Press Conference - Australian Parliament House

Transcript
12 Nov 2020
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon everyone. There’s a number of things I’d like to get through this morning and in particular the reason that the Defence Minister joins me here today to deal with the receipt of the IGADF report.

But before I do that, I can let you know that I had a very, very warm call with President-elect Biden this morning, and we both made very clear our strong commitment to strengthening our alliance, which will celebrate 70 years next year. This is a relationship that he understands very deeply, based on his broad experience over a long period of time, and the United States, and his engagement of course as Vice President and his many other roles and I was also - had the opportunity to personally extend that invitation for him and Dr Biden to join us next year as part of the celebration of those, the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS relationship. Something we both reflected upon was, first entered into by a Liberal Prime Minister and a Democratic President. So this is a relationship, as I said on the weekend, that has been stewarded by many Prime Ministers, by many Presidents, from many perspectives, but what has also remained very clear and very true and was evidenced in the discussion we had today, that it is one that is bigger than both of us and important to all of us, not just here in Australia and in the United States but in our own region and more broadly around the rest of the world and we understand those responsibilities. We agreed that there was no more critical time for both this alliance between ourselves and the United States but more broadly the working together especially of like-minded countries and values that we hold and share working together to promote peace and stability of course in the Indo-Pacific region and more broadly through the many multilateral institutions and agencies that exist, whether they be on trade, in the United Nations or others. The Quad, the G7, the OECD, the G20, these also are very important in the forums that we work together. Within the United States and of course here in Australia of course we respect the transition process that is underway, at least informally. When that formally commences, that is of course a matter for the US Administration and we will continue to work closely with the US Administration respecting those protocols in the months ahead because there remain many issues on hand that we are dealing with the United States administration. We also discussed the many global challenges of course. Whether they be COVID-19, which is very much clearly top of his agenda in addressing the situation there, as well of course the economic impacts of that. The President-elect was very interested in Australia's success here and what Australia could contribute from our lessons and our learnings and the way we have managed the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic dimensions of that as well. We’ve discussed, as I already indicated, security and the environmental challenges that Australia and the United States can work together on, particularly in the areas of emissions reducing technologies.

I can also advise today that next week I will travel to Tokyo and I will meet with the new Prime Minister of Japan Prime Minister Suga and I am honoured to be the first foreign leader to visit Japan to meet the new Prime Minister, following his appointment. I will also be visiting Port Moresby as I, on the return to Australia. 

Our relationship with Japan over the past few years has really gone from strength to strength. They are an important partner on so many issues within our region. We are special strategic partners, we work closely together on trade, security, defence as the Minister knows, technology issues and indeed our present involvement in the Malabar exercise is a very good demonstration of that. We will play an important role in our economic recovery from COVID-19 and discuss many of, ways that we can further deepen our trade ties that is worth some $86 billion, including the Japan-Australia economic partnership Agreement and on the return as I said, I will be meeting with my very dear friend Prime Minister Marape as we will continue to discuss the work we are doing together to support them on COVID-19 and in particular how we can assist them through our vaccine program and the many other partnerships we have in place with them to address their challenges, in dealing with not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but of course the economic recession that flows from that. Now, I'll be strictly following, as you would expect, the many health advice, and quarantine requirements when I run to Australia. I will go into isolation for 14 days as well as those who are accompanying me and what will be a first, I anticipate for the Australian Parliament, joining Question Time by video link. So that will be a first and I can only look forward to that, as I am sure all of you will also.

But, to the also, and very serious and significant matters that draws us to this press conference today and I appreciate your patience, I am going to call on it again. 

As Prime Minister, and I know the Minister for Defence joins me in this, all members of our Government, all members of our Parliament I am so extremely thankful to every Australian who chooses to put on our uniform to serve under our flag to protect our freedoms to uphold our values and to protect our interests. That is a choice Australians make to serve. I respect that choice and I am deeply grateful for it and their service. Our Defence Forces have a proud history one we remembered again yesterday. Our serving men and women are deserving of the respect and admiration in which they are held by the Australian people and not just here but our allies and partners around the world. They have earned it. They have demonstrated it and I can say this because serving men and women in our Defence Forces both past and present share the expectations and aspirations of the Australian people for our Defence Forces and how they engage in their conduct. That means when you have such standards and respect such standards that from time to time this requires us to deal with honest and brutal truths, where expectations and standards may not have been met. 

Now, this has been the case regarding some very serious issues that were raised regarding conduct by some members of Australia's special operations task group in Afghanistan. It is our Australian way to deal with these issues with a deep respect for justice and the rule of law, but also one that seeks to illuminate the truth but also seeks to understand it because that is what must drive our response. To ensure that indeed justice is truly served but also in understanding and illuminating the conduct of those who may have acted in ways that do not accord with the high standards expected of our ADF and those expectations as I say are no less held by the serving men and women of our ADF and their veterans community past and present. That we not just seek to illuminate that truth that we understand it and not for those who are just specifically involved in such conduct but those who had responsibility for the environment in which those Australians served the context of that service the rules and the culture that were relevant in understanding that conduct. All of this is relevant and if you are serious about illuminating the truth here and dealing with its consequences, then you must take that broader view as a Government and I have no doubt the CDF and the Defence Force will do the same. Such conduct must be held accountable in our justice system by Australians in accordance with our justice system and the Australian rule of law, but responsibility must also be taken by leadership to ensure the lessons are learned and these events are never repeated.

So as is right the Chief of the Defence Force General Campbell in 2016 initiated the Inspector- Generals of the ADF to conduct an inquiry at arm's length from the Defence Forces and the Government to determine whether there was any substance to the allegations made in relevance to the task group. Those inquiries have now been completed as that part of the process and the CDF is considering findings and will release the details of that next week while the Government makes preparations to deal with the release of the report. This will be difficult and hard news for Australians I can assure you to hear. Covering conducting over the course of what has been three Governments, over more than a decade. Our responsibility is to ensure now that we deal with this in a way that accords with our Australian standards of justice that respects the rule of law that provides the relevant checks and balances through this process that upholds our values and standards and the respect that we have for our Defence Forces that they have earned and deserve, that we protect the vulnerable whether serving currently or who are in our veterans community who have no part in this who have no involvement here and who must be assured by all of us as Australians by ensuring the integrity and robustness of a response and a process that is consistent with the values that they hold and cause them to choose to pull on that uniform. For those in our veterans community for whom this may be a very difficult time there are supports available and one of the instructions that the Minister and I and the Minister for Veterans Affairs have given to our agencies is to ensure that those processes are in place to assist them.

So today I announce the following response. Given the likely allegations of serious and possibly criminal misconduct the matters raised in the inquiry must be assessed, investigated and where allegations are substantiated, prosecuted in court. To undertake this role, the Government is establishing the Office of the Special Investigator, the Office of the Special Investigator will address the criminal matters made in the Inspector-General's report and investigate those allegations, gather evidence and where appropriate refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration. There is a significant number of incidents or issues to be investigated further and that investigation will be inherently complex. The investigation will require cooperation with international agencies and the evaluation of large amounts of material. The Special Investigator will be an eminent person with experience in the justice system and international law. The office will be established within the Department of Home Affairs and staffed with experienced investigators, legal counsel and other support personnel. It will include investigators from the Australian Federal Police and state and territory Police Forces with the requisite experience and skills. It will leverage the Australian Federal Police investigative capability and powers. The office of the Special Investigator is expected to be fully stood up next year if not sooner and the Office of the Special Investigator will remain in place for as long as is necessary to resolve matters arising from the Inspector-General's inquiry. Establishing the Office of the Special Investigator will enable the Australian Federal Police also to remain focused on keeping Australians safe and secure through its primary focus on fighting serious organised crime, terrorists and foreign interference. This will be a non-statutory body so there is no requirement for legislation to put this in place they will act in effect under the powers of the Federal Police Commissioner.

But there is another task beyond the justice task and I will ask the Minister to speak to that in just a moment. The Government will also establish a separate and independent oversight panel comprising three eminent Australians whose expertise and experience will provide oversight and assurance relating to the defence response to the inquiry relating to cultural organisational and leadership change. The oversight panel will report directly to the Minister for Defence on the implementation of the inquiry's recommendations and their consideration of any wider implications and actions in response to the inquiry and I thank the Minister for her recommendation of the establishment of this oversight panel which will enable her also to ensure that the matters that require to be addressed within the ADF are in fact being done so and while at the same time preserving the integrity of the justice process that we have set in place and keeps Government Ministers directly at arm's length from both of those processes. The Oversight Panel will be comprised of Dr Vivienne Thom AO, a former Inspector-General of intelligence and security, Robert Cornall AO a former Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, and Professor Rufus Black, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania and a noted ethicist. Ultimately the Oversight Panel will be the Government's and the public's independent body to ensure that Defence is making the changes recommended by the inquiry to help ensure that we can address any underlying issues. Its role will be a central part of ensuring ongoing confidence in our Defence Force. 

I can also advise that the Opposition has been briefed on these arrangements today this morning. They also have been involved in briefings leading up to this more broadly on other matters and I would invite the Minister for Defence to make some remarks.

SENATOR THE HON. LINDA REYNOLDS CSC, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thank you very much Prime Minister and good afternoon. It has been widely known that over the past four years the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force has been inquiring into the conduct of Australia’s Special Operations task group in Afghanistan. In particular rumours and allegations relating to possible breaches of the law of armed conflict over the period 2005 to 2016. As the Prime Minister has said, in 2016 these matters were referred to the Inspector-General of the ADF by the now CDF General Angus Campbell. The Afghanistan inquiry was conducted at arm’s length from both the ADF chain of command and from Government's. This was to ensure the independence and the integrity of the process. The inquiry was also conducted in private as it involved matters both of operational security and of potential harm to the reputations of individuals. The Inspector-General has now completed the Afghanistan inquiry. The inquiry report was delivered to the Chief of Defence Force last Friday. General Campbell has provided me with an initial briefing on the report. He's also advised me that he is now considering the very detailed findings and the many recommendations contained in the report. Can I just say this the CDF must have the time the necessary time to give the report his serious consideration. Once he has gone through this process he has indicated his intention to speak publicly on the report and I believe we must, we must provide the CDF with this opportunity. Therefore at this stage, I will not be making any comment on the substance of the inquiry report itself. 

The Australian Government is taking all of the necessary steps to ensure that there are the appropriate mechanisms in place to deal with these most serious of matters. In addition to the measure that the Prime Minister has outlined in relation to the inquiry, I have established the Afghanistan, it is called the Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel. This panel will provide oversight of the Defence response to the inquiry. It will also provide assurance to the Government and to me as Minister and also to all Australians that this report is being implemented as all Australians would expect it to be. Accountability, accountability will be the cornerstone of Defence's response to this inquiry ahe Oversight Panel will report directly to me on Defence's implementation of the inquiry recommendations but importantly it will also consider and also report on any wider implications and actions in response to the inquiry findings. As the PM has said, I have appointed three eminent Australians to this Oversight Panel and between them, they have all of the requisite expertise and experience in complex and sensitive legal matters, in forensic review, in organisational scrutiny and reform, in ethics and in policy development. To lead the panel, Dr Vivienne Thom AO will be leading that panel of work. The Terms of Reference for the inquiry itself have been released and will be publicly available today. 

Can I say I have absolutely no doubt, no doubt whatsoever that this is likely to be a very difficult and a very distressing time for those impacted by this report. Particularly so for those who are vulnerable and those who are at risk. This Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that current and former serving ADF members and of course their family members, any of them who are impacted by this inquiry have access to the right support. This includes a very comprehensive package of legal, psychological, medical, pastoral care and social work support and I strongly encourage all current and former serving ADF members and their families to please reach out and seek the support that you need. 

These are extremely serious matters and the measures that the Prime Minister and I have outlined today means that this Government is taking all of the necessary steps to ensure that these matters are addressed and that they are comprehensively and very transparently implemented.

So thank you Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Minister. Can I thank the Minister for Home Affairs and the Attorney-General for their assistance. 

Phil?

JOURNALIST: We have had a 4-year investigative inquiry now we will have an investigation into the findings. How long realistically until we may see a prosecution and is there any statute of limitations that were applied on any potential offences in terms of the time they were committed?

PRIME MINISTER: The first point for me to make Phil is that continuation of a process not a new process as would occur in any such report it would in ordinary practice be handed on to the AFP to prepare a brief of evidence to make available to the DPP. Now in this case, this is no normal set of circumstances and the expertise scale of this that is necessary to properly fulfil that function that the AFP would normally provide here does not exist and as the Minister for Home Affairs has submitted through this process would significantly overwhelm the AFP in their many other very important works that they have to do. So it is necessary to build that capability. It sits under the AFP’s commission and continues that process. So I wouldn't want there to be a perception and I know you are not suggesting this, that this is some new investigation. The report does not provide a brief of evidence. That was not necessarily its purpose and so this is the next step and it will go for an indeterminate amount of time. A key task of the Special Investigator will really be to triage I think the many issues that are raised in the report. Now, I can assure you, neither the Minister or I are privy to the unredacted version of this report when it comes to the names and identification of individuals. That is important I think for the separation of our roles from this process and the integrity of that process but Phil, the short answer is, it is an indeterminate period of time and it will take as long as it takes to progress through what will be very complicated legal issues and so we must prepare ourselves for what will continue to be a long and arduous journey.

Chris?

JOURNALIST: Statute of Limitations?

PRIME MINISTER: I will come back to you on that specifically but to the extent that anything, we will have to abide by the normal laws that sit around those matters unless the minister has anything to add to that?

SENATOR THE HON. LINDA REYNOLDS CSC, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: It’ll be subject to, given it is such a wide period of time, that will be one of the things that the special investigator will take into consideration.

JOURNALIST: You seem to think that the process will be Australian justice. Does this mitigate against the possibility that some of our soldiers could be called before the International Criminal Court?

PRIME MINISTER: We believe so, yes. That is the important advice we have taken on this. We need to deal with this as Australians according to our own laws, through our own justice processes and we will and I think that will say a lot about Australia. Of course, this report will be difficult news and all of our partners must be assured and those around the world who rightly hold the Australian Defence Forces in high regard, I believe by the process we are outlining to you today shows why that is the case, that in Australia we deal with this stuff and we deal with it honestly, but in accordance through the rule of law and by following the justice practices and principles that makes Australia what it is.

JOURNALIST: Are there any concerns within Government that any of the evidence that has been related may not be admissible given the nature in which it was compelled from witnesses and are you confident that the current Chief of Defence and current Chief of Army have declared any potential conflict of interests given their time that is covered in this report?

PRIME MINISTER: The short answers to both requests are yes and yes. There are, there is evidence that is contained in the report that obviously has been gathered under different circumstances and those are the very reasons why a Special Investigator working under the AFP's powers must be appointed to resolve those issues and that is why it is not a simple matter of just taking this report and then dropping it down to the DPP. That is not possible and so, that is what I mean when I refer to the very complex issues that have to be addressed here by the Special Investigator and indeed the Director General sits above that and makes sure the entire operation runs and I will ask the Minister to comment also more specifically on the CDF but that is, I am confident about that and I would expect if there are any issues that arose they would be raised directly and immediately with me and or the Minister.

SENATOR THE HON. LINDA REYNOLDS CSC, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thank you, Prime Minister. I share the Prime Minister's confidence in the CDF and Defence's senior leadership. But one of the reasons why I did recommend and we are now establishing the Oversight Panel is to ensure that any matters that relate to culture and any matters that might be found in a report as I have said, emerge during the course of the implementation are considered not only by the CDF but also considered externally. So that is exactly the purpose so that we have accountability and transparency that sits out of the ADF chain of command and outside of Government.

JOURNALIST: Just on cultural issues are you willing to have senior leaders in the ADF sacked over or if it emerges they looked the other way or knew what was going on and allowed it to flourish?

PRIME MINISTER: As I said in my opening remarks, it is not just the specific conduct of individuals that relate to acts that are covered in this report. It is the environment, it is the context, it is the rules, it is the culture and the command that sat around those things and if we want to deal with the truth of this, we have to deal with the truth of that and I know there would be some concern in the veterans community and I know there would be some concern within those serving members of the ADF that this process may only just focus on those specifically involved and I want to assure them that both the CDF, the Minister and myself are very, very keen to ensure to really understand and learn from this, then those matters can't be ignored and they need to be understood and they need to be addressed. Now, when it comes to the who is serving and where they are serving, that is a matter for the CDF and that is a matter that ultimately is then oversighted by the panel led by Vivienne Thom that the Minister has appointed. I think that provides the appropriate check and balance here I think in keeping that on the right keel but I would add this and this is what I am also very keen to stress, there is some disturbing conduct here but we cannot then take that and apply it to everyone who has pulled on a uniform and if we did that, that would be grossly unjust, grossly unjust. I know that wouldn't be the view of people here or in Government or anywhere else. We all share a deep respect for our Defence Forces, but we also share a deep respect for justice. It is about managing those two issues to the high standards I think we place on them in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you have any concerns for the safety and well-being of our serving personnel overseas currently and also embassy staff? And Minister, how often do you expect to be hearing from this Oversight Panel?

PRIME MINISTER: Why don't you deal with that one first, Linda?

SENATOR THE HON. LINDA REYNOLDS CSC, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: In relation to the oversight panel, I will get an official report every quarter from them and I will be reporting regularly to the Parliament on their reports to me. If I need more, then I will obviously ask them to do more. I will be in regular contact with the Oversight Panel and can I just stress, nothing will be out of bounds for this inquiry. There are many lessons no doubt to be learnt at many levels and so this inquiry this panel will be absolutely looking at all of them.

PRIME MINISTER: Just to answer the other part of the question. I don't want to overstate them but it is an appropriate thing for the Government to take appropriate precautions about and that is why today I am announcing the process and there is a period of time, both for the CDF to continue to consider the report himself, but we also have been engaged and have begun the process with state and territory governments as well as ensuring the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the many services that they support are in a position to deal with the response when, sorry, the report when it is released next week.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how many soldiers are there accusations against when you talk about it? Does it involve all members of the ADF, can we get a sense of that are you shocked by what you see in the report and just in relation to the Joe Biden phone call, are you surprised…

PRIME MINISTER: I will come back to that. I will try to remember till we get to that, but yes.

JOURNALIST: I was just saying, are you surprised that Donald Trump hasn't conceded yet?

PRIME MINISTER: I won't go to those issues. In terms of the other matters that you have raised, I think they are best addressed by the CDF when he releases the report next week and he can go to those matters. This is his report and it is for him to release it and speak to its contents. So I will allow him to do that. But in terms of what the Government has been briefed on, I think you can tell from the seriousness and the gravity in the way we are responding to this that you can get a clear sense of how seriously the Government is taking this Andrew. This is going to be very difficult for Australians. It is going to be very difficult for our serving community and our veterans community. It is going to be difficult for all of us but what we are seeking to do as a Government I think what we have to do as a country, is to absorb this in a way that enables us to uphold the integrity of our justice system and uphold the integrity of our Defence Forces. We rely vitally on both of these institutions absolutely vitally our safety, our security depends upon it and that is why you are hearing the response from us today as you have heard it. Michelle?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this has been a matter of debate obviously now for years. What has already been done to improve the culture in the relevant part of the Defence Force and also there has been some suggestion that maybe it would be a positive move to disband the SAS and reorganise things. Can you rule that out or do you think that has any merit?

PRIME MINISTER: I will allow the Minister obviously to deal with the progress that has been made there. I would simply say this Michelle this will be a long process. This is the next stage and I am not about to pre-empt or prejudge any actions in any way, shape or form that the CDF would think is appropriate in responding to the report. That is his job and he knows this. We have worked together for some time. He knows what his job is, we know what our job is and we expect each other to do both of those. But Minister?

SENATOR THE HON. LINDA REYNOLDS CSC, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thank you, Michelle. As I said, this started four years ago with a range of rumours and allegations that were circulating within Defence and so they did start off as rumours and allegations which is why the now CDF referred this through to the IGADF. 39,000 Australians have served in Afghanistan since 2001 and 26,000 of those in uniform and they have done so, with a few exceptions, which the CDF will address when he delivers his comments publicly and also delivers a version of the report that this should in no way undermine the work of a vast majority of those 39,000 Australians. They served with great distinction and 41 Australians lost their lives in that process. Today we have and as Minister I could not be any prouder of the work that our men and women are doing on Operation Bushfire Assist, COVID Assist. We have got 3,000 of our Defence personnel serving overseas at the moment in quite challenging circumstances but it is important Australians maintain confidence in the ADF. So for all the reasons that the Prime Minister has said today, it is critically important that the CDF has time to consider the report, work out what his response to the findings and recommendations will be and to deliver his implementation report but since 2016, since these rumours and allegations emerged there has been a significant and long-standing reform processes in Special Operations Command, and those reforms continue today and after the CDF has ready findings and the recommendations, I am certain he will have more say about what more yet has to be done with our Special Forces Command and their units. 

JOURNALIST: Can I just clarify on the report that is being released next week, what is the level of detail you anticipate being released apart from names of individuals, do you accept in order for the country to move on and grapple with this that as much detail as possible about the conduct is released publicly?

PRIME MINISTER: It is quite a voluminous report I can assure you of that but it will be for obvious reasons, a redacted report both to ensure the integrity of the justice process that is flowing from it and also national security issues as are relevant.

JOURNALIST: PM, you obviously were not Prime Minister and the Minister wasn't Minister when decisions were made about these deployments but if you had a chance to reflect on lessons that your predecessors as PM and Ministers might have had? Did we ask too much of our SAS and the Commandos in Afghanistan were there criticisms with the tempo of operations? Were our political leaders in the past making a mistake in sort of, maybe, contributing to this sort of culture that developed and things like that?

PRIME MINISTER: The span of your question I think goes in part to some of the issues that will be covered in the report. Not from a political point of view because the matters contained in the report were never raised is my advice with Government with ministers at the political level. That is my understanding of it. It has certainly been the case save for what has been initiated in my time as both a Cabinet Minister and indeed as Prime Minister but I would say this: anyone we ask, to put on a uniform, we are always asking a tremendous amount of them and particularly those who serve in the most dangerous of situations, and that of course goes to our special operations. And whether that is those that are based over there as part of the Special Air Services Regiment or indeed the 2 Commandos, not far from where my electorate is in southern Sydney, we ask an extraordinary amount of them and we always do. This is why I stand in awe of those who choose to put on a uniform because they do that knowing they will be asked to put themselves in very difficult situations and that is why their service is so extraordinary.

JOURNALIST: On the special investigation, you said the special investigations would be part of a continuing continuation of the process. Does that mean that AFP investigations that have already been underway for a couple of years would be sort of rolled into the new process? And just a second question…

PRIME MINISTER: The short answer to that is I would assume the AFP would resolve how they handle those issues within this new structure.

JOURNALIST: And would you be seeking to strip medals from any soldiers who have been found to commit crimes?

PRIME MINISTER: I will ask the Minister to comment on that.

SENATOR THE HON. LINDA REYNOLDS CSC, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: In relation to any of the findings and recommendations in the Inspector-General's report, the CDF is considering all of those options. There will be many options and many recommendations for his action and it would be my expectation that the CDF would consider each and every one of those recommendations, which may well include what you just said but again, I am going to wait until the CDF has finished his deliberations and there will be many other issues that will emerge that the CDF will have to consider and also possibly how and when he refers these matters to the special investigator.

PRIME MINISTER: The lights are a bit bright. We’ve got two questions up the back.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there has been some criticism of the time this report has taken, four years these further investigations, and the mental health impact has been hard on soldiers, on serving soldiers and veterans. Will these further investigations, will there be any timelines or deadlines for them?

PRIME MINISTER: My answer is the same as the answer I gave to Phil. It is an indeterminate time frame  and I simply say I can appreciate that frustration and I can appreciate the anxiety, but these are incredibly complex events involving actions and conduct in another country in a war and that is not a simple process in terms of the evidence gathering, arrangements and there are language difficulties, there are international law issues. This is not a simple matter and it remains not a simple matter and so it will take as long as it needs to take to ensure we deal with our dual objectives here of addressing the justice that is necessary in accordance with our laws and our systems but also ensuring the integrity of our Defence Forces on which we all rely on.

JOURNALIST: In your discussion with Joe Biden include the need to reach net zero emissions by 2050?

PRIME MINISTER: No he didn’t. It wasn’t raised with me during the course of the call but we did discuss I raised with the President-elect the similarity between the President-elect's comments and policies regarding emissions reduction and technologies that are needed to achieve that and we look forward to working on those issues but the specific matter that you raise was not addressed in that call. 

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the transition of power between from Trump to a Biden Presidency, are you concerned about that and are you also just following up on Andrew’s question, are you surprised he has not conceded yet?

PRIME MINISTER: In answer to your first question, no I am not concerned and we will respect the processes that the United States have. This is not the first transition from one President to another, it happens from time to time and those procedures are well established and the President-elect and I discussed that this morning and that we both have to respect that and there are matters still on foot that we are working with the current administration on and we will continue to do that. So that is quite regular. In relation to the other matter, it is not a matter for Australia. It is not a matter for me to pick up the phone as others were suggesting I do, well here that’s what they were doing, that is not a matter for me that is a matter for the President and we will just work through patiently with the issues we have in Australia's national interests.

JOURNALIST: Thanks PM, Minister, just on- borders are still closed, a lot of Australians might be surprised that you are travelling overseas. Why is it important that you are in Japan, what will be the outcome of that trip, and how will Parliament work with you in isolation, assuming you are at the Lodge for two weeks?

PRIME MINISTER: First of all, I will be one of tens of thousands of Australians who over the course of this pandemic have left Australia this is not unusual, there are many tens of thousands of Australians who have had to travel overseas including indeed the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding their business activities, many others on compassionate reasons and those figures will be well known to you. And for many, many months now I have engaged in telephone diplomacy on a large number of matters and will be doing so again this weekend with the ASEAN meetings that will be held over the course of this weekend and the East Asia Summit and I’ll be looking forward to participating in those and engaging with my colleagues in the region there. To be the first national leader, I think, to engage in Japan with the new Prime Minister and to have the opportunity to do that is significant for Australia, because Japan is a very special relationship with Australia. It's not just an economic one, it's not just a trade one, it's not just a cultural and social one, importantly, it is a strategic one that we form together with the United States and India a very important quad relationship. We play a very important role together in working in the Southwest Pacific together. And when it comes to the development, and in particular more recently, the COVID-19 assistance which has become provided, issues around vaccine development in South East Asia, work that has been done in the Mekong. Japan and Australia are very important together in providing, I think, a like-minded alignment on these strategic issues within our region. So the opportunity to go there and conclude some very important arrangements in this space is in Australia's national interest. While I am there I will also have the opportunity to discuss economic issues as well and importantly, given I will be going, as you rightly say into 14 days' isolation which I will do here at the Lodge, then I will be able to also importantly visit with Prime Minister Marape, you all know my strong commitment to the relationships within the Pacific and while I’ve spoken to Pacific leaders regularly throughout the course of this crisis, this is an important opportunity to do that face-to-face. It will happen to be, I will actually happen to be in Port Moresby the night of the next State of Origin so I suspect we will take a moment to watch that game together as we like to do. It is part of the social element of our relationship. 

Chris?

JOURNALIST: Did the President-Elect raised the possibility of a summit of democracies which is something he has been pushing?

PRIME MINISTER: No, he didn't but we did speak about multilateral engagement and the US is what I believe is their indispensable and important role in those multilateral fora, we did talk about the OECD for example, we spoke about the G7+, where the UK Prime Minister Johnson has invited me to participate in the G7 summit next year, as we would have been in the United States this year were it not for COVID restrictions, and indeed as we have participated when France hosted it last year. So we talked a lot about our involvement in these fora, and in particular, the ones that bring together like-minded, market based democracies and he understands this part of the world extremely well. So I was very pleased to hear his very strong commitment to not only seeing that continue but to see it strengthen in the years ahead. So I may finish where we started and that is, we, he and I will be the next pairing of stewards of this important relationship of this alliance. We understand the responsibilities of that extend well beyond our terms and our specific domestic responsibilities. This is one of the most important relationships we agreed in the world and we will be doing everything in our national interest to ensure that it is maintained in good order. 

Thank you all very much.