain at the Pentagon?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’m not getting into the commentaries other than to say that we’ve worked incredibly well with him and we’ll always work incredibly well with the Administration.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Minister Ciobo’s comments to Fairfax about there being a less than five per cent change of the embassy being moved?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't make any, because they don't reflect the views of the Government. I am not aware of him even having said that.

JOURNALIST: So that’s not true?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s my understanding. I have no knowledge of that, but the position I set out yesterday is what has been relayed to the Government of Indonesia. That was very clear; we have our process that is in place to consider the matter that I highlighted some weeks ago. That's what you would expect us to do. I said we were going to raise the question, we were going to address the question. We’ve got a process in place to do that through a Cabinet submission process and once we have concluded that, we will make our views known and then we will move on from there.

And the issues are not related. They were not conflated, they were not raised together in the meeting yesterday and I have had further opportunity to speak to President Widodo since that meeting as well as Foreign Minister Marsudi and those engagements have been warm and very receptive.

JOURNALIST: You’re meeting Dr Mahathir later today, do you anticipate this will come up, the embassy deliberations will come up in that discussion?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ll wait and see.

JOURNALIST: If Steve Ciobo is wrong though Prime Minister, what are the chances that Australia will move its’ embassy?

PRIME MINISTER: All I have said is that we will consider the matter. I raised this in the context of this being potentially consistent with the two state solution. I said all along, that this is the context in which Australia is considering that issue, in the context of it furthering a two state solution. I have reasserted in the meetings here and in my discussions about Australia’s respect for Security Council resolutions as well. So I think the parameters of what we are considering is clear. We have a process.

Now, I notice the Leader of the Opposition doesn't believe we should have a process. If he doesn't wish to consider the issue, well, that’s a matter for him. But Australia will determine our foreign policy issues and we will consider those within our timeframe, on our terms. This matter is not going to be considered in the context of the issues in relation to the trade agreement.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to his comments that it has made Australia look stupid?

PRIME MINISTER: Bill Shorten is the one who does not even want to consider this question at all. He doesn’t want to consider the question. He then says; “There should be a process,” and when the Government engages in a process, he says we shouldn't follow the process. So, I will leave it to Bill Shorten to explain the contradiction of that position.

I noted quite clearly the issue that I wished the Government to consider. I have been consulting with people since that time, as I said I would. I have put in place a process to do it properly and to ensure the position we ultimately arrive at is one consistent with Australia’s national interests and not related to the other matters.

Because Australia has to be sovereign in determining its’ foreign policy. We can't have  Australia’s foreign policy determined, or our agenda set, by any other nation. I mean that's just a matter of treating yourself with respect and I'm disappointed the Leader of the Opposition position would be so quick to take cues on Australia's foreign policy from those not within Australia.

JOURNALIST: If the question though Prime Minister, that you’re putting, is whether it improves the process to a two state solution, what’s your view, does it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I will be outlining what the Government’s position is once we’ve concluded our process.

JOURNALIST: But you must have a view?

PRIME MINISTER: And I will articulate that through the final position that the Government arrives at.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: I didn't quite hear you.

JOURNALIST: You accompanied Mike Pence to the gala dinner last night?


JOURNALIST: Can you share with us what was discussed and do you share the US’s view that China is engaging in dangerous [inaudible] diplomacy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we didn't have the opportunity to have a long bilateral, we were having a social conversation. It was a great pleasure to meet the Vice President, I have on an earlier occasion and we were catching up on his most recent trip to Australia. It was much more of, I would say, a personal and private and social discussion. We’ll be, I understand, catching up as part of the APEC meeting and I look forward to that. He’ll obviously be coming  to Australia at that time as well, while I'm meeting with Prime Minister Abe in Darwin. But it was great to meet him and to catch up.

JOURNALIST: Was the embassy issue raised [inaudible] when you had those informal discussions?

PRIME MINISTER: It was a private, social chat.

JOURNALIST: Dr Mahathir said yesterday that China is resolved to solving the South China Sea problem in three years. By three years, do you think it will be too late? What do you think will be happening in three years?

PRIME MINISTER: I wouldn't speculate on the timeframes. It's obviously been the topic of much discussion here.

JOURNALIST: Did you raise it?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s been a constant discussion item amongst all leaders here. There's a code of conduct discussion which is taking place which Singapore has been very involved with. I had the opportunity to discuss that with Prime Minister Li yesterday. On that issue, it's important that any outcome respects international maritime law, that it ensure an inclusive approach for those outside the ASEAN region and the whole Indo Pacific agenda which is being championed here, particularly by President Widodo is one that recognises the independent sovereignty of all participant states. One that insures connectedness between them. That means that both within and without the region, there  is the opportunity for continued freedom of navigation and overflight.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Mike Pence’s comments today were strong enough? About -

PRIME MINISTER: I’m not running a commentary.

JOURNALIST: Does China have Japan - you’re meeting President Abe tomorrow in Darwin ahead of APEC, reportedly to sign a reciprocal agreement. Do you envisage increased military cooperation between Australia and Japan?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's been a number of things under discussion for some time and when those discussions conclude I'll have more to say.

JOURNALIST: Does China have any reason to be concerned about the meeting of the Quad, the resurgence of that possible quadrilateral alliance between Japan, Australia, India and the US?


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you raise the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday about Australia’s participation in the Malabar military exercises next year?


JOURNALIST: Can you tell us Prime Minister, what you’re seeking to achieve at APEC particularly?

PRIME MINISTER: At APEC, apart from providing very strong support for our dear friend and neighbour, Papua New Guinea - and I think this will be a strong and special event for Papua New Guinea, this is the most significant meeting that they have hosted and I think that's a testimony to their nation and I commend them for it and we have as you know, given them an enormous amount of support and cooperation to assist them in conducting the meeting - but Australia is always about in APEC, championing the issues of free and open trade. That's what we're all about. We will always be the first to make that argument in every single forum. Whether it’s APEC, or whether it’s the G20, or as it was here yesterday when we had the RCEP summit where I stressed again the need and confirmed, I think, the consensus that next year we need to conclude RCEP, that RCEP needs to be an inclusive arrangement. That’s certainly the direction that it’s taking, with ASEAN obviously at it’s centre. But there was a lot of progress made. I think we were up to about 80 per cent in terms of the finalisation of the document. We want to get to 100 per cent by the end of next year. I met with the Thai Prime Minister today, he will have carriage of ASEAN next year and will play an important role in bringing that agreement to a conclusion.

But I note on that issue that Australia today we’ve been able to conclude our negotiations on the Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement and a statement will be issued later today on that. The Foreign Minister will be speaking to that. But that means that the removal of tariffs on Australian exports in to Hong Kong and that is just another example again, of our economic plan working. We are committed to these issues. We are not just the sum of our deals, as I said a few weeks ago, when it comes to our foreign policy. Our foreign policy is informed by our beliefs, by our values as a nation and that's why it's important that you separate the questions that I have earlier referred to. In discussions we've had with Indonesia, there are issues of belief and principle, as there are for every single nation that comes here, every single one. We have to respect each other as we do and the positions we each take and work together on the things where we can.

In all of the meetings I have had that has very much been the tone and I've been able to be very pleased to keep advancing our position with each of those countries.

JOURNALIST: The delicate balance between the US and China, are you stuck between a rock and a hard place? How do you handle that balance?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the way we always have, successfully. Our relationships with each of these major partners are different and they're both successful. Australia doesn't have to choose and we won't choose. We will continue to work constructively with both partners, based on the core of what those relationships are.

Our relationship with China is obviously very important, not just in relation to the commercial elements of that. I mean there is a very large - and has been for a very long time, since the early 1800s - strong Chinese national ethnic population in Australia. I spoke yesterday with the Premier about how once upon a time, when I was younger, Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, would be celebrated very much within the Chinese community of Australia. Today, it’s an Australian celebration. It happens all over the country, in every part of the country. I think it’s one of the great examples of how successful an immigration nation Australia is. Chinese diaspora is part of that important multicultural dimension we have to our country.

So there are more than just the connections that are commercial, there are deeper ties there between peoples. Similarly with the United States, the belief and values and history that we share is equally important. So we don't choose, we don’t choose between the issues. We don't choose between the partners. We get on with the relationship and that's what I’m here at this summit and this conference to do; that is to implement our economic plan, which has got unemployment down to 5 per cent. There are fewer unemployed people in Australia today, than not just at the last election but at the election before that. Because our economic plan, the Liberal-National economic plan, is delivering jobs and economic security for Australia, which is great for Australian families.