Press Conference - Embassy of Australia - Washington DC

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: I'm very proud to be here in the United States, here as Prime Minister, but my first visit to Washington DC as Prime Minister of Australia. The United States, of course, our closest ally, our principal strategic partner and our largest two-way investment partner. Our nations are united by the common values that we hold, our deep history together and our shared vision for a world which is prosperous, which is secure, and which provides a quality of life in a peaceful way around the world.

My visit is focusing on building an alliance for the future. How do we take advantage of the relationship that's been built, forged, of course, by John Curtin, firstly, during the Second World War, and built on by successive governments? What are the opportunities that we have of strengthening the economic foundations in our relationship as we tackle the challenges of the future? And building an innovation alliance between the United States and Australia is a key outcome of this visit.

The investment by Microsoft, $5 billion dollars, is an investment in our capability and investment in our people and a sign of confidence in Australia. And it is very welcome.

There are three components to it. A $5 billion announcement to expand the hyperscale cloud computing and AI infrastructure over the next two years. Growing their data centre footprint from 20 to 29 sites in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. This significant increase in capacity will enable Australia to capitalise on the economic and productivity opportunities presented by AI technology. There's a lot of talk in Australia about productivity. This announcement today is a very significant announcement that will result in higher productivity over the years to come in Australia.

The second part is in an investment in our skills. We know that there's some 300,000 Australians benefit from Microsoft's Global Skills Program. But specifically, we have 31,000 people are currently enrolled in the Applied Technology Digital course, being conducted at Meadowbank between TAFE New South Wales but connected up as well with UTS and Macquarie University. This then connecting with another 200 places, with TAFE specifically designed to be full-time and to skill people up is a part of what we need to do if we're going to reach the 1.2 million target for tech jobs by 2030. That's something that is a commitment, a target of the Tech Council, but it's also one in which my Government announced prior to the election that we were committed to. We need to provide opportunities as well through TAFE. One of the things that it does is open up jobs and those careers for people who don't have a university degree to enter into the system and progress through for what are high-paid, highly secure jobs of the future. And this combined with our creation of Jobs and Skills Australia, to do for labour what Infrastructure Australia was designed to do for capital allocation, that is to look at where the most productive use is, what are the jobs of the future going to be in one year, five years, 10 years’ time and make sure that investment in universities, investment in TAFE, investment in training goes towards those areas.

The third is a new collaboration between Microsoft and the Australian Signals Directorate on the Cyber-Shield to harden Australia from threats to individuals, to businesses, as well as to governments. We know, because we've seen through the examples in Australia, the impact that a cyber-attack can have. This will strengthen Australia's capacity to resist such attacks, but also to identify potential weaknesses which are there. And this collaboration is very welcome, indeed.

Today's announcement is about the future economy that we want in Australia and a stronger alliance with the United States. And I very much thank Brad and Steve and others from Microsoft for this announcement today.

Before I take questions, can I say earlier today, I was very honoured to attend a ceremony at Arlington Cemetery. It wasn't my first visit to Arlington. I think it is a great honour and something that Australians, when they visit the United States, will often go, as I did, as a visitor, just to go and to pay respect to those who have given their life in the service of their nation. But importantly, as well, because of the common values that Australia and the United States have, given their lives in the cause of freedom and liberty. And today was a great honour for me to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honouring all of the fallen servicemen and women who are buried there at Arlington. I also had paid respects to the two Australians who are buried at Arlington. Pilot Officer Francis Milne, who lost his life in World War Two, only about a week after he graduated from training in 1942 and became an Air Force pilot. That plane went down and was only discovered, the remains of Officer Milne with a US servicemen. And they're buried together. That was found in 1989. And they were buried together there at Arlington. And it was a great opportunity to just pay my respect to him. We also paid respect to Yvonne Kennedy, who was a 63 year old who came to the United States to travel around by herself and was on the flight that was hijacked and crashed here in Washington DC at the Pentagon. And there is a memorial there, which Yvonne Kennedy is one of the many victims of that terrorist act on that extraordinary day. And so, it was an opportunity to do that. I also want to take the opportunity here, as I did this morning, to pay tribute to the three US Marines who perished on the 27th of August this year during the joint training exercise near the Tiwi Islands in Australia's north. May they rest in peace. And their families, of course, I express, here on US soil, my condolences as Prime Minister of Australia for this very sad loss. Australia and the United States have always been close partners. And of course, we have collaborated in times of war and in times of peace. And it is a reminder, as was the tragic loss of four ADF personnel in the Whitsundays during Talisman Sabre, that those people who serve their nation in uniform put their lives at risk each and every day in order to defend their country.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, so much of this trip, including the cybersecurity announcement, appears aimed at countering the threat of China. Do you see the irony there when you're about to visit there and for a friendly visit?

PRIME MINISTER: No, this is aimed at strengthening Australia. This is aimed at creating good, well-paid jobs in Australia. And we need to, as I've said on a number of occasions before and after the election, I want to see a future made in Australia. I want us to be more resilient. What this does is build up the resilience of our digital infrastructure but also the resilience of our capacity of our labour, as well. So, this is a very significant announcement and a very positive one.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, these data centres, they are huge energy consumers. So, what kind of renewable projects are you going to have to have in place to offset that and who will pay for them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we, I will ask Steve to comment as well, but we are, of course, seeing an extraordinary expansion in the capacity of our renewable sector in Australia. We're doing that because now there is certainty in Australia with our mechanisms that we've put in place, 43 per cent reduction by 2030 and our net zero by 2050, as well as the safeguard mechanism, as well as other support that is there to encourage renewables in the system and to make sure, as well, through our Rewiring the Nation program, that we're upgrading the grid and bringing it into the 21st century. It's a part of, there is, I think, a similar pathway, or theme, if you like, between what we're doing in the energy space and what we're doing here. It's all about lifting up Australia into the 21st century, not being stuck while the rest of the world moves past us. That's why we have to invest in both of these areas. I'll ask Steve to add anything.

STEVEN WORRALL, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF MICROSOFT AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND: I think you've said it all, Prime Minister. But from Microsoft's point of view, we have a commitment to zero carbon, water positive and zero waste by 2030. And for any of our data centres, either in Australia or around the world, they will be powered by renewable energy by 2025 on the way to delivering on that strategy.

JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, does that mean that you will co-invest on that renewable energy?

WORRALL: We have, indeed. So in 2021, a couple of years ago, we signed a 15-year PPA with FRV, which is one of the first contracts of its nature to provide renewable energy to the grid to counter the energy that we are using.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, that announcement is about big investment in Australia. But this week, part of your agenda is about the Inflation Reduction Act, which is, people are saying, business around the world is sucking capital into the United States of America, and could actually deprive countries like Australia of business. You're going to be meeting legislators at Congress later this week. What's your message to American legislators about the impact on Australia of the Inflation Reduction Act bringing all that capital into the US? They want American jobs, they don't really want Australian jobs, do they? What's your message to them about why they should think about Australia in that context?

PRIME MINISTER: My message is that they have an interest in a global reduction in emissions. That the United States can't view these issues as just a nation state. That they need to view these issues as one in which we, as partners, are able to contribute as well. And tomorrow, we'll have some further announcements on the way in the critical minerals and energy space. I signed a compact with President Biden in Hiroshima just a few months ago on the sidelines of the G7 and the Quad meeting that we held there. And at that bilateral meeting, that agreement recognises the capacity of Australia and the United States working together, including through getting access to some of the mechanisms that are there with the Inflation Reduction Act will actually assist the objective of that Act, which is a reduction in emissions, a growth in new industries, growth in manufacturing here, yes. But we're in strong position, as the world's largest supplier of lithium, for example, a significant supply of cobalt, vanadium, copper, nickel. The minerals that will power the globe in the 21st century are things that Australia has significant amounts of. And we want to work, as well, with US companies. We want to see announcements in that space, like the announcement that we've had here today, to benefit both of our nations.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about what's happening with the Speaker will derail what you want to achieve here in terms of talking to legislators and especially around the AUKUS legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: We are able to talk with legislators. And we're doing so. And I'll be meeting some people this afternoon, and then again tomorrow, and then Wednesday and Thursday, while I'm here. And we're very confident that those discussions have been very productive. I hosted a range of legislators at the Lodge when they were there for the Australian American Leadership Dialogue in August. We continue to engage, as well, with the meetings with the Friends of Australia Caucus. I am not sure what the formal title of it is.

JOURNALIST: The Friends of Australia Caucus.

PRIME MINISTER: That is what it is called. So, we'll continue to engage. The issues of the election of the Speaker, I'll leave to the members of Congress.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can you explain how the Cyber-Shield will work and what the breakdown between government, corporate and individuals will be given a vulnerability in one can lead to vulnerabilities in the rest?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, just briefly, before I turn to Steve. ASD works with a range of private sector organisations. ASD has received a significant upgrade from my Government and the former Government. Because it's recognised that this is an area where Australia is now in a position whereby we're getting ahead. We're getting some competitive advantage in the region, and indeed, in the globe, by investing in this area. Steve?

WORRALL: First point to make is that Microsoft operates a global network of computing capacity that, as you might imagine, is subject to all sorts of threats. And, in fact, we estimate that every day there are 65 trillion signals that we manage across our network. As you can also imagine, that gives us a deep understanding of the nature of cyber security threats that we see emerging in Australia and around the world. And this partnership will enable the sharing of that information in an appropriate way to help bolster and complement what Australia is doing today already. Fair to say, the specifics in the particular services that we will bring to market together in how we protect Australian businesses and consumers, there'll be further announcements down the track.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just to Charles's question on this partnership with the Signals Directorate. We've seen a number of, in recent years, a number of high profile instances of corporate Australia, either deliberately or unintentionally, letting sensitive information be released beyond where it should be. Are you weary at all of growing cooperation between a body like the Australian Signals Directorate and private Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: No. We're very confident that we will get this right. And Rachel and the Australian Signals Directorate do an extraordinary job of making sure that the national interest is served. And they will certainly be doing so in this.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you'll no doubt be talking to President Biden about what's happening in Israel and Gaza. The day after the Hamas attacks, he said that he put a call into President Netanyahu. Just wondering, have you spoken to him yet? And what message did you give him on behalf of Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I have spoken to the Israeli Ambassador to Australia on a couple of occasions. And the views that I've put are consistent with the resolution that was carried by the Parliament. We remain absolutely horrified by the Hamas attacks on Israel. These are abhorrent acts of terror against innocent civilians. The Australian Parliament overwhelmingly adopted that position and was recorded by all the people from the major parties. And we recognised as well, in that resolution, the importance of the protection of civilian lives. The situation is challenging and rapidly changing. And there is a terrible loss of life, including innocent life of both Israelis and Palestinians. And I think that every innocent life matters, whether it is Israeli or Palestinian. As hostilities continue, it's vitally important that international humanitarian law is upheld for the protection of civilians wherever they live. We are playing our part in providing humanitarian relief. We think that is very important. And I know that President Biden has been working strongly on that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, while negotiating humanitarian relief for Gaza, President Biden's visit to Tel Aviv is also widely interpreted as having given the green light to Israel's planned ground invasion. As you will share a stage with the President later this week, what assurance or reassurance do you offer to pro-Palestinian communities in Australia, that you are not, in effect, picking sides?

PRIME MINISTER: We pick a side against Hamas. And we did that very clearly and unequivocally. Because the actions of Hamas are against the interests of both the Israeli population, clearly, but also against the interest of Palestinians. We support, as President Biden reaffirmed the United States, a support for a two state solution. It is very hard to see how Hamas could negotiate through to what would be a two state solution in the Middle East. So, I think that President Biden has played a very constructive role. Of course, the United States has a special responsibility as a member of the P5. And I think that, as you look at the emphasis of President Biden has made clearly calling out Hamas, clearly, as well, calling for humanitarian aid to be allowed to Gaza and talking about international humanitarian law and the international law when it comes to war being implemented, they are all appropriate.

JOURNALIST: In your engagement with Congress on the AUKUS related legislation, one of the concerns of Republicans here is that essentially having capacity in the American system to build additional submarines and additional funding for that, we're putting up $3 billion to make all this happen in supporting the industrial base, are you prepared to increase that contribution to help convince Republicans to support this legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we think that our support is appropriate. But it's also about not just the capacity of the United States, but also about what we envisage Australians being trained here, side by side with US personnel both here and, of course, in the United Kingdom, as well, at Barrow. We need to lift up our capacity and skill. And that’s already happy with submariners here working with the United States already. And that's been uplifted. We think that's important. I note as well, that President Biden's legislation or bid for financing is also about increasing capacity here, as well. So, President Biden is on the same page. I see that as being consistent with what Australia is asking for from the AUKUS arrangements. The AUKUS arrangements are in the interest of Australia, to play our role. We don't seek to just be someone who is watching. We seek as well to play a role in security in the Indo-Pacific. And one way we do that is through AUKUS, by lifting up our own capacity. Now, that is very important going forward. And it's something as well that the United States and the United Kingdom have both welcomed. The combination of the three nations cooperating when it comes to defence capacity lifts the capacity of everyone, of all three countries. That's what this is about. Win-win-win for Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. And with the legislators that I've spoken to here in the United States, and I've had meetings with them in Australia, I've had meetings with them in Vilnius, I've had been with them in various locations as well as contact with people like Joe Courtney and others here. They not only get that, they support it. And they support it very strongly. And that has been across the board whether they be Democrat or Republican.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned earlier, the big three threats, pandemic, conflict, cyber. Do you see any of those as more imminent than others? And what are you hearing from the American side about the threat of conflict and how that interplays with the interest in our critical minerals?

PRIME MINISTER: I think one of the things, if you look at what has spurred the Inflation Reduction Act here, and what spurred our policy, our Government's policy of a future made in Australia, and everything that goes with that, is that the pandemic has reminded people that we need to have resilient national economies as well. That disruption can occur in a way that isn't foreseen. I don't think anyone in 2019 was predicting that in 2020, people would be essentially isolated from each other. So, those consequences I think have to be, we have to hope for the best and planning for the worst is a pretty good idea. And we need to plan for disruption of whatever form it takes. But I think the pandemic has shown us, really, it's certainly one of the lessons I took from it, is that you do need to prepare for these things that wasn't seen by anyone that would occur. But the idea that you can predict with certainty what will happen going forward, just is not borne out by recent history.

JOURNALIST: Just back on the Cyber-Shield announcement, is this a contractual agreement between the Australian Government and Microsoft, and can you tell us what that's worth and how that works, and will Microsoft have any greater access to any sensitive information than it already does?

PRIME MINISTER: No. ASD will be completely in charge of all of the sensitive material in terms of intelligence etc. But what was the figure used, how many trillion? 65 trillion bits of information passing through means that the use of artificial intelligence can identify and can insist the ASD to do its work. And it is responsible for ASD to search out ways in which they can increase their capability. And that's what this is about. As well as providing greater protection for individuals, greater protection for businesses and greater protection for governments. I remember a meeting I had as, I think I was still Opposition Leader, with the Australian Stock Exchange Board and all the major corporations. And when asked around what their number one concerns were, what were they insecure about? I was somewhat surprised at the consistency, it was just cyber. One-by-one, cyber, cyber, cyber, cyber. And hence, ASD are already working with business, working with the private sector to increase the capacity. I held a roundtable with Clare O'Neil. And we're working towards the Government hoping to announce later this year our cyber strategy. And that's been done in partnership and in collaboration with the private sector. So, by its very nature, there is collaboration between the private sector and government agencies. National security issues remain just that. The national security agencies protect their position on all of those matters.

JOURNALIST: Just to go back to Andrew's question, are you entirely comfortable with the fact that more than two years after AUKUS was announced, that the US Congress hasn't dealt with those various blockages on the US legislation? And if you are pretty relaxed about that, is there a date at which you would really like to see Congress having dealt with these various issues?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let's be clear, the AUKUS agreement was finalised in San Diego not that long ago, I haven't been Prime Minister for two years. So, it certainly wasn't finalised two years ago. There was an announcement of an intention, but the meat was put on the bones, if you like, after that. And these things are important. And when we're talking about national security and defence, people want to get it right. I'm very confident of a very positive outcome. And that comes from the top in President Biden's commitment to this. But it also comes from the engagement with Congress and Senators.

JOURNALIST: I just want to go back to Microsoft deal quickly about the skills placements. Is the message to young Australians that they're better off chasing these micro-credential courses rather than a full tertiary educated degree in software?


JOURNALIST: And why is the investment there not into education?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's not, that's not the message. The message is though, that if you've got 1.2 million jobs and if you want an entry point into some of this, the 300,000 connections that Microsoft engage with, might be something, of course, through LinkedIn, something online. The 31,000 places can lead to a Cert IV, which because then it is connected with Macquarie Uni and UTS can lead to further. Because most companies in the tech space require graduates to have at least a university degree, what you don't want to do is freeze people out of the system. And if you're talking about an inclusive economy as well, one that's targeted, and part of this announcement when you see the details as well, is about targeting people who are underrepresented. And at the moment, frankly, the underrepresentation in groups, there's a gender inequity there where women are underrepresented, people from more disadvantaged communities in terms of location are underrepresented, First Nations people are underrepresented, people with disabilities are underrepresented. What this is about as well is being more inclusive, about providing people with a foot on that ladder to then get further qualifications as you go up. This isn't about discouraging anyone from seeking a higher degree, an undergraduate degree and then a postgraduate degree for that matter. This is about a foot on the ladder is really what it's about. And that is one of the great things that TAFE does is open up opportunities. You know, we have, in this country, we have unemployment has been low, 16 out of 19 has had three in front of it or, 16 of the 19 times where unemployment has a three in front of it has been under this Government that I lead. That's a good thing. But there's still a lot of people who are long-term unemployed, too many people. How do we break through that? How do we provide people with that opportunity through? And this is one way in which you can do that.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's no evidence of the latter. What we know is that in today's world, though, you have trouble in a range of areas. Not only the Middle East, but of course, the Russian ongoing illegal invasion in Ukraine. And we'll have more to say about some of those matters in coming days as well. Thanks very much.