Press Conference Kirribilli, NSW

19 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Ministerial standards set a high mark for both perceived and actual conduct, and particularly in relation to conflicts of interest. All Members, when they become Ministers, understand that, when they sign on and become a Member of the Cabinet and take on the role in the Government's executive ranks. And all of my Ministers seek to uphold those standards at all times. The complex nature, often, of particular arrangements, can sometimes test those standards and their wording and their application in specific circumstances.

In relation to Minister Porter, over the course of the last few days and in the discussions that we have had, the inability for him to be able to practically provide further information because of the nature of those arrangements, if he were able to do that, that would allow Minister Porter to conclusively rule out a perceived conflict. And as a result of him acknowledging that, he has this afternoon taken the appropriate course of action to uphold those standards by tendering his resignation as a Minister this afternoon, and I have accepted his resignation.

His actions have been about upholding the standards. Our discussions today were about upholding those standards. We each believe they're incredibly important. And it isn't just about actual conflicts. It is about, under the standards, for Ministers to have an obligation to avoid any perception of conflicts of interest. And that is what, ultimately, has led the Minister to make that decision this afternoon.

I want to thank Minister Porter for his service in my Government. I want to thank him for his service as the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, most recently. I want to thank him for his role as Attorney-General for several years, not only under my Government, but under my predecessor. I want to thank him for the role that he performed as Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives also. Minister Porter will be returning to the backbench, where he will continue to serve as the Member for Pearce. But, I thank him for his service in our Government to the people of Australia.

Today I've taken the step of appointing Angus Taylor as the Acting Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. He will perform those responsibilities together with his responsibilities for Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. Both of these portfolios sit within his department, and I have no doubt that he will perform extremely admirably in taking on those responsibilities.

On a couple of other matters, just while I have you today. I note that, as you know, I'll be heading off to the United States tomorrow. I'll be going to both New York and to Washington. I want to remind everybody that the purpose of this visit is for the Quad Leaders’ Meeting and the Bilateral with President Biden.

I do note that there has been some reporting and assumption about a Trilateral Meeting next week. That is not something that has been arranged, nor was it intended for it to be arranged next week. That's why we did the announcement this week. I believed it was very important that with such a significant announcement regarding Australia's defence procurements that I should be making that statement here in Australia, rather than overseas. If there's an opportunity, I'm sure, to catch up with Boris over the course of the next week, as we both may be in the same place, then I'll certainly be taking that up. I'm sure President Biden will also.

But, the primary purpose of that visit, which I leave for tomorrow, is to both meet with President Biden across the whole range of the bilateral issues in our relationship and, of course, to meet with the other Quad leaders and the bilaterals with those leaders, from Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Suga, as we come together for the Leaders’ Meeting on the Friday. So, those are the major reasons for my visit. I'm looking forward to them. And, of course, the Deputy Prime Minister will be Acting Prime Minister in my absence.

Just finally, can I note that the TGA has now given clearance for the Moderna vaccines that have come to Australia. They'll be rolling out to pharmacies this week. We anticipate first jabs in arms by about Wednesday. 1,800 pharmacies by the end of this week will be doing that job. There is also 1,300 extra GPs that come online this week for Pfizer vaccinations.

I note that yesterday was a record Saturday vaccination - some 227,036, a record Saturday. And we now have 71.7 per cent first dose and 46.7 per cent second dose. I also note that amongst aged care workers, after a very concerted effort, particularly supported by the mandatory arrangements that we put in place, that we now have 98 per cent of first dose vaccinations of aged care workers, to which those requirements apply to.

I also note that the second shipment of Moderna, the second shipment of the Moderna doses that I was referring to last Sunday, they'll be coming in tonight. That'll be another 700,000 doses that will be coming in this evening, which will continue to support the vaccination program.

I note today the Victorian Premier has outlined his forward roadmap, consistent with the national plan on those 70 per cent and 80 per cent targets. These additional mRNA doses will, of course, be helping Victoria to achieve those targets and to ensure that we can open up as soon as we possibly can. Happy to take some questions.

Journalist: Prime Minister, if you’re saying Christian Porter has upheld the Ministerial Standards, why is he resigning?

Prime Minister: He's upholding the standards by resigning, is my point. If he doesn't believe that he can provide what we believe is necessary, then it is the appropriate course of action for him to do that.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you obviously asked your department and Phil Gaetjens to look into this and provide advice on this matter. Can you commit to releasing the advice Mr Gaetjens provided to you? And further to the reason behind the resignation, if Minister Porter was able to disclose the donors that gave to his legal fund, so that you could work out whether there was a conflict of interest or not, would he have needed to resign?

Prime Minister: Well, that advice I have not yet received, and the Minister has taken his own decision in relation to our discussion of the Ministerial Standards, and that matter is now concluded.

Journalist: Prime Minister, would you call this an error of judgment from Minister Porter?

Prime Minister: No, what I'd call it is the Minister being the beneficiary of an arrangement that prevents him from being able to disclose to me in a way that would allow him to satisfy that he does not have a conflict of interest or a perceived conflict of interest. That's how, that's how I'd describe it, and the application of the standards and my understanding of them and our discussion, and he's acted in accordance with his understanding, as well. And there are grey areas in these issues. As I said, complex arrangements, when applied to particular circumstances, can be inconclusive. But, the Minister has taken the decision, which errs on the side of upholding the highest standard.

Journalist: Do you really think he doesn’t know where the money came from?

Prime Minister: It's a blind trust. He cannot disclose to me who those donors are.

Journalist: That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know who they are.

Prime Minister: Well, the issue for the Prime Minister is about whether a Minister is in a position to ensure that he can satisfy himself that he doesn't have a conflict of interest, perceived or otherwise. And, so, the Minister has taken a decision which respects that standard.

Journalist: Do you know how much money he was paid?

Prime Minister: That's included in his Register of Interests.

Journalist: PM, I’m just trying to work out what changed between earlier in the week and today, since you don’t have the advice that you commissioned from your department into this matter. What caused the need for him to resign, if he didn’t need to resign earlier in the week, but he did today?

Prime Minister: Well, it's only, it's only been since Wednesday, and today’s Sunday. And nothing has changed, other than the opportunity, I think, for the Minister and I to have further discussions and the Minister himself to consider the matter further, as have I.

Journalist: So, did you ask him to resign, PM?

Prime Minister: There was no need for that. The Minister has taken his own decision, based on the circumstances that are here, and he wants to do what he believes is the best thing to uphold those standards and to, and for the Government, of which he's been a very significant contributor to over a long period of time.

Journalist: But, earlier in the week you were saying you needed the advice from Mr Gaetjens to work out if Ministerial Standards had been breached?

Prime Minister: I said I was taking advice but, and have been taking further soundings. And I believe it's important to deal with the matter, and I have.

Journalist: Will he pay the money back?

Prime Minister: Well, there is, he is no longer a Minister. So, the matters regarding Ministerial Standards have been concluded.

Journalist: Is it even appropriate for him to remain as an MP while he’s been the recipient of that money, that could have come from anyone?

Prime Minister: Well, you're now talking about a different set of issues, which relates to the Parliament, and I am not the custodian of the Parliament. The Parliament is the custodian of the Parliament. I am the custodian of the Ministerial Standards. And, so, I have acted in accordance with those Ministerial Standards. I take them very seriously. I said this week that I took this matter very seriously. I was not going to make a decision or engage in this issue on the run. As you know, we were dealing with some other very serious matters this week regarding Australia's defence and security interests. And once I had been able to address those matters, it afforded me the time to deal with this issue fairly promptly.

Journalist: So, it sounds like Minister Porter will not repay the money because he’s quit from Cabinet. Can you just confirm that? And, also, if one of your Ministers ...

Prime Minister: What Minister Porter does now is a matter for him. He's not a Member of my Cabinet.

Journalist: And if, considering your comments about the fact that if Mr Porter had been able to identify these donors he could have stayed in Cabinet, does that mean Ministers could take donations for private legal matters in the future, as long as they know where they came from?

Prime Minister: If there is any need to update the Ministerial Standards on these matters to ensure there's greater clarity, then I have no doubt that my department will be advising me to that end.

Journalist: So, do they need to be updated to reflect the fact that Ministers shouldn’t take … ?

Prime Minister: I'm sure if the department believes that they should, they will give me that advice, and I'll act consistent with that advice.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you’re still his boss.

Prime Minister: No, no, the people of Pearce are his boss. He is a Member of Parliament. He’s a Member of Parliament and a member of the Liberal Party, and, like I am the Member for Cook. And, ultimately, to sit in the Parliament, then it is up to me to maintain my faith with the people of Cook. And he is in the same position, and he’s served the electorate of Pearce extremely well. And, so, he will go back to doing that job for the people of Pearce, and sit as a Government member.

Journalist: So, Minister Taylor will take on the role as Acting Minister.

Prime Minister: That’s right.

Journalist: Do you expect him to be, continue in that role? Will you do a reshuffle?

Prime Minister: When I return from, when I return from the United States, I’ll have more to say about those issues.

Journalist: Now, will that be a broader reshuffle, or just a one in, one out?

Prime Minister: When I get back from the United States, I'll have more to say. But, there is no need other than to deal with the immediate issues that are created by this set of events.

Journalist: Prime Minister, in your opinion, should a lawyer like Christian Porter have known better than to try this on?

Prime Minister: I expect my Ministers, all of them, and myself, to uphold the Ministerial Standards, and to act in accordance with those Ministerial Standards. And Minister Porter, by taking the decision that he has today, that's the appropriate decision in these circumstances, that reinforces our Government's commitment to those standards. We hold ourselves to them, and where we believe that people need to take action to ensure they are upheld, then they have. And it's not the first time this has occurred. I take Ministerial Standards very seriously. My Ministers understand that, and they've taken actions where it has been necessary to ensure those standards are upheld.

Journalist: Does the Liberal Party endorse him as the candidate at, in the next election?

Prime Minister: Well, I'm not actually specifically aware of where that's up to. And, but he is, of course, if he wished to stand again, then I'm sure he’d put himself forward to the selectors of Pearce for the Liberal Party. And, in our Party, those selectors will make those decisions. This isn't Fowler. This isn't some deal in Fowler, we're talking about here, in Pearce. I'll leave those sort of deals to the Labor Party.

Journalist: Just on the subs issue, do you regret any way in which it was communicated to the French? I mean, the French Prime Minister has recalled, or the French have recalled their ambassador. Do you regret that happening?

Prime Minister: Well, of course, we are disappointed about the actions of recalling the ambassador, but we understand them and we respect them, and we understand the deep disappointment about the arranged contract that we had to build the Attack-class submarines here in Australia. As we were going towards the next gate, the scope two gate, that we formed the view that the capability that the Attack-Class submarines were going to provide was not what Australia needed to protect our sovereign interests. That's what the decision was about. It was about protecting Australia's sovereign interests. And, of course, it is a matter of great disappointment to the French Government and to the Naval Group, and those who are working on the project. So, I understand their disappointment. But, at the same time, Australia, like any sovereign nation, must always take decisions that are in our sovereign national defence interests. And, that's what we've done in this circumstance. I have, we have made this clear for some time. This was an issue that had been raised by me directly some months ago, and we had continued to talk those issues through, including by defence ministers and others. There had been a range of issues earlier in the contract and throughout the contract that we had continued, we had discussed on numerous occasions. But, ultimately, this was a decision about whether the submarines that were being built, at great cost to the Australian taxpayer, were going to be able to do a job that we needed it to do when they went into service. And, our strategic judgment, based on the best possible intelligence and defence advice, was that it would not. And, so, therefore, to go forward, when we were able to secure a supreme submarine capability to support our defence operations, it would have been negligent for us not to.

Journalist: You said you raised it some months ago …

Prime Minister: Yes.

Journalist: … but when did you directly tell President Macron that you were tearing up this contract?

Prime Minister: The night before.

Journalist: The night before the announcement?

Prime Minister: At about 8.30, slightly after 8.30, on the night prior to the announcement.

Journalist: So, before then they were of the opinion it was still going ahead?

Prime Minister: Well, no, I think they had, they would have had every reason to know that we have deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack-class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests. And we had made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest.

Journalist: But, if they knew, why did they accuse the Brits and the US of stabbing them in the back, and Australia?

Prime Minister: Well, I don't share that view.

Journalist: But, they're obviously very aggrieved by this. If they knew that there were so many problems, why are they so aggrieved, in your mind?

Prime Minister: Because a contract, which involved a large amount of work and a significant contractual value, was terminated. That's understandable when that occurs, that the party that was involved in that, other party in that contract, would be aggrieved and would be disappointed. I understand that. I totally understand that. But, equally, I'm sure people would understand that Australia's national interest comes first. It must come first. And it did come first. And Australia's interests are best served by the trilateral partnership that I've been able to form with President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson. That is what serves Australia's long-term national interests. That's what I think ensures that we can contribute more significantly to peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region. And that is what is in Australia's best interests. So, I will always do what's in Australia's national interests. These are difficult decisions, and their implications for these decisions, and we understand that. And, so, we look to work with the French and many other like-minded partners. But, on this occasion, pursuing that contract, that build for that submarine, was no longer the best decision for Australia, and it wasn't in Australia's national interest.

Journalist: But, do you regret, do you regret the way in which you communicated this to President Macron, the way it’s led to the bilateral relationship between Australia and France deteriorating over the past couple of days?

Prime Minister: I don't regret the decision to put Australia's national interests first. Never will. Thank you.