Doorstop - Washington DC, USA

23 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, everyone. Good morning, back in Australia soon. It’s, the reason we came here was to take part in the first ever leaders’ meeting, face to face leaders’ meeting of the Quad. The Quad brings together India, Japan, Australia and the United States, and President Biden, on his initiative, has brought us all together at this very important time. As the world faces great challenges, new partnerships amongst old friends continue to be forged. And the Quad partnership is very much of that order - a positive partnership seeking to make strong contributions on the big issues that make a big difference in our region. Issues such as how we produce clean energy into the future, how we're delivering on the COVID vaccine challenge for our region, how we're establishing the new supply chains that fuel and support the new energy economy that's so critical to the economic prosperity of all of our countries, not just those within our partnership, but those well beyond.

A key part of the Quad is continue to reinforce that the reason we're coming together is to make a positive and constructive contribution in the region, a contribution that supports the peace and stability across the region, and so individual nations can realise their own ambitions. And, so, I'm looking forward very much to the Quad gathering tomorrow.

I've just come from a meeting with one of my Quad partners, Prime Minister Modi, a dear friend and great friend of Australia. We've been working together for some years now. Today, at our meeting, we were able to agree some important new initiatives. At our meeting today we agreed to go forward with a low emissions technology partnership, a partnership that will focus on hydrogen development, ultra low cost solar programs, to support their energy transition. One of the key points we continue to make about addressing climate change is to ensure that we get the technology transfer from developed to developing economies. If we want to address climate change, then we need to address the change that is necessary in developing economies, so they can grow their economies, build their industries, make the things the world needs. And, to do that, you need an energy economy that supports those objectives. And so, we'll work together closely with our good friends in India, to work with the comparative advantages that Australia has, particularly in the area of hydrogen, and working together with their manufacturing capabilities so they can realise that in their own country.

The key point I made at the G7-plus when we were talking about addressing climate change, unless we can get the technology transformation occurring in developing countries, then I fear that the ambitions that so many have for addressing climate change will be frustrated. If we want to make a difference on climate change, we’ve got to make a difference everywhere, not just in advanced economies. Australia will certainly do our bit, and the bit we're doing in particular is to meet and beat the commitments that we've made, and to ensure that we’re, we're working with our partner countries around the region to secure that transfer of technology and the transition that is necessary for them to make, together with ourselves.

In addition to that, we had a very good discussion about our defence partnerships. That was particularly progressed at the most recent 2+2 meeting. It was a very positive discussion on critical minerals supply chains. I’ll have a bit more to say about that tomorrow when we meet further with the Quad.

In addition, both Ministers Tehan and Goyal will be meeting in New Delhi next week. And we have both, Prime Minister Modi and I, tasked our teams to be ambitious when they sit down next week to look at our trade opportunities, particularly in the area of digital trade arrangements. And, so, it was a very wide ranging meeting.

Of course, we had the opportunity to discuss the recent announcement on the AUKUS agreement and our program to put in place a nuclear-powered fleet of submarines. Keen interest in that from our partners in India, and well received. And looking forward to see how that continues to progress. Of course, I spoke to Prime Minister Modi the night before we made the announcement in Australia last week.

Now, the Quad meeting tomorrow will, of course, focus on the issues of clean energy and critical minerals. It’ll deal with how are we going to work together, sitting down with leaders, friends working together for peace and stability in our region, friends working together to secure the health and economic recovery from COVID-19, friends working together to develop new clean energy technology partnerships, stronger action on climate change, and ensuring that we continue to meet and beat the commitments that we've set for ourselves. Friends working together to secure our future, and a future for the Indo-Pacific.

On the vaccines, I note, as you’re probably aware, more than two million doses have now been delivered in the last seven days. That's another major milestone achieved, as the vaccination program continues to ramp up. When I was speaking to Jay Powell earlier today, there was keen interest in how that was progressing. We know that as the vaccination program hits these marks, it just gets us closer and closer to being able to open up more parts of the country, and seeing the economic recovery follow soon after. We're now round about 75 per cent first doses and 50 per cent second dose. It's going to make a big difference as we continue to surge towards those necessary targets of 70 and 80 per cent, that’ll open Australia up. As at midnight, the key stats, we had 25,782,517 doses administered and I said, over two million doses in a week. And with that, happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on critical minerals, will what you discussed with Prime Minister Modi, will that translate into more jobs for Australians? And, your meeting with Jerome Powell, what did he say on China?

PRIME MINISTER: Well on, firstly on the issue of does pursuing critical mineral supply chains mean more jobs for Australians, of course it does, of course it does, but it does more than that. Because critical minerals supply chains means that the partners we work with around the world also have access to trusted supply chains on critical minerals. I mean, these are the things that will power up our, our economies in the new energy economy. And critical minerals and rare earths, of which Australia is already very active in producing in these areas, we want to ensure that we're connecting that up right through the supply chain, through production, through to end users, and Prime Minister Modi and I share a passion around that project, because they are also involved in that supply chain at various different points, and it's important that we have the choice that exists in world markets around these issues. We want to play a stronger role here. But, to do that, of course for us to develop those critical minerals and rare earths opportunities, then we need to ensure that the downstream users are caught in a very productive and trusted supply chain.

JOURNALIST: On, sorry, on Jerome Powell as well, on Jerome Powell?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, of course, we discussed the global economy, we discussed the domestic economy here in the United States. I was able to talk about what has been a pretty remarkable economic performance for Australia, which, which the Fed Chair agreed with. Made particular note of the fact that Australia's economy has grown above, well above where we left off as we went into the pandemic, and was able to point out Australia as a real standout performer when it comes to its, our economic performance through the course of COVID, and using many similar tools that our economic interventions, he agreed, had proved to be highly effective. But, I got to tell you, the figures that really struck home was that the fatality rate from COVID in Australia. In the United States, they will see, sadly, as many people die from COVID in a day that we have seen throughout the entire COVID pandemic. The fact that more than 30,000 lives have been saved in Australia, compared to the experience of OECD countries, is a figure that is quite staggering here in the United States. And it's something that back home we shouldn't be taking for granted. Of course, we’ve got our challenges. But, at the end of the day, Australia has saved lives and saved livelihoods like almost no other country in the world.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can you confirm that you personally called …


JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that you personally called French President Emmanuel Macron to tell him that the submarine contract had been cancelled, and exactly when did that phone call happen?

PRIME MINISTER: What I said was, is that I made direct contact with him. It was about 8.35. We had sought to have a call that night. We'd been seeking that for some time. He did not take that call, to seek for it to be arranged, and so I directly messaged him Australia's decision in a, in a personal correspondence.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the question of climate, your remarks here today, coupled with a speech that Josh Frydenberg’s going to deliver to the business community about transitioning in line with the rest of the world. Are we to take it, in aggregate from these comments, that your Government has, in fact, already settled on a net zero timeline before or up to 2050, if it is to transition in line with the rest of the world?

PRIME MINISTER: No, if Australia had made such a decision, I would have announced it. Australia has not made any final decision on that matter, and we’re still, and we’ll be considering further when I return to Australia the plan that we believe can help us achieve our ambition in this area. I've already said at the start of this that it’s Australia's ambition to move towards and to achieve net zero as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050. That’s been my consistent statement since the beginning of this year, and over the course of this year Minister Taylor has been working very hard to put the plan together to achieve that. And that plan is consistent with what the Treasurer is saying today in his address. That plan recognises that the world is transitioning to a new energy economy in order to respond to climate change. That is the global reality. And, Australia, as a major energy producer now of long standing, will seek to be as an effective economic champion in that area, as we have been in the past. And we recognise the changes that are taking place, and we intend to be well positioned in the future to be successful with our industries in a new energy economy.

JOURNALIST: PM, can we just get some more detail about today's agreement with India. So, some detail around what Australia would provide into that sort of partnership, any costs that you’re starting to think about, that they, that the Government would have to bear for that? And, also, just a follow up question on, on the meeting with Jerome, did you get any sense from him he's got any concerns about what's happening in China? I mean, it’s having quite a massive effect on financial markets, their property [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all. I mean, the partnership with India for low emissions technologies, that will now be reduced to quite finite arrangements, but as I said before, it will deal from our perspective on two principle issues. One is on hydrogen and our supply of hydrogen into India. And secondly, ultra low cost solar. They are the two specific areas of focus where we think we can make some real ground. I want to stress this has been work has been led up to, especially led by Dr Alan Finkel, who has been championing all of our energy partnerships, low emissions energy partnerships around the world. This is another significant one, because this is really dealing between, to be able to do hydrogen at this scale and to do this ultra low cost solar at scale, and to do it with a partner which has a very scaled manufacturing capability. So this is really a very exciting partnership in this area and this will help us build, I think, the opportunities that we'd like to take much more further afield. We spoke a bit about, frankly, the way that this has already occurred in places like Japan and there has been keen interest in their success here, and hopefully we'll be able to replicate it in India.

On the other matter, look, when it comes to Evergrande, this is principally an issue in China, and that addresses their financial stability. The broader exposures, our assessment, that's been provided to me and I was able to discuss today, are largely, substantively limits its effect to China. These things can have confidence impacts in the global marketplace, but those who follow the markets, we've seen particularly here, that impact, I wouldn't say it has been realised. And so it's a serious issue because it's a very large company, but China is seeking to manage the impact of debt in companies such as this. They've set out their red line processes, the three red lines as it’s referred to. And they're seeking to manage the level of debt within their economy, particularly in companies such as this. Obviously a very large one. But our expectation is that China will address that issue and seek to contain its impact.

JOURNALIST: What's the message you’re sending to China, you and the other leaders are sending to China, with this display of the Quad over the next 24 hours?

PRIME MINISTER: That we all want to work together to create a free and open Indo-Pacific and everybody benefits from that. We're looking for an Indo-Pacific where there's a happy coexistence, where the opportunities are realised, the growth potential is there to lift the living standards of all those in the Indo-Pacific. I mean, China's economic success has brought more people out of poverty than any other nation in the world's history. It's a remarkable achievement. It's a tremendous achievement. And the many other economies of the Indo-Pacific want to achieve exactly the same thing. And Australia wants to be very much part of that, as does India, as Japan, as does the United States. The Quad is a positive initiative designed to encourage freedom of the Indo-Pacific, the independence of the Indo-Pacific and seeing us lift living standards together in the Indo-Pacific.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the French have accused your government of treason and the rhetoric coming out of France is that Australia has been effectively a cheating partner in a marriage. You said you understand their disappointment, but do you understand that kind of language and do you think they're now overreacting?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't agree with that assessment.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what impact do you think the AUKUS deal will have on the dynamic in the room tomorrow at the Quad? It's a historic summit, much anticipated and now you have a new security alliance at play. How will that perhaps change or influence discussions?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it adds greatly, I think, to the Quad partnership. And that's what it's intended to do. I mean, Australia is engaged in partnerships with many countries, and we see the Quad and the trilateral partnership of AUKUS as being completely complementary, and that's the discussion that Narendra Modi and I have just had. He certainly sees it in that way, as does Yoshi Suga, when I spoke to him last week and I'll see him tomorrow morning. The Quad partners understand the need for positive contributions to regional stability and the AUKUS partnership is all about making that sort of contribution. Everybody gains from a stable Indo-Pacific, everybody gains, including whether it's in China, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, we all benefit from a stable Indo-Pacific.

JOURNALIST: There are horrendous videos coming out of Melbourne of police brutality and they're going viral in America. Americans are talking about Australia, and they've been doing this for some months, as an authoritarian dystopia, what do you say to them about Australia? Are you running an authoritarian dystopia, a gulag?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course not. Australia is a country that has seen over 30,000 lives saved, through COVID successfully. That has seen our economy come through COVID, arguably better than almost any other developed country in the world. We've worked together to produce these outcomes for the benefit of Australians. And the scenes and what we've seen in Melbourne over these last few days, I remarked on them last night when we came together, there's been some disgraceful scenes in Melbourne, particularly at the Shrine. Deeply disturbing and deeply upsetting and deeply offensive. It's important that we all respect each other and we respect freedom of speech, but equally there are things we must deeply respect and the desecration of the Shrine of Remembrance is truly sickening.

JOURNALIST: But what about Daniel Andrews? Don't you have anything to say to him about not being so, cracking down on his people so hard?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I work with all the premiers, all the chief ministers, to ensure that we are each responsible for our actions, and where premiers take actions in their own states where they impose restrictions, I'm quite certain that they know they're accountable for those actions.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the strictly Australia-US element of your trip draws to a close, did you get any sense of when a US Ambassador to Australia will be announced or arriving?

PRIME MINISTER: It hasn't been a topic of our conversations, I know there are wheels in motion there and I look forward to them further progressing.

JOURNALIST: Or a visit from the President, a visit from Joe Biden to Australia, did you discuss that?

PRIME MINISTER: That's a standing invitation from our first conversation, in fact. And the President's travel schedule is a work in progress, as you'd expect for the many issues he's dealing with. And of course, the COVID arrangements only complicate that further. But our standing invitation is always there.

JOURNALIST: Just in terms of the AUKUS agreement, Prime Minister, is there some form of public text that is going to be available for everyone to read of that agreement?


JOURNALIST: And then secondly, there's much speculation in the US about the start of tapering ...

PRIME MINISTER: The start of what, sorry?

JOURNALIST: The start of tapering, the end of quantitative easing in the US.


JOURNALIST: That could put pressure on Australian interest rates. Does that worry you at all, concern you at all?

PRIME MINISTER: The, I suppose, the aftershocks that come from going through a global pandemic, the impact of the many rather unusual fiscal and monetary measures that have had to be. used through this crisis to keep our economy stable and keep growing, have been quite extraordinary. And so I have great confidence in the work that's being done by our own Secretary, by Phil Lowe and the team, to ensure that we've been able to minimise any of these sort of ripple effects that come from these other policy tools that have been deployed around the world.

What was a very interesting part of the discussion today, was that in both the United States and Australia, there is the similar dynamic of there being some rather strong balance sheets that have been made stronger by the significant economic interventions that both countries have taken. Through the income support that's been available, business support that has been available. What we haven't, thankfully, seen is the significant business stress that might have otherwise occurred, because their balance sheets have been supported through those economic programmes, which means that once we hit these vaccination rates, once we open Australia out, then we will see a strong economic response and they'll be expecting that here. In the United States, there are clearly as a result of many issues, but we share this problem, there are supply constraints. And that's why we have to work to remove some of these supply bottlenecks, because obviously when you don't do that, then that has inflationary pressures and Australia needs to achieve that also, when it comes to our labour market. We are, both countries, I think, pleased, but at the same time, it does create pressures that our labour market is getting very tight even in these pandemic circumstances. So, that's why it's important to get our borders open again. It's important to start getting those those flows of people being able to come, particularly in those particular skill areas you need to build bridges and build gas fired power stations and build nuclear submarines.

JOURNALIST: You're going to be meeting Vice President Kamala Harris tomorrow, I understand, are going to be meeting her tomorrow? So what are you going to be saying to her about what you're doing in your own parliament, about improving the treatment of women?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll be able to give a very positive report, about the changes that we've been able to make and particularly the process that we're going through now with Kate Jenkins, but before the Jenkins review even lands, we've already been able to put in place the supports and arrangements that I think is necessary in a modern parliament. The changes that we have been able to actually already introduce, I think have already made a very, very big difference. As they should. The training arrangements that have been able to be brought forward. I've participated in them myself. I think these are positive developments. And if she would like to know more about those things, I would be only too happy to share.

JOURNALIST: Will you give the Vice President any advice on your success with securing the border? And obviously the Biden Administration has a serious problem on their southern border. What advice would you give them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would only give advice that was solicited.

JOURNALIST: And what would it be if they solicited it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, if it’s solicited, then I can share it with them, but we're here to join together with our Quad partners and promote the issues that I've talked about. We're here particularly to mark the fact that it’s the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS alliance, and to really focus on the AUKUS partnership that we've been able to bring together. I don't come here seeking to provide advice to the United States about how they should be dealing issues, with issues in their country. That's not something I tend to do. I tend to respect my hosts, and if they make polite enquiries, I'd be only too happy to respond.

JOURNALIST: When will we see the writing of the AUKUS alliance agreement?

PRIME MINISTER: Not too long away. Thank you.