Press Conference - G7 Carbis Bay, United Kingdom

12 Jun 2021
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Well apologies everyone, it has been a very, very busy day. But it has been a very, I think, important day for Australia to have the opportunity, as we have over the course of today, to be sitting down with the leaders of the largest advanced economies and liberal democracies around the world. Today, we particularly addressed issues around the COVID pandemic and preparations for should there be future pandemics and the commitment that we need to make now to ensure that the world is ready to deal with such eventualities. 

In addition to that, it was also a great privilege to meet with the host of this Summit, with Prime Minister Johnson and talk about the many issues that we're working through at the moment, including as we continue to work to reach agreement on our free trade agreement and in addition to that, and to have the rather unique opportunity  for a trilateral meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson and myself. That is  not a usual opportunity that we have had in these meetings in the past and very much welcome the opportunity to do it here in Carbis Bay.

Journalist: How many times did the word China come into the trilateral meeting? 

Prime Minister: Well, you wouldn't expect me to go into any detail about the specific discussions. What we had the opportunity today was to discuss the Indo-Pacific situation more broadly. Australia has no greater friends than the United States and the United Kingdom. And we've been working together on our respective security issues for a very long time. And so we had a good opportunity to talk about those today and look to see how we can further cooperate in the future. Situation only reinforces the need for us to have deeper cooperation.

Journalist: It's been reported that Joe Biden's concerned about liberal democracies coming under threat and autocracies, I guess, like China in particular, and Russia rising. Are meetings like this about addressing that, trying to give liberal democracies a bit more oomph to keep going? 

Prime Minister: It's a great opportunity, I think, for liberal democracies and advanced economies alike to be able to align their thinking and their outlooks on how they are seeing issues around the world. And that relates to how we're responding, particularly on COVID. And today, the 100-day plan to be put in place in response to any future pandemic, I thought was an outstanding achievement by the UK, working together with the Gates Foundation to put that before us. And that received a very good response, including from ourselves. But whatever the issues are, whether it's dealing today with issues of the pandemic or dealing tomorrow with open societies and market economies, this is a good opportunity for advanced economies and liberal democracies like us to to share our views and to share our outlooks. 

Journalist: Who's idea was the trilateral? Making it a trilateral rather than a bilateral? 

Prime Minister: No, it was an opportunity that presented because we're all here and so it was mutual. But we were particularly keen to have the discussion with both parties. 

Journalist: And it was addressed this morning, the lab leak, in your earlier press conference, the theory around the virus leaking from the lab. What's the US view on that? Can you give us a guide as to whether they think that's a possibility?

Prime Minister: You'll have to discuss that with the United States. But, I didn't make any comment about the lab leak this morning. I was simply today referring to the recommendation that came from the report that was done for the WHO and it recommended that further investigations be undertaken into possible sources. And we support that being done and we support there being greater transparency around all of these issues. Not because of any issue of politics, but because it's essential. This was a key issue today that we discussed. We need to know how we must learn from this pandemic. This is what we are focused on doing. Whether it's the preparations that need to be done for ensuring manufacturing and technology, transport for manufacturing of vaccines, not just in the developed world, but in the developing world. It was tremendous today to have Prime Minister Modi still being able to join us very much from the frontline of the pandemic and to be sharing the lessons that are needed to ensure that in the future, both the developed and the developing world can respond to serious and major and global health issues such as this. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, China this week accused the US and Australia of trying to flex their muscle in the region. That was in relation to two Navy vessels, I think earlier in the week. Beijing, generally responds to any criticism with shrill commentary and disinformation. As Australia's largest trading partner, how does the government manage the security, cyber and strategic threats while maintaining that economic relationship with China? 

Prime Minister: Well, I think to just be consistent and we are for a stable and peaceful and open Indo-Pacific. That's in everybody's interests. It's in Australia's interests, it's in China's interests. And for the free trade that can occur throughout the region. Australia has benefited greatly from China's economic success. China has benefited greatly from from Australia's trade with it. And, of course, we want to see that continue. We have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China and partnerships are about managing issues that occur within the relationship. We, of course, would like to see the dialogue that was occurring to continue again and start again. But that's very much an issue for China. 

Journalist: Is that relationship status quo or is it going one way or the other? How do you define [inaudible]? 

Prime Minister: Well, I always remain optimistic, but at the same time, I mean Australia's position on the 14 points that have been set out by the Chinese embassy in Australia is crystal clear, crystal clear. But Australia is always ready to sit around the table and talk through how our partnership can be made to work. And that's in the interests of everybody in the region. And that's where our focus is. 

Journalist: Did Boris Johnson and Joe Biden talk to you about climate change? And are they pushing you to sort of announce medium term targets before the Glasgow? I mean, was that raised today? 

Prime Minister: Oh, we've had those discussions before. Those weren't the subject of our discussions this afternoon. But they are the subject of tomorrow's sessions at the G7 Plus. And we look forward to participating in those and setting out once again, Australia's position and our performance and our achievement in reducing emissions. Australia has a strong record of achievement. Performance matters as much as what one's ambition is and our ambitions will be realised and will be met and they'll be exceeded. Our commitments out to 2030 are a floor on our ambition, not a ceiling. 

Journalist: Was the meeting today, was it a formal, relaxed sort of meeting or was it a serious meeting? Was it, I think I saw Boris heading down to his residence, I thought, maybe it's not in one of these rooms, it might be sort of, how do you describe the sort of [inaudible]? 

Prime Minister: I would say it was a meeting of great friends and allies who share a view on the world. It was a great opportunity for my first meeting, of course, with the President, I mean I've known Boris for many years. And there was a very easy understanding amongst the three of us and as liberal democracies with a great history of friendship and partnership and a shared view on the world and its challenges and strategic challenges at that. And we're very conscious of the environment we face. But whatever that environment is, we'll always face it together. 

Journalist: Have they got your back on China? 

Prime Minister: Well, I think I would put it this way. Our alliance with the United States, the relationship we have with the United Kingdom, has never been stronger. We see the world in similar ways. And that's not surprising given our history. And we see the challenges in similar ways and we stand together always.

Journalist: Do you need to, among the other G7 leaders, do you need to stiffen any spines to get them to have your back as well? 

Prime Minister: What I think this meeting is a very good opportunity to do, is to pause and to take stock of the pressures that are present in the Indo-Pacific and the broader implications for that, for global stability. And there'll be opportunity to do that specifically, I think more tomorrow on the session we'll have there. Today's session, though, focused very much on ensuring there was greater transparency. A transparency letting the sunlight when it comes to understanding how this calamitous pandemic has impacted on the world and again, not seeking to apportion blame. It's not about apportioning blame, it's not about politics. It's not about anything. It's how could this have been avoided? And in the future, how could we avoid it then. Australia has fared through this pandemic better than almost any other country in the world, both from a health point of view and from an economic point of view, and for that, we, as I speak to countries, who have lost thousands, tens of thousands of their citizens. And in Australia, 910 souls we mourn, of course. But Australia has come through this pandemic very strongly compared to other nations. And so we are just so concerned to ensure that we're working with other countries that in the future that they wouldn't suffer as they have on this occasion.

Journalist: There's two, there's two issues here. It’s how it originated. And I take it you must think there's a chance it came from the lab because... 

Prime Minister: Well, I don't know. I don't know. 

Journalist: And then there's the issue of China not informing other countries quickly enough. I think that's one of the things you're talking about transparency now.

Prime Minister: Well, what's important in the future is that should there ever be an event, should there be a seriously communicable virus or disease, that the world acts swiftly. I mean, I thought the 100-day plan that we set out today was brilliant. And the leadership of the UK Chief Science Officer who was, who played such a strong role in putting this together, that's tremendous. But if we can act even earlier and if the WHO can have the authorities that require that, then I think that's very positive. I mean, I've been making this point for a long time that a WHO needs that independent strength and the parties to the WHO need to have obligations and accountabilities that ensure that we all do whatever we can to avoid what has occurred on this occasion in the future. 

Journalist: And that needs a treaty, does it need a treaty? 

Prime Minister: There was discussion about that today. And we've always been positive towards that idea. These things always come down to the details. But, we've seen in the past where in different areas, where there have been serious events, I'm not talking about health, but in other areas, that changes have been made to the way the world works together and the obligations that individual sovereign nation states take on. That is an important lesson that I think you take out of those events. And there are important lessons to take out of this one. And I think one of the key ones is a WHO that is independent, that is strong, that has the ability to be able to know things sooner and that there are obligations on all of us, that if we think there are events that are occurring within our own borders, that we share that as soon as we can to save as many lives and to prevent the loss that we've seen. OK, thanks.