Press conference - Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima, Japan
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: One year ago today I was given the great honour of being elected as Australia's 31st Prime Minister. I want to sincerely thank the Australian people for the opportunity that I've had to represent Australia and to lead the Australian Government. I said on that evening that I'd lead a government with a sense of purpose - and I believe that we have. We've set out to do what we said we would do. To fulfil our promises and commitments we gave to the Australian people in the lead up to the 21st of May 2022.

At the centre of that was to restore Australia's relationships with the world. And what we're doing is we're investing in our capabilities through the Defence Strategic Review, through AUKUS, but importantly we're investing in our relationships as well. Our relationships with other nations in our region through the Pacific Island Forum, through ASEAN, but also because through the Quad, which is a very important body.

I said, as well, that we would hit the ground running. I started running on the 22nd of May and haven't stopped since. On the 23rd of May, in just a couple of days' time, by the Monday morning after the election on Saturday evening I'd been sworn in as Prime Minister, along with other senior members of my Cabinet. And we had arrived that evening in Tokyo for the Quad leaders meeting. That was a good opportunity to reset Australia's position and our relations based upon our changed position on issues such as climate change, which is the entry fee for credibility when it comes to international relations. I was very pleased last night to have been able to convene that third in-person Quad leaders meeting here in Hiroshima, and I want to thank Prime Minister Kishida for helping to facilitate that but also President Biden and Prime Minister Modi for the collegial way in which we had a discussion. President Biden, of course, because of domestic circumstances was unable to travel to Sydney. I think it was really important that the Quad leaders meetings go ahead. It showed that we were an action-based forum, the fact that we're prepared to change to achieve outcomes.

Last night's summit came up with some important statements that we have released. The first is a vision statement for the first time outlining the purpose of Quad in a clear way. A clear way that says that will work with the Pacific Island Forum, Indian Ocean organisations as well as ASEAN as well. That this is about providing support - economic support, social support, environmental support - for the countries of our region and about cooperating as four great democracies based in this region. We also put out a joint statement that has some very clear initiatives, because the Quad is about practical initiatives. Our Clean Energy Supply Chains Diversification Program is about accelerating access, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, to clean energy infrastructure. Our Quad health security partnership builds on the provision of vaccines that we've provided hundreds of millions for the region, ongoing for the pandemic. Our partnership for cable connectivity and resilience is about allowing countries to access resilient infrastructure, submarine cables, enabling them to connect with the world as well. Our infrastructure fellowships program will be really important as well. How do we bring residents of Pacific nations and developing nations to our respective four countries, to provide them with the skills and knowledge and expertise that they need to help drive development in their country, particularly when it comes to infrastructure. So across a range of areas financing, infrastructure development, planning, environmental approvals, all of those matters, where we'll embed people from the region in the public service and also in private sector partners in order to deliver that change. And lastly an open radio access network, that's about making sure that we have, and there'll be a pilot program of that in Palau. Looking at the way that digital connectivity can work so that you don't need to just pick one provider so that it could work in a coordinated way so as to maximise the benefit which is there.

Yesterday's bilateral with President Biden, as well, was very important. I want to thank the President for his support for the Climate, Critical Minerals and Clean Energy Transformation Compact. This is absolutely critical. We've been speaking for some time about the Inflation Reduction Act and what it will do. It's the largest ever action by any country to deal with the challenge of climate change and to attract investment into the clean energy transformation. What this will do is that the President will support the Congress taking action to treat Australian suppliers and activity as domestic activity in the United States for the purpose of the Defense Production Act. Canada has that at the moment, and if we think about industries like hydrogen, without that support there would be a massive incentive for hydrogen-based industries to be based in the United States. So the big risk with the Inflation Reduction Act to the world because we need to reduce the world's emissions, not just that one nation state, is that you'll see capital leaves Australia to go to the United States. This is about addressing that. This is about creating an enormous opportunity for Australia and I can't underline how significant this is. And I want to thank President Biden for it. It's an issue that I raised in the bilateral that we held in San Diego. And since then Australia and the United States have been working towards this outcome.

JOURNALIST: The communique from the G7 stated, used the words, that the 'G7 nations have serious concerns about the behaviour of China'. Is that language that you would endorse and share?

PRIME MINISTER: I support the G7 communiques about the international relations that we have there, also about Ukraine and the support for President Zelenskyy who will be here today at the G7 meeting. And they also are about a positive statement about the need to reduce nuclear weapons and a pathway forward on that.

JOURNALIST: But on the China language?

PRIME MINISTER: We have said for some time that China's activity, and we expressed concern for ourselves as well, the chafing of one of our aircraft, the other activities that we've seen has provided concern. We've expressed concern in the past, we'll continue to do so. What we need to do is to make sure that we work in a way that enhances the peace, security, and stability in the region. We very clearly support the status quo when it comes to the Taiwan Straits and that is Australia's position – we've consistently stated that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, we've heard a lot about China's economic coercion but what about other forms of coercion like arbitrary detention? There's two Australians behind bars in China, Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei. Have you raised these issues with your counterparts?

PRIME MINISTER: On every opportunity we raise those issues. Of course, the detention of Cheng Lei for example, hasn't even been able to speak to her children. That's not appropriate. We need transparency. Australia will continue to make representations to China on behalf of our citizens.

JOURNALIST: The United States has opened the door to provide F16s to Ukraine. Where are we at with providing more military support for Ukraine than what's already been committed, particularly Hawkeyes which they've been asking for?

PRIME MINISTER: We consistently examine what we can do to support the people of Ukraine and President Zelenskyy. We regard his struggle as a struggle on behalf of all those who support nation states continuing to exist within sovereign borders. The illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine is an outrage. It's having a devastating impact on the people of Ukraine, as well as on President Putin's own people who have had to deal with significant losses and losses of life as well. We call upon, once again, Russia to withdraw, Russia to stop this. It can stop tomorrow. Until then, of course, we'll continue to provide support and we liaise with our Ukrainian friends, and we have a constant monitoring of what we can do.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said that holding the Quad Summit here shows you can be nimble and agile –

PRIME MINISTER: Because you don't want to get interrupted –

JOURNALIST: You don't want to get interrupted do you. Get shushed.

PRIME MINISTER: We've already had one global incident here.

JOURNALIST: That's the first amendment, its freedom of press and freedom of speech both in action. You mentioned that it can be can be agile and move around. It also shows that the Quad can be held hostage by the US domestic situation as well in a divided country. Are you confident that the US has the Quad at the front of mind and is a reliable partner?

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. And President Biden can't have done more than what we've done to put this together over the last few days, to have a Quad leaders meeting here. We delayed the G7 dinner last night, and that meant that that was a very late night for everyone that was here - that shows what a priority it was. Can I make this point as well - that delay, that meant the dinner went towards midnight, I'm not sure what time it was it ended, I know it was late. Not one person, not one country complained. They all knew when the session, the seventh session of the G7 ended, that the Quad Leaders' Meeting would then take place. And everyone accepted that it was an important enough organisational body for that to occur. And that says a lot about not just the way that the United States and Japan, India and Australia see the Quad, that said a lot about the way that the G7, the world's largest seven democracies, see the Quad as well.

JOURNALIST: On the alignment of views amongst G7 leaders and participating leaders like yourself, the G7 communique had more detail on China than ever before. It seemed to speak to an alignment amongst its members and participants. Just in the dinner, as well as your experience in meetings, did you notice that? And were people interested in Australia and China's current modest improvement in the relationship?

PRIME MINISTER: People were very positive about the fact that Australia's relations have improved, and that we have dialogue. I have had yesterday formal and informal discussions with all the G7 leaders. Today I'll have meetings, bilaterals this morning, either that or pull-asides, with Germany, Chancellor Scholz, as well as with Prime Minister Kishida this morning. I had the discussion with Prime Minister Meloni and President Macron last night - it is welcomed. Everyone at the G7 is concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They're concerned about the international rule of law. That they want a stable and secure and peaceful region. And indeed what we know is that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had such a significant impact on the global economy. It's had an impact on energy security and food security and that was a theme that came through one of the sessions yesterday. That was emphasised as well by the international institutions, the WTO, the IMF, and others as well. And so we know that if there was a disruption in this part of the world then the consequences would be catastrophic. So we're all working towards a peaceful, more secure region. And people regard it as very positive that Australia is in dialogue with China. I've informed our partners that I do intend to travel to China at some time in the future. And that has been welcomed as well. You need dialogue to get understanding, and you also need dialogue to avoid miscalculations, which has been a concern. The lack of guardrails that are there in international relations is of concern. And it's important that they've been put in place, the sort of guardrails that were in place for a long period of time during the period of US-Soviet competition that occurred during the Cold War. So, it has been well received, Australia's position here has been well received. As President Biden has said to me on a number of times, in his words, 'you guys punch above your weight'. And Australia should not underestimate that as a medium-sized country with such a long record of support for the rule of law, strong participation in multilateral forums, strong bilateral engagement, action now on climate change has lifted up where Australia's placed in the world. So that, for example is also, and I'll make this final point - I also had meetings yesterday with the European Union about our Free Trade Agreement with the EU. This will be a very significant agreement for Australia and I'm very hopeful that in coming months, I'll travel to NATO in July and I'm hopeful that around then or sometime soon after we'll be able to progress that issue.