Press Conference - Commonwealth War Graves St Illogan, United Kingdom

Transcript
12 Jun 2021
Prime Minister
E&OE

Prime Minister:

Good morning, whenever I have the opportunity to pay respects to Australians who have fallen in defence of their nation and in defence of freedom, I always welcome the opportunity to do so. I want to thank the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for giving me the opportunity to pay respects to eight young Australians who are laid to rest here, a long way from home and to read the messages that their families have ensured are engraved on those stones is always very moving. And so I very much thank the War Graves Commission for that opportunity today. Wherever they may lay, we will never forget them and I do appreciate the opportunity to pay our respects.

Earlier today it was also a welcome opportunity once again to meet with President Moon. These international events provide great opportunities for us to re-engage once again face-to-face, person-to-person. Throughout the course of COVID-19 it has been very difficult to maintain those direct personal contacts with leaders around the world. President Moon and I have spoken on many occasions during the course of COVID but the last time we had met had actually been in New York as part of the UN Leaders’ Week. And for us to be able to meet face-to-face again today and in our 60th anniversary of our diplomatic relationship, it was an important opportunity because we share a region, we share an outlook, we share those liberal democratic values which is the reason why both President Moon and I together with the other extension partners have been invited here this weekend to participate in the G7 discussions. So we look forward to progressing those, whether we are here as extension partners or indeed the members of the G7. This is a very important time for these discussions and I am very pleased to be able to take part.

Journalist:

Prime Minister, do you hope to get a meeting with Joe Biden today? Has anything been locked in?

Prime Minister:

We will be meeting later today.

Journalist:

What are you hoping to get out of that meeting?

Prime Minister:

It is an important meeting that will focus on what is Australia’s largest and most important ally and friend. Together, we have been forging the liberal world order that has been so important for peace and prosperity all around the world. The liberal democracies that gathered here this weekend have been stewards of that over these many, many years. None less so than the United States. So our defence partnership, security partnership, the important role we have to reinforce the strength of our economies.

Australia is one of few economies, together with South Korea in fact, whose size of our economy is bigger today than before the pandemic began. And equally, we have more people employed in Australia today than before the pandemic began. But the strength of our advanced economies is liberal democracies. The supply chains, ensuring that we maintain the pace on technological advancement, the role that things like critical minerals and rare earths are playing in supporting what is a new energy economy. The economic discussion that we have reinforces our defence and security discussion.

Then there is, of course, our responding to the global challenges whether that be in climate change or indeed addressing COVID-19. We’ve had very different experiences of COVID-19 but at the same time we have banded together whether it is at this forum here at the invitation of Prime Minister Johnson or indeed the Quad where we have been a very active participant in supporting the initiative there with vaccines and supporting the health needs of our region in the Indo-Pacific. So we have a very broad relationship with the United States and it hasn’t skipped a beat in terms of ensuring that we continue to focus on both of our respective interests but those interests are very merged and I think that is what we will see here today.

Journalist:

PM, the Summit is expected to have some sort of discussion on COVID origins. Do you want G7 leaders to call for a new independent investigation given some of the developments in US intelligence particularly? And as the country that first called for an Inquiry does Australia now have a preferred view on the natural origin theory or the Wuhan lab theory?

Prime Minister:

Well the first Inquiry, the first investigation we called for, which Helen Clarke amongst others were part of conducting, that recommended that there be even further work done. And that further work should be done and there will be the opportunity to discuss that at this afternoon’s session. It is very important that we understand the origins and there has already been discussion around our preparedness for any future pandemic that the world can move quickly on issues like vaccines. But equally, it is important that we have an early warning system, that we have a way of being able to alert the world to when these types of viruses originate and so we can move quickly to stem any transmission, which is what we saw of course at the start of this pandemic. Australia moved quickly and we shut our borders and as a result and the many other measures we’ve taken, it has ensured that Australia has come through from a health perspective and indeed an economic perspective far better than most countries around the world. But having that opportunity to be able to identify these pandemics at their very early onset and to be able to take very quick action relying on very good and reliable information – this is a key lesson I think out of this pandemic. So the purpose of these inquiries is to understand. It’s got nothing to do with politics or frankly blame or anything else. It is about understanding it so we all on a future occasion should it occur can move quickly and can respond and avoid I would hope on a future occasion the absolute carnage that we’ve seen from this pandemic to both lives and livelihoods all around the world.

Journalist:

Do you regret that China has politicised the investigation that you’ve just described?

Prime Minister:

Well that is your commentary. What I am simply saying is that the process that we called for is not yet done and it is recommending further work and it is recommending that there be further powers for WHO officers to be able to identify these things early and to ensure that that information is reliably passed on it a timely way. The transparency around these things is incredibly important just for health and safety, for nothing else and I made similar comments at the time of calling for that Inquiry which was ended up being supported by over 60 nations around the world. But their work is not yet done and I know that is a view that is widely shared.

Journalist:

There is talk among some of the G7 leaders around living with COVID. You’ve been here in Britain for more than a day now, you’ve had lunch at a pub in a country with as you’ve identified thousands of cases a day but also a very high vaccination rate and the British government says that leads to low deaths and hospitalisations. Can Australia not learn from Britain about living with COVID?

Prime Minister:

Well I would rather be living in the arrangements we have in Australia than anywhere else in the world to be honest.

Journalist:

But people can’t travel overseas?

Prime Minister:

What they can do is that they can go to sporting games. They can go to work. They can live in an economy that is bigger today than before. That hasn’t seen the terrible number of deaths that we’ve seen in other parts of the world. Of course, the purpose of the vaccine is to ensure that there is not serious illness and indeed death.

We’re already seeing that here in the UK – that high level of vaccination is preventing those hospitalisations, which is its purpose and that’s welcome. But we are also seeing very high numbers of cases and at this stage of the pandemic it is not clear where it goes next. And the additional strains that we are seeing coming in through the pandemic as we see the pandemic rage through the developing world and the potential for new strains and other things to occur there means that there is still much we don’t know.

Now, in Australia we’ve been in a position where we have been able to suppress the virus and keep it out. That sadly hasn’t been able to be achieved here and across Europe and the United States and so there experience has been very very different. And so we will continue to take an Australian path on this which protects lives and livelihoods and learn from the experiences of other countries.

Journalist:

What will you tell President Biden in the meeting this afternoon if he pushes you and encourages you to adopt net zero by 2050?

Prime Minister:

Well we’ve made our position very clear that we are seeking to achieve net zero as soon as possible and preferably by 2050.

Journalist:

Do you think he’ll be happy with that?

Prime Minister:

Well it is Australia’s policy.

Journalist:

But the US and the UK want you to go further – that is very, very clear.

Prime Minister:

Australia’s policies will be set for Australia’s interests. And I will listen carefully but it will also be the opportunity for me to be clear that Australia’s performance on emissions reduction has been very strong.

Australia has cut emissions by over 20% since 2005. Now that exceeds many of those that will sit around that table today. It’ll exceed many who have made commitments for far greater than that in the future but those countries as yet have not achieved that. See performance should count as much as ambition. Australia’s performance makes clear that when we make a commitment, we keep it and we deliver on it. And I think that ambition is very important – that is why I’ve said what I’ve said in terms of what we would hope to achieve in terms of a net zero or carbon neutral economy.

We understand, as does the rest of the world, that the energy economy is going to change dramatically over the next thirty years and Australia intends to be part of that. And not just part of it but being incredibly successful in it. Australia has played a huge role in being an energy provider into the Asia Pacific region for a very long time. And, as I said to President Moon this morning, we intend to keep doing that but in a new energy economy and that is why is why we are moving very quickly in areas such as hydrogen development and the technology that sits around hydrogen.

We intend for Australia to be a leading player in that field as well. So Australia is focused on getting the technology right which will actually transform the world’s economy to a new energy economy. That’s what gets emissions down. What gets emissions down is when companies and businesses and industries and individuals use different energies into the future because they are affordable, they are reliable and they get the job done. And so Australia is focused on ensuring that we have the technologies that support that. Not just in Australia but it is commercially viable to do so in Indonesia and in Vietnam and in China and in many other places. Because unless those technologies and those new energies are used right around the world, well the problem doesn’t go away. As John Kerry himself said, the United States could reduce their emissions to zero but if China didn’t do that it wouldn’t make a difference. So it is important that we get the technology solutions that are commercial, scalable, affordable and viable. That is why we have invested $20 billion over the next ten years to leverage about another $80 billion of investment to ensure those technologies are exactly what the world needs and what Australia needs for Australian jobs.

Journalist:

What percentage of Australians will need to be vaccinated before you’ll allow them to travel like you are today?

Prime Minister:

We haven’t set any mark on that.

Journalist:

When will Australians be able to travel?

Prime Minister:

When the medical advice suggests that we should.

Journalist:

The free trade deal with the United Kingdom. Will that be finished in time? And is it a waste of a trip if it is not ready to have something to sign?

Prime Minister:

There has never been a more important time for Australia to be sitting around the table with the world’s leading democracies and leading advanced economies with the issues we are currently facing – it is the pandemic, the recession it has caused, the strains on the world trading system and the international order which has been in place since the second world war. The challenges we are facing around supply chains and, in particular, the defence and strategic challenges in our own region and climate change.

So there has never been a more important time for Australia to be at the very tables that we will be at over the next couple of days. I look forward to meeting again with Prime Minister Johnson early next week when we are in London. This deal is important, of course it is, but I am patient for the right deal not any deal. It is important I think for both countries that we get the right deal and so I will be patient for that and if we are able to achieve that in the next few days – great – and I am sure Prime Minister Johnson would welcome that as well. But Australia is looking for the right deal, not any deal.