Press Conference

24 May 2022
Tokyo, Japan
Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Quad Leaders’ Summit; Australia’s relationship with China; Solomon Islands; Russia; Taiwan; AUKUS; climate change

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: The Government in Australia has changed, but this was an opportunity to tell our Quad partners—the United States, Japan and India—that the Government’s commitment to the Quad has not changed.

The United States is our most important ally. And we have close relations with Japan and with India. And I will say, I was very touched by the warm welcome and congratulations that I received from Prime Minister Kishida, our host, from Prime Minister Modi, and from President Biden, who I had met before when he was Vice President of the United States.

The Quad plays an important role. The Quad is important in terms of our economic relationship, but also on what unites us. Our democratic values, which are shared. Our position which is the support for the rule of law. Making sure of the values which Australia’s nation is built on, which we share with these other great democracies. So, there’s a real opportunity for Australia to send a message to the world that the Government has changed, our values haven’t, in terms of support for democracy and engagement with important partners here at the Quad.

Next year, of course, Australia will host the Quad meeting. And I look forward to welcoming President Biden, Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Kishida to Australia next year.

Today was also an opportunity for myself, as the new Australian Prime Minister, to indicate Australia’s changed position on climate. That has been welcomed by these three nations in the Quad. And they welcomed it because it will strengthen what is an important issue in the Indo-Pacific. We know that China is seeking to exert more influence in the Pacific. And we know that climate change is such an important issue. I share the view that this is a national security issue. Climate change is not just about the environment, it's about the shape of our economies, but also our national security going forward. And I was very pleased that the changes were made to the statement, which will be issued shortly, from the Quad Leaders' meeting. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, while you've been here in Japan, there has been overtures from Beijing, including from Li Keqiang, the Chinese Premier, about wanting to use your election as an opportunity to reset that relationship. How seriously do you take these statements? And what would it take? What would Australia demand China to show us that they are serious?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I have received, now, a letter of congratulations from Premier Li, as I have from other world leaders. And I welcome that. We will respond appropriately in time when I return to Australia. But it was a formal letter that went through. I welcome the congratulations I receive from all over the world.

JOURNALIST: On the Solomon Islands, did you discuss in the Quad what the red line would mean and what a Quad response would be to any crossing of such a red line in the Solomon Islands? And sorry, just one for Penny Wong if that's okay, or Foreign Minister rather. On supply chain, you spoke about supply chains and human rights. Will you have discussions with your Indian counterparts to push them further and calling out Russia about what's happening with human rights violations in the Ukraine?

PRIME MINISTER: Firstly, on the Solomons. The Solomons was discussed in the meeting, including the issue in which China is seeking to exert more influence in the Pacific. We know that's the case. Australia is responding to that, along with the United States, of course, have Kurt Campbell and other representatives who are here, who visited Honiara recently. We discussed the need for the Quad to engage more in the Indo-Pacific. That was a general theme—how do we engage, how do we make sure that we push our shared values in the region at a time when China is clearly seeking to exert more influence? So, we're conscious of that. And that's one of the reasons why we will respond. From Australia's perspective, I spoke about our Pacific plan that we announced during the election during the meeting, including our Australia Pacific Defence Training Facility, including our migration program, both permanent, specifically for people from the Pacific, but also Pacific temporary, our position of maritime security. And one of the things that the Quad is looking at in engaging in the region is the issue of maritime security. Fish stocks are so important for our Pacific Island neighbours. We spoke about that. We spoke about climate change and the need for support for climate change infrastructure in the region. I spoke about our aid program and the increase, over half a billion dollars, in aid that we announced during the election campaign, as well as people-to-people links through parliamentary engagement so that the leaders of Australia can engage directly with the leaders of the Pacific.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: On the first issue, obviously, for Solomon Islands and what has occurred there exemplifies the changed strategic environment that is the Pacific. But it doesn't end there. And, as the Prime Minister said, the nature of the changing environment in the Pacific island nations, in the Southwest Pacific, was a topic of conversation. Obviously, something that Australia, given our geography and history, wanted to make sure was discussed fully. And the PM did that. In relation to your question, I think you're referring to the modern slavery announcement, which we made before the election. It's a country agnostic proposition, which I think should be reasonably unremarkable, which is the countries of the world should try and stamp out modern slavery.

JOURNALIST: In terms of supply chains and a focus on human rights, has India called out Russia?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, we were clear about the position on Russia. That was obviously discussed. You'll see a reference in the Leaders' statement. And I think the positions of the four Quad countries is there.

JOURNALIST: Joe Biden said yesterday that should China invade Taiwan, that we would expect to military action. What is your response to that? And where do we stand at the moment given that this seems to be running counter to strategic ambiguity on Taiwan?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, President Biden has confirmed there's no change in the United States position. And I confirm there's no change in Australia's position.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just to follow up, though. The President did say on Sunday, confirmed, that the commitment was to intervene militarily if necessary. If that was to occur, what would Australia's position be?

PRIME MINISTER: Our position is there should be no unilateral change to the status quo. Our position has not changed.

JOURNALIST: The previous Government made several attacks, particularly leading into the campaign, in relation to your prospective Ministers and China. Peter Dutton said Penny Wong would be sucked in by President Xi. Richard Marles was called the Manchurian Candidate. Do you feel you've made some steps today in convincing any Australians who listened to that and were fearful that you're on the side of the US and not on the side of autocrats?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, serious people didn't take those comments seriously. And what we shouldn't do, when we speak about Australia's national interests, is trying to score cheap, political, domestic points by doing it. Because that's not in Australia's national interest. The truth is that Australia is a great democracy. We stand for our values which are consistent. I, whenever asked, must have been hundreds of times now, have said that the demands, which were placed by China, are entirely inappropriate, we reject all of them. We will determine our own values. We will determine Australia's future direction. It's China that's changed, not Australia.

JOURNALIST: The Japanese Prime Minister said that in the Indo-Pacific, we do not want to see a situation like Ukraine here. What are the concerns inside the Quad about that scenario potentially occurring? And what are you doing? I note today that you're trying to broaden the Quad with the Pacific and ASEAN and East Asian nations. How important is it to ensure that you are united?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's no proposal to broaden the Quad beyond its existing membership. What the Quad has discussed, of course, is our engagement with other important bodies, including ASEAN. That's important. President Biden hosted ASEAN very recently in the past weeks. And that's important. So, we did discuss the context of our influence in the Indo-Pacific. And that includes the context here, which is the Solomons and what has occurred there.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, WA rewarded you tremendously in the federal election. And given that one in four jobs in WA depends on China, do you owe it to West Australians to fix that relationship?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Western Australia, I am not commenting on domestic issues while I'm overseas, except to say that I was pleased with Western Australia. And we made a good decision to hold our campaign launch there.

JOURNALIST: But in regard to the relationship with China?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, some of you, when I said Tangney, expressed some alarm about my capacity to count. With regard to our relations, Australia seeks good relations with all countries. But it's not Australia that's changed, China has. It is China that has placed sanctions on Australia. There is no justification for doing that. And that's why they should be removed.

JOURNALIST: Just back on Ukraine. The leaders of the United States and Japan, in their opening remarks this morning, made specific reference to the Ukraine. President Biden described it as an attack on civilisation, I think. You didn't mention it and neither did Prime Minister Modi. Was there a reason why you didn't mention it? Was it discussed? Could you elaborate on how it was discussed, if it was discussed in the Quad meeting, and where we go? Is there any sign of unanimity on the issue?

PRIME MINISTER: It certainly was discussed. And you'll see a reference in the statement about it. And I certainly made a contribution as part of the debate, expressing Australia's view that the Russian unilateral, illegal, immoral attack on the people of Ukraine is an outrage. And the atrocities which have been committed on innocent civilians is something that we couldn't have expected in the 21st century. I think people thought that sort of activity was something of the past. And certainly, strong views were expressed in the meeting, as you would expect, consistent with Australia's position. I indicated that Australia has, on a bipartisan basis, supported every one of the requests that were given made by the Ukraine, including President Zelenskyy's request for Bushmasters, after he addressed the Parliament. That's been something that has been bipartisan. I would think it would continue to be so. And we remain open to any further suggestions of support. This is something that Russia must pay a price for its actions. It's as simple as that. These actions are against democratic values, against national sovereignty, against the rule of law, against the very Charter of the United Nations, and they should be condemned unequivocally. And I do so again now.

JOURNALIST: Yesterday, you had a conversation with Boris Johnson of the UK. In the briefing in the UK out of that conversation, Boris Johnson, through his spokesperson, made reference to the AUKUS alliance and the discussion about broadening AUKUS and taking it into other fields. Was AUKUS discussed today in the Quad meeting, and do you support the idea of expanding AUKUS into other areas?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, AUKUS was discussed by the participants in AUKUS, not centrally because this is the Quad Leaders' meeting, but obviously reference was given by myself to AUKUS as an important development. The discussion with Prime Minister Johnson was a very constructive one. It centred around our support for AUKUS. He thanked us for that support, which I gave as Leader of the Opposition, for the AUKUS arrangements. The main thing that we discussed was climate change. Yesterday, we had quite a good discussion. It was longer than I thought it would be. It included my reference to the fact that Margaret Thatcher was one of the first world leaders to come out on the science of climate change. She played an important role. In the UK, they don't have the debate that has unfortunately taken place in Australia for a long period of time, and some seem determined to continue it. The truth is the science of climate change is very clear. And we need a very clear response. He welcomed, very much welcomed, the fact that we will have stronger action on climate change, including with a higher 2030 target.

JOURNALIST: Margaret Thatcher closed coal mines. Is it your intention to do the same? Would you sign the COP26 pledge on coal?

PRIME MINISTER: No. We will do exactly what I said we would do in terms of our Powering Australia Plan. It's all out there. It's fully costed. It is ready to go. It will make a big difference.

JOURNALIST: What did your fellow Quad leaders have to say today about your predecessor’s stance on climate action and the handling of the former Government in regard to Solomon Islands?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't intend to politicise this press conference while overseas or make any criticism of the former Government.

JOURNALIST: You've had the briefings now and you have been to this meeting.

PRIME MINISTER: We're about to have the bilateral, so I'm not going to keep President Biden waiting. So, this will be the last question.

JOURNALIST: So, in terms of the concern raised by your predecessors about the threat of war in the region, what's your view on that now that you've had these high-level briefings?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, our position is very clear. We want peace and stability in the region. That's best achieved through proper diplomatic processes, by making sure we build relations in the region and act in a positive way. One of the great things about the Quad is that is what it's about. And today, of course, we also had, well, not today, yesterday, we signed up to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. It has 13 countries, of which eight of Australia's top 10 trading partners are involved in it. It's just another way that the Quad can reach out. I think the Quad is a very important forum. It's been a great honour to come here. And I think it's been a good start to the new Government to have this high-level engagement with President Biden, Prime Minister Modi, and I particularly thank Prime Minister Kishida for hosting us here so well in Japan. Thanks very much.