Press Conference - New York, USA

20 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm very pleased to be here in the United States, first of all to be here in New York. The first responsibility of any prime minister, any leader of any country, is their national security and to always put their national interests first, in securing what's best for their own people. We have great friends and partners and allies all around the world, and over the course of this week, I'll have the opportunity to pursue those goals, shared goals, based on shared values, whether it's here in New York, where I'll meet with President Biden, the head of the European Commission and the European Council. Looking forward to those meetings with the Swedes and our friends from Austria. But also, as we get down to Washington, catching up with those on the Hill. Getting out and having a talk to defence officials as well on the important arrangements with AUKUS.

But most significantly, this visit is all about coming for the Quad leaders meeting. This is a significant initiative. It deals with the many, many issues we need to address within the Indo-Pacific. Issues such as dealing with vaccines, addressing climate change, addressing the changing economy that we're all facing. Working through those issues of supply chains and critical technologies. I know it sounds like a big agenda, and it is because we are living in a world that is changing rapidly. And as that world changes, we need to change with it. And we need to always make sure that we're doing everything we can to ensure the safety and security of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the European countries are meeting here in New York tonight to consider what they do in response to the axing of the French subs deal. Shouldn't there have been more diplomatic groundwork done before this announcement was made?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they're meeting about a number of issues tonight, as I understand it. And the Foreign Minister is here as well as the Defence Minister, who's already had discussions with representatives from the Commission and the Union. But I would simply say this. It was always going to be a difficult decision. And it had to be a decision that was taken in a very secure environment with what we were working on with the United States and the United Kingdom. It would be naive to think that a decision of this nature was not going to cause disappointment, obviously, to the French. We understand that. We totally acknowledge that. And we knew that that would be the case. And it was not possible for us to be able to discuss such secure issues in relation to our dealings with other countries at that time. We have made it very clear, I had made it very clear, that a conventional submarine would no longer be meeting our strategic interests and what we needed those boats to do. That had been communicated very clearly many months ago. We were working through those issues. So to suggest that somehow this decision could have been taken without causing this disappointment, I think would be very naive. That's what hard decisions are. And at the end of the day, you have to do things that are in Australia's national interest and our security interests. And that had to be paramount. We chose not to go through a gate in a contract. The contract was set up that way, and we chose not to go through it because we believed to do so would ultimately not be in Australia's interests. So it was a tough decision. It was a decision that we knew clearly would cause disappointment. And it would be naive to suggest that it would be otherwise.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, President Biden is going to be having a conversation with Emmanuel Macron. Apparently he'd been seeking that over overnight. Are you going to be having a conversation with Emmanuel Macron before you meet with European leaders tomorrow and before you meet with the President tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER: No, no, that is not an opportunity for that at this time. I'm sure that opportunity will come in time. But right now, I understand the disappointment, and they're working through the consultations with their Ambassador who's returned to Paris and we will be patient about that. We will engage with European leaders, importantly, we'll continue to engage with ASEAN leaders. I spoke to President Widodo on the way over here. We had a very warm conversation. I was able to reassure him, particularly about the issues on non-proliferation and further explained the arrangements around AUKUS.

What Australia does is contributes to peace and stability of the region, and that's our record. We have been able to establish a dialogue partnership with ASEAN for the first time, under our government. And that provides a good channel to further understand the steps that Australia necessarily has to take. I mean, all countries have to take decisions in their interests. All countries in the region understand that. And there is now the opportunity given it has been announced to provide further explanations. And that's exactly what we're doing. And they're being warmly received.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you fear that the decision has put the EU free trade agreement with Australia at risk?

PRIME MINISTER: I can only really, I suppose, quote, I think it was the Foreign Affairs Chief from the European Commission, who said you don't mix apples and pears. And I think that's a pretty good summary of the situation. These issues will be worked through in the weeks and months ahead. I mean, it's not an easy thing to do, to get an agreement with the European Union on trade. I think everyone understands that. The Canadians have been trying to secure one for some time and they've also not made much progress there. But we wish them well with that. But these issues are not easy to arrive at. There are many other factors that come into it. So I think once we work through, tomorrow is a good opportunity to further discuss and explain the necessary decisions that Australia has had to take.

We have commercial relationships with countries all over Europe in particular, including other defence contract arrangements with Germany, for example. And we're looking to establish even more of those relationships directly. I'm particularly looking forward to the discussions with the Austrian Chancellor tomorrow, to that end. So we've got a lot of great relationships here, a lot of great friends, and I'm looking forward to spending time with them, but particularly as we get to the end of the week, that very important Quad leaders meeting and the meetings with the Prime Minister Yoshi Suga as well as Prime Minister Modi. These are tremendous partners, our region together with the United States. And this will be a very important meeting and I'm looking forward to it. Thanks very much.