PM Morrison addressing the media

Press Conference, Canberra ACT

20 Mar 2019
Canberra, ACT
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: During the past few days, in what has been a very difficult and sensitive time around the world, obviously as the New Zealand Prime Minister and I have been addressing the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians, and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment.

They are offensive, because they insult the memory of our ANZACs and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli, of the promise of Ataturk to the mothers of our ANZACs. So I understand the deep offence Australians would be feeling about this. It is truly upsetting. I have conveyed that in the strongest possible terms to the Turkish Ambassador today and I do not accept the excuses that have been offered for those comments. There will be further meetings held today between our ambassador and the Turkish government, and foreign ministers will also discuss this matter today, but I have made it very clear about where Australia stands on this matter.

I believe the comments also completely misrepresent the very strong position taken by the Australian and New Zealand Governments in our response to the extremist attack in New Zealand that was committed by an Australian, but in no way, shape, or form, could possibly be taken to represent the actions, or any policy or view of the Australian people. All Australians have condemned it, as, indeed, I have, swiftly, and the New Zealand Prime Minister has. But not only that, it has not just been our condemnation of that attack, but it has been our response, both as countries, who have an open, tolerant society, accepting of all faiths and peoples, that we have reached out to embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand and in Australia, quite to the contrary of the vile assertion that has been made about our response.

The response of our free people in New Zealand and Australia, I think, is the message that needs to be communicated to the Turkish people, and I believe is a view respected by the people of Turkey and certainly by Turkish Australians. In my own discussions with Turkish Australian leaders this morning, they have expressed to me their deep disappointment about these comments. They don't represent the views of Turkish Australians. Turkish Australians have made an extraordinary contribution to this country and particularly over more than a century as they've joined with us to commemorate the battles of Gallipoli. They have demonstrated, I think, both a spirit of goodwill and I know that they would not seek to be associated with these comments at all.

So what I'm saying is this - I am not going to single out the comments of one person and ascribe it to a people, whether in Turkey or across Australia. I don't think it does reflect the views of the Turkish people, or certainly of Turkish Australians. My job is to keep Australians safe. My job is to ensure that we act in a measured way to take the temperature down and ensure that we continue to work to foster goodwill between peoples. That said, I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn. I've asked for these comments, particularly their reporting of the misrepresented position of Australia on Turkish television, the state-sponsored broadcaster, to be taken down and I expect that to occur. I will wait to see what the response is from the Turkish Government before taking further action, but I can tell you that all options are on the table.

But my actions here are to be measured, to de-escalate, to not engage in a cycle of recklessness, but to engage in a positive spirit and to focus on the key issue before us, and that is to reach out to our populations here in Australia and New Zealand and provide comfort and support to those who have been the victims of these horrific crimes.

Also, the travel advisory to Turkey is obviously under review, and that is a process that will take some time and when that has been concluded, we will make a further announcement.

JOURNALIST: What's your advice today though, Prime Minister, to those thousands of Australians who are planning to go to or may already have booked to go to Gallipoli next month for ANZAC Day?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think there's a common-sense response to that, to be mindful of the nature of these comments and to await further advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. But I think people should exercise common sense in relation to their travel plans.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that these comments by the President expose or open Australia to terror attacks?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I believe that how we respond to this - which is, frankly, in sorrow, in disappointment - is the appropriate response, and to appeal to the goodwill of the relationship that has existed for a very long time and to see that put back on its appropriate footings. I don't intend to sort of engage in that cycle I referred to, to ensure that we can keep Australians and Turks safe.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you have a deep connection we know to the ANZAC story. Can you give us a sense of your immediate reaction when you heard these remarks from President Erdogan?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I was just deeply offended, as any Australian would be. The first thing that came to my mind was the promise of Ataturk. I mean, Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation, an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit and the promise that was made to Australians, that we have relied upon, I think, to build the good relationship that we have.

JOURNALIST: What do you mean by ‘common sense’? Are you suggesting that Australians put their travel plans on hold?

PRIME MINISTER: I think they should exercise caution and await further official advice.

JOURNALIST: Could you expand, please, on your comment that all options are open?

PRIME MINISTER: Only to say that all options are open.

JOURNALIST: Is it an apology that you're demanding from Erdogan?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm seeking a response in the good faith of our relationship.

JOURNALIST: What was the ambassador's explanation for the President's comment?

PRIME MINISTER: The excuses I don't accept are that things get said in the heat of the moment. The excuses that I don't accept are that things are said in an electoral context. I expect, in our relationships with our friends, that we always act in the good faith of that relationship. There is an opportunity, I think, for that to now take place. I will extend the time to do that. I should also note that I've spoken with the Leader of the Opposition and he endorses this approach that I am taking and we appreciate that. I am also keen to ensure that we continue to liaise very closely with New Zealand on this.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask Prime Minister, have you seen the vision? Because they seemed to be very warmly received, these comments. People cheered, the crowd applauded, they chanted. What do you make of that? He's obviously playing to a certain section of his community and his electorate in his campaign events.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I choose to have faith in the tremendous relationship between the Australian and Turkish people, which has been experienced by Australians as they've travelled with Kiwis to Gallipoli for many, many, many years and the experience, the hospitality and goodwill of the Turkish people. I choose to believe in the good faith and great citizenship of Turkish Australians in this country. The Gallipoli mosque, as it's known, in Auburn, and as a result, that's what I choose to have faith in. As you know me, I always am the optimist. I always will seek to act in good faith and I simply would hope that others would do the same. Thank you very much.