Press Conference - Dubai, UAE

03 Nov 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: It's a great honour to be here. First up, I just want to say how thankful I am that Cleo is home and that she's safe. To Ellie and Jake. This is every parent's worst nightmare and the fact that that nightmare has come to an end and our worst fears were not realised is just a huge relief and a moment for great joy. This particular case obviously has captured the hearts of Australians as we felt such terrible sorrow for the family. And I want to thank particularly all of the police and all of those who were involved in making sure that Cleo’s safe. And we're so thankful. Thank you so much for what you've done. I know you do it every day and I know that you'll soon feel a great sense of satisfaction in the work you've done to bring it home. But we know each and every day they're out there doing the same thing and trying to keep our kids safe and keep our people safe. And so thank you so much, and I just thank God that Cleo is home and that she's safe. 

It's a great honour, as I said, to be here at Camp Baird. This was the site of our base to run what was the largest ever airlift that we've ever been involved in as a country. Round here, over 2,000 people at any one time were there and being supported and cared for. This was an extraordinary operation and I want to congratulate Air Commodore Patterson and his whole team for what they were doing. We were obviously speaking very regularly during that time. 4,100 people were airlifted out of one of the most dangerous places in the world, and we brought them here. And I particularly want to thank the Crown Prince and the United Arab Emirates for their hospitality and their incredible support during that time. The Crown Prince made it very clear to me as we spoke quite often over that period back in August that whatever we needed, they would be there to support us. And here we are still to this day as people are still being- had been brought through here on their way to Australia, in addition to those who were evacuated at the time. 

In terms of where we've just been over in Glasgow, those talks will continue. Australia was able to go there and outline very clearly not just what our commitments were, because Australia always meets and beats our commitments when it comes to addressing the very real threat of climate change and not just in terms of emissions reduction, but the support for developing countries, particularly in our own part of world, our Pacific family and South East Asia, to deal with the adaptation challenges that they have right now. And Australia has been a leader in that area of providing that support for resilience in developing countries, and that has also been an important part of COP26. It is, of course, about reducing emissions, but it's also about dealing with the impacts right now. Australia understands those very well, and we have tremendous partnerships right across the region to help particularly developing countries to deal with the impacts of climate change that they're experiencing right now.

I wish the rest of COP26 all the best for the discussions, and I congratulate Boris Johnson on the work that he's done to try and bring people together around this challenge. For Australia's part, it's about technology enabling us working principally through the private sector now, which will carry so much of this because it's the entrepreneurs, the industrialists, the financiers working together with the scientists and the researchers that will be delivering those technological solutions on the ground. Our technology led approach was well received by all of those I spoke with. They understand, like we understand that if you want to actually deal with this, you must drive the costs of these low emissions technologies down. So they're realisable, so they're scalable, so they're affordable not just in developed countries like Australia, but they’re realisable, affordable in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam. And, of course, China and India. And so Australia's case at COP was very much about supporting them to ensure they can achieve what I know they want to achieve, but they need to be able to do it with the technology that gets them there. And Australia intends to be at the forefront of delivering that technology. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on Cleo Smith, how important was the AFP to the case and what will you do with the police services to ensure that they can, you know, if this ever happens again, that they can find the person quicker.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, God forbid that it does, but we know the risks are very real and and every parent knows that. But the AFP has record support from our government and will continue to, and we have extraordinary people who work within the AFP and the capabilities that they have. I won't go into the details of this case specifically other than to say that everything that we have available to the AFP was there to be used and to lock in with the work that was being done in Western Australia. And so, I congratulate the Western Australia state police, they've done a tremendous job there. Had this occurred in another state or territory, I know the exact same thing would have happened in terms of the capabilities that would have been brought together. And so we're just very pleased and very proud of those who did such a great job to bring Cleo home.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, should world leaders feel safe to send you messages from now on because this is the claim from the French Ambassador back in Canberra that they might now have concerns those messages might be leaked. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me just make a couple of points on this issue. All the obvious objections and reactions to Australia's decision here have come from all the obvious places for all the obvious reasons. I'm not going to go further into these issues as, you know, I set out very clearly how and why Australia made the decisions that we did. Now this contract was about delivering the best possible capability for the men and women who serve in our Defence Forces. We have 250 of those here. That's what these contracts are about. These contracts are about giving Australia the capability we need. So the men and women who serve in our defence forces can get on and do their job and keep Australians safe. That's what these contracts are about. They're not about other countries. They're about Australia and our defence interests. And we're focused on that. And that's what this issue’s about. I'm going to, it's important now that we all just move on, frankly. 

JOURNALIST: You said this is about the contract. It is beyond that now. The Ambassador to Australia says that relations are now at an unprecedented low because personal messages between you and President Macron were leaked. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I was very clear about what that communication was and that was necessary given the matters that were raised, but I don't think there's any further profit for anyone in continuing down this path. We made the decision we needed to make in Australia's national interests. We understand the concerns and objections that have come in relation to that. They were understood when we made the decision and this was the decision Australia needed to make in our national interest and that is something that I'm responsible for and I'm very keen to ensure that now we move on and deliver that capability, which the men and women  of our Defence Force need. That needs to be the focus now, and that's certainly going to be my focus.

JOURNALIST: Mr Macron's office in France …

JOURNALIST: Given all of this, do you intend to actually issue an apology?

PRIME MINISTER: There’s no need for that. 

JOURNALIST: Mr Macron's office in France is briefing newspapers in Paris that the leak came from your office. Did the leaked text message from Mr Macron come from your office and has it made things worse? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll just say again, I made very clear what the timeline was and why I believed that we had made very clear that there were very significant issues about us moving forward with this contract. See, Australia made the decision not to go ahead with a contract for a submarine that was not going to do the job that Australia needed it to do, and I'll never make any apologies for that decision. 

JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull's joined Emmanuel Macron. He's called you a liar. He's called Emmanuel Macron the greatest leader of our times. Would you like Malcolm Turnbull to find something else to do with his time? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, as you know, I always treat all former prime ministers with respect, and I'm going to continue to do that. 

JOURNALIST: Is this one treating you with respect, this former PM?

PRIME MINISTER: All of you can make your own judgements about that. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, obviously, it was a highly unusual event for private messages of a foreign leader to be leaked. What was the threshold that necessitated that? Was it the, was it President Macron calling you a liar? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, claims had been made and those claims were refuted. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, was it fair for you to do what you did?

PRIME MINISTER: Claims were made and claims were refuted. What is needed now is for us to all just get on with it. I mean, that's what is most important to the Australian people. That the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia get on with the historic agreement that we came to, to deliver an incredibly important capability for Australia, to keep Australians safe and to defend and protect Australia. That's the most important thing. That is what is, that is what is at issue here. That is the thing that matters most to Australians is that we do everything we can to ensure that Australia's defences are the best they possibly can be. And the men and women who serve in our defence forces get the best. And that's what I was seeking to do. If others have other motives, if others have other agendas. Well, that's for them. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, they say it's not just the subs, they say there was sharing of data as well, like, you know, like you're talking about with the AUKUS agreement. What do you say to that? 

PRIME MINISTER: We were operating under the contract at the time and and we're not going ahead with that contract. We're not going through those gates.

JOURNALIST: It's clear this diplomatic stoush is not going away. The French Ambassador says Australia has stabbed France in the back. So what are you going to do to try and repair this rift? 

PRIME MINISTER: I'm going to move on and get the job done. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister has the gain from this trip been worth the pain? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, importantly, at the G20 and again at COP26, I had the opportunity to talk with a large number of leaders, in particular yesterday with the newly elected Prime Minister Kishida. And we'd spoken before, obviously the election. But the fact that he had prioritised so highly a meeting with ourselves and Japan's key partners, I think speaks much to that very good relationship we have with Japan and the partnerships we're forming through the Quad. The meetings I've had, whether it was with Vietnam or those in Eastern and Central Europe, the opportunities to engage with leaders, in that part of the world doesn't come around in such numbers very often. And what I sense from all of those discussions was such a keenness to engage with Australia across Europe. I had a very, very warm and very helpful meeting with with Chancellor Merkel, who of course, is retiring. I thank her for the wonderful relationship Australia has had with Germany. But Australia's relationships across, right across Europe, I think recognise that Europe is a very big place and there's a lot of countries that we work with there very effectively who are very keen to understand Australia's perspective on the Indo-Pacific, and they understand and respect Australia's role in the Indo-Pacific and they're very keen to engage more. And I was encouraging particular European countries to engage more, particularly economically in the Indo-Pacific and to work together, especially on the challenges of addressing the climate needs and the technology and the development that is needed to take place in particularly developing countries in our region. 

JOURNALIST: PM, you met the IEA yesterday, the head of that agency has expressed concern about nuclear proliferation. It is an issue with the nuclear submarine proposal. What was your message to that agency about how you would contain nuclear proliferation with that submarine? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're going to work very closely with the IEA and we had a very positive meeting and they'll have a clear process that we'll completely comply with. Australia's non-proliferation reputation is not under challenge, it is not under challenge at all, and we will ensure, as I stressed to countries when and if they raised it, I did proactively on many occasions just to affirm that once again Australia, particularly in the Pacific, has a very strong record when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation. Australia can speak in volumes about the consistent approach that we've had in thr Indo-Pacific. 

JOURNALIST: Better than the French?

PRIME MINISTER: I just speak to Australia's reputation 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how can any world leader trust you or build a relationship with you if private correspondence is going to be leaked?

PRIME MINISTER: I have outstanding relationships with so many leaders around the world, and that's what I've been engaged for over the last couple of weeks, I've already addressed the point that you've made in earlier questions. 

JOURNALIST: Just on climate change, are you disappointed that China didn't turn up, the bigger polluters didn't turn up? And do you still believe, I think, as you argued a couple of years ago, that the developing nation status needs to be questioned in terms of the leave pass it gives them among things like pollution?

PRIME MINISTER: The approach Australia took to COP26 was to talk about what we were going to do and how we were going to particularly work with other countries to meet the technology challenge of addressing climate change. That's what we were doing at COP. We weren't there to lecture others. We weren't there to tell others what they should be doing. We were there to focus on what we were going to do and how we were going to contribute and work with others and the technology partnerships, which we formed with so many countries now. And we look to extend that even further. There was very good discussions with Vietnam, who are very interested in working with us on these issues and we will take those forward in the weeks and months ahead. So it's very clear that whether it's in China or whether it's in Indonesia or Australia, indeed in the North Atlantic developed countries, unless you get the cost of this technology down, rather than focusing on putting the prices of energy up everywhere else, then you are not going to get countries actually achieving the things they say they want to achieve. That is the practical task now. Post COP26, it's not about the if and the when, it's only about the how. And we need a mission focus of the world's R&D efforts into the technologies that are actually going to make a difference here. And they will work as much in the developing economies of the North Atlantic as they will in the developed economies of the North Atlantic, I should say, and the developing economies of the Indo-Pacific. It has to work in both places and for that to happen, this is about enlisting the private sector effort, whose own investments will outpace all government efforts, as it indeed should. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, China has a list of grievances. It seems like France now has a list of grievances as well. Is there a dollar figure that makes this go away? And realistically, there's the presidential elections for Macron in April, and we will have our election around the same time or whenever you choose to call it. Realistically, you'll have to settle on some sort of a financial arrangement. That's my take out from today's speech. And will it sort of take that cycle, you know, moving on to next year, to be able to work through this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I said, the objections to Australia's decision not to proceed with those submarines and go forward with nuclear powered submarines was made in Australia's interests. Those who objected to that decision have objected for very obvious reasons with very obvious motives. But I know whose side I'm on. Thank you.