Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

Transcript
22 Feb 2018
Prime Minister
United States visit
E&OE

KEIRAN GILBERT:

Prime Minister, thanks for your time. The focus of the visit is to align the view of the two nations and their approach to the Indo-Pacific. What are your priorities on that front?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the big priority Kieran, is to broaden and deepen the relationship. So, the focus of the visit, as well as meeting with President Trump at the White House and other federal officials - the Treasury Secretary, the new Chairman of the Fed, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – is the National Governors Association Conference.

America is a big country, so we’re bringing over a very large business delegation of leading Australian companies, all of the Premiers are coming, except for those that re fighting elections of course. What we’re going to do, is broaden our reach and connection into the United States. As I said, it’s a big country, some of their states like California for example, have got economies bigger than Australia’s. But it’s really valuable to ensure that all of those opportunities for investment, for two-way investment, for creating jobs in America and Australia, are enhanced. This visit is a big part of it.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

You’re giving a keynote address at that conference, I want to ask you about that in a moment. But on the strategic and security concerns in the Indo-Pacific, national security policy as released by the US and our Foreign Policy White Paper, there do seem differences to the extent that the US calls China a ‘revisionist state’, a ‘strategic threat’. We don’t go that far?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, a threat technically is a combination of capability and intent. China has enormous capability of course, its growing as the country becomes more prosperous and economically stronger. But we do not see any hostile intent from China.

So, we do not describe China as a threat. China’s rise has been of enormous value to the region, there’s hundreds of millions of people who have been lifted out of poverty. We don’t see the region through what is frankly an out-of-date Cold War prism. Neither, by the way, does Donald Trump. President Trump has a long experience in this part of the world as a businessman. He understands the significance, the economic significance of China’s rise and its opportunity. Of course there are issues between Washington and Beijing, there always will be. But the two leaders –and I’ve had the privilege of being with both of them – they see those issues and they address them in a very clear-eyed and candid way.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

But you know Beijing will be watching these talks very closely, won’t they? Particularly after the nomination of Admiral Harris as the next ambassador to Australia and the revived talk of a quadrilateral dialogue between Australia, the US, Japan and India. Even a rival One Belt One Road infrastructure initiative, they’ll be watching these talks between you and the President and the outcome very closely.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m sure they will. Everyone, all of these events are watched carefully all around the world, but again, let’s talk about infrastructure for a moment.

We need trillions and trillions of dollars of additional infrastructure investment in the region. We want to make sure, do everything we can to ensure that that infrastructure investment has the greatest economic benefit for the countries where it’s invested and of course, that you get the widest pool of investors. Now there is no shortage of capital in the world, absolutely not. What there is a shortage of, in many countries, is the legal and governance framework to enable companies and fund managers – and there are a number of big fund managers coming with us to Washington – to invest and be satisfied that their investments are secure, that there are proper bankruptcy laws to deal with the situation if things go wrong, all of that legal protection that people can find in Australia. The more that that can be advanced – that’s why the TPP11 is so important – the more that can be advanced through the region, the wider the range of infrastructure investment opportunities will arise and the wider the range of investors.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

Would our approach be seen as a rival to China’s approach?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think everyone, with all due respect, a lot of people in the media are always trying to look for rivalry and challenges, you know. They’re perhaps hankering after the Cold War. That’s not the way we see the region. We see the region in a very, very clear-eyed way. What we want to maintain is the rule of law. The ‘rules-based order’ as it’s described; that has enabled all of this prosperity and economic growth. To maintain that and enhance it. That is why our success working with Japan and the other countries in the TPP11, has been so important. To maintain the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is all about that type of economic integration, that has been very important. We want to see more of that and obviously it’s going to be signed in Chile in March. It then has to be ratified and down the track it’d be great if the US were able to rejoin. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, but we’ve structured the TPP11 so other countries can dock in. There’s plenty of interest by the way, including even from the UK.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

On to, you’ll be going to meet with General Dunford, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon. Obviously -

PRIME MINISTER:

And with the Intelligence Chiefs as well.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

One of the big issues as we know, there might have been the two Koreas marching under one flag and Kim Jong-un’s sister attended the Winter Games, but that remains an enormous threat. Some analysts and experts say that there’s a 10 per cent change of nuclear war, 20- 30 per cent chance of conventional war. This remains a real risk, doesn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah the two big strategic threats in the region, risks in the region are overwhelmingly, first, North Korea. That is, you’re right, there’s a risk of conflict there, even nuclear conflict. So we’ll be spending a lot of time talking about that and our determination as part of the global community, we’ll continue ratcheting up the economic pressure on North Korea to bring the regime to its senses, to stop its reckless and illegal conduct.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

Will you urge the President to tone down the rhetoric a bit from that, “Little Rocket Man,” to “hail of fire and fury.” That doesn’t help, does it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the President has got his own style and it’s a very cut-through style. He has been able to forge, with support from Australia and in particular from the other permanent members of the Security Council including Russia and China – very strong sanctions on North Korea. That’s critical. So we’ve got to maintain that pressure.

Now the other strategic issue that is very critical, is the threat from Islamist terrorism in the region. Now as you know, we provided game-changing support to the Philippines Armed Forces in defeating the ISIL insurgency in Marawi in the Southern Philippines. As the so-called caliphate has been rolled up in Syria, you’re seeing foreign fighters coming back to the region. It’s very, very important that we work seamlessly, as closely as possible with our partners in the region to ensure that we do not get a sort of revival of ISIL in this region. We don’t want to have any Raqqas or Mosuls in our part of the world.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

General Mattis wants countries to take back their citizens as well. He’s been meeting with Defence Ministers from Europe and elsewhere. France and the UK for their part, they’re saying they don’t want them back. But shouldn’t nations be taking responsibility for these individuals, rather than let them roam free in the Middle East or have to be prosecuted by the Syrian Democratic Forces?

PRIME MINISTER:

Every country has got to deal with these challenges in accordance with their own laws. We are very focused on ensuring that we monitor the return of foreign fighters to the region and that’s critically important. Also, obviously, we pay the closest attention to those Australians who have been foreign fighters in that part of the world. That is a dwindling band of course, because many of them have been killed.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

On to the National Governors Association, you’re giving the keynote address. You’ve touched on a few of the key issues, is it important for Australia as a nation to remember that it’s not just a military and strategic partnership between these two countries?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, well of course. I think we all understand that. The United States is our second largest trading relationship after China. America is by far our biggest economic partner when you take into account US investment in Australia. In fact America is the largest single destination for Australian investment, there are massive Australian investments in the US. I mean News Corporation and the Murdoch Family is a very good example of that, you’ve got Austal, a West Australian shipbuilder building ships for the US Navy in Mobile Alabama. You’ve got Lendlease with huge projects across America, you’ve got the Pratt Family’s Visy with operations in many US states and growing, with commitment to investing another $2 billion there. So, the economic integration is considerable. But it has plenty of opportunity to grow. This is the point about the Governor’s Conference; America is a big country, it’s a lot more than New York, Los Angeles and Washington. It’s huge, so there are huge opportunities for Australian businesses - and opportunities in Australia for American businesses – right across the length and breadth of the United States. Having all the Governors together in one place, bringing our Premiers together and many business leaders, I think it’s a great opportunity. It’s an example, I might say, of the outstanding job Ambassador Joe Hockey is doing advancing Australia’s cause and remembering, we are celebrating this year, honouring this year, 100 years of mateship. 100 years ago, General Sir John Monash led American troops and Australian troops into battle at the Battle of Hamel. So that was the first time Americans and Australians fought side by side in freedom’s cause and we have been doing so ever since.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

Your reception, you’re going to have an official welcome at the White House, it’s been described as the highest welcome or recognition by any President since 2006 on John Howard’s visit. This is … you’ve come quite a way haven’t you, since that first phone call, you and the President?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’ve got a great – as Greg Norman said, he’s a great friend of both of us – we’ve got a great relationship.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

It was a rocky start, but now things are looking a bit smoother?

PRIME MINISTER:

We get on very well.

KEIRAN GILBERT:

Prime Minister, have a good trip

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you so much.

[ENDS]