Press Conference - New York, USA

Transcript
21 Sep 2021
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and good morning in Australia, and I'm very pleased to be joined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Marise Payne and the Minister for Defence, Peter Dutton.

This has been a very important time for the three of us to be here, in New York in particular, as the world is gathering. The world is changing dramatically, particularly in our own region, in the Indo-Pacific and now more than ever, it's very important that we're engaging with our like minded friends and partners all around the world. It's been a great opportunity today to meet with many of those, of course, meeting with President Biden as part of our bilateral here. And I'll be joining him again when I go to Washington and, of course, have the Quad meetings later in the week. In addition, the opportunity to meet with so many of our European partners, whether they be from NATO, the European Union, Sweden, and Austria, these have been important meetings and a good opportunity for us to be talking about the many issues that we share in common.

Today's meeting with President Biden was incredibly, we were able to reinforce the partnership that we were able to announce last week together, but more importantly, to affirm the ANZUS alliance that this month we marked 70 years of us working together in that way and indeed more than a century of us standing together in so many challenging times. And they're challenging times that we're facing now. In the partnerships, alliances that we have, many countries we work, we share this with, and that is the Indo-Pacific will be a region that will challenge the world and will determine the future of so many all around the world. Together with the United States, we want to ensure that those in Europe and around the world can join us in focusing on addressing those challenges. Today, we had the opportunity, as I said, to affirm our friendship and our alliance and our new partnership. But in addition to that, to address the many other challenges, whether they be the challenges of climate change, the supply chain issues that we need to address together and the economic challenges that we face. This is a partnership that goes beyond just our security interests and one that goes to our like minded views of the world.

With our European partners, it was a good opportunity to be able to answer questions and take them through the important announcements that we've made from Australia's interests over the course of the past week. Australia will always pursue our national sovereign interests. That is my responsibility. That is the responsibility of my colleagues. And in pursuing those interests we must ensure that not only our security interests are addressed, but also our broader economic issues need to be addressed and we need to be playing our part as we indeed are in addressing global climate change as we move towards COP26. So it has been, I think, a very important day. Sharing discussions with those who believe in a world that favours freedom and advancing that through our many partnerships and seeing how we can work even more closely together to deal with what is a very complex and changing world. It's all about keeping Australians safe, it's all about keeping Australia strong in a world that's constantly changing and always keeping Australians together. With that, I'll ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to say a few words and of course the Minister for Defence and then happy to take some questions.

SENATOR THE HON. MARISE PAYNE, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks, Prime Minister, and great to be here with the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister and particularly good to be in Washington and New York in the last week or so, and particularly the opportunity to attend the speech of the President of the United States to the U.N. General Assembly this morning, to meet with the President and his senior team today as well. We want to thank the President and Secretary Blinken, National Security Adviser Sullivan, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, Special Envoy Kerry and others who were part of that meeting.

Today's engagement continue the very significant momentum that has been built out of the AUSMIN consultations last week where we agreed to a number of foreign policy and defence outcomes that were part of the joint statement for AUSMIN itself. As well as a wide range of US officials, we've also, I've also been pleased to meet with friends and counterparts in the last days from the Philippines, from the United Kingdom, from Maldives, from Portugal, EU, Latvia, Sri Lanka, the UAE, Poland, Thailand, India and UN agencies, including in a number of those meetings, the opportunity to discuss gender issues, women, peace and security as well from my portfolio as Minister for Women. More meetings in that context to come tomorrow.

These are all valuable opportunities to canvas Australia's priorities for the Indo-Pacific and in the Indo-Pacific. For freedom, for openness, for stability, security and inclusivity in our region with ASEAN at its heart. We've also, as the Prime Minister said, discussed the AUKUS arrangements, emphasising that it's about Australia's national security and our ongoing contribution to the stability of our region. It is a partnership about sharing technology and capabilities, not a military alliance or a security pact. It's timely to remember, I think, that two years ago this week, Quad foreign ministers met in New York, face to face, for the first time. I'm very proud to know that our Quad leaders will now be meeting in person in Washington this week with a strong focus on the priority issues for the Indo-Pacific, including vaccines and health security, critical technologies and climate. It's a positive, practical diplomatic network which is delivering for our region.

Can I finish, Prime Minister, by saying that overall, this visit that the Defence Minister and I have been undertaking for the last fortnight to Indonesia, to India, to the Republic of Korea, to Washington and New York has been one of the most substantive foreign and defence policy engagements by Australia in recent times. And in the US, the marking of the anniversary of ANZUS, the holding of a substantial AUSMIN, the announcement of AUKUS, has enabled us to secure some of the most significant outcomes for Australia's national interests in the history of our relationship. I want to thank the Defence Minister for his engagement. The work that we have done together has been comprehensive and thank all of those who contributed to the programme across those engagements. Thanks PM.

THE HON. PETER DUTTON MP, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well PM, Marise, thank you very much. I want to personally say thank you to Marise, we have had an extensive engagement over the course of the last couple of weeks. We'll meet later this week with INDOPACOM and talk about the region and to talk about what it is we've announced under AUKUS. The whole design of this programme has been really about keeping Australia safe and secure in an uncertain world. And as the Prime Minister points out, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, we need to provide that leadership stability. And through the deal that we've announced, I think we've delivered on that. I think many of our neighbours understand the gravity of AUKUS, the way in which that will be a positive force for peace and stability in our region. I want to say thank you very much to President Biden for the way in which he received us today in the conversation which followed on from our conversations with the two Secretaries Blinken and Austin, in Washington. A very productive engagement, and yesterday I was able to go to Connecticut to visit the electric boat company, which since last century has had a very esteemed engagement with the US Defence Force and their production of missiles and submarines, et cetera, so that starts the 18 month process of discussion with the United States and United Kingdom. I think it's been very important, it's been a historic trip from our perspective and the momentum is with us now to make sure that we can do whatever we can to keep our region safe and secure into the future. So, I've really appreciated what's been a very productive trip.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what did you say to the President about climate change, you obviously didn't discuss that and was critical minerals and hydrogen discussed during the meeting?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I was able to address was the significant progress Australia has made. 20 per cent reduction in emissions in Australia since 2005, which outstrips many of the countries’ performance today, including here, frankly, in the United States and Canada, New Zealand and so many other countries. Australia has the highest level of rooftop solar anywhere in the world. And our achievements in reducing emissions is an important story for Australia to continue to tell, because it's our record of achievement that actually establishes the integrity of the commitments that we make. That we will meet and beat our 2030 targets, I was able to inform the President today. And that we will continue to work on our plan as to how we can continue to reduce emissions to zero well into the future. As I indicated at the start of this year, it was our intention to do. Because in Australia it's not enough to have a commitment to something. You've got to have a plan to achieve it. And this is an important part of the way we approach this task. You have a plan to meet your commitment. If you don't have a plan, you don't have a commitment. And so we will continue to work through those issues. It was a good opportunity to discuss the important elements of that plan today, in particular technology, the hydrogen projects that we're engaged in, which were announced particularly early this week, and the important role that hydrogen technology as well as CCUS battery technology and others are going to play, not just in advanced economies, but in developing economies as well. We share a passion that developing economies, particularly in our region, in Indo-Pacific, will be able to develop their economies with a clean energy future, that they will be able to realise the jobs that advanced economies have, to develop their industrial base on the new energy technologies. And Australia wants to play a critical role in that. And we want to partner with countries to achieve it. This will be an important topic of discussion on Friday, particularly to the point that you've raised. That will be an important discussion point on Friday as part of the Quad, the critical supply chains, rare earths and critical minerals and how they feed into the many technologies that make up the new energy economy is a big part of Australia's opportunity in the future and has important opportunities for our resources sector. Lithium, yes, of course, but so many other rare earths and minerals that make up the future supply chains. So we see ourselves being a supplier of energy to the region in new energy technologies. And we see ourselves as an important player in providing the rare earths and critical minerals that are essential to the supply chains of the new energy economy.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what messages did you get from European leaders you were meeting today? And what now after those meetings, do you believe the impact of the severing of the subs deal will be on our trade negotiations with Europe?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, firstly, on the issue of trade, to pick that one up first. Apples and pears is, as I described it, which weren't my words, they were words from one of the officials from the Commission and look, we had positive discussions about that. There is an understanding that these are, these are issues that aren't on the same track. We've been working on, particularly trade issues, for many years now. We're not alone in that. Canadians have been doing the same. It's no easy thing to land a trade deal with Europe. And there are many complex issues that Minister Tehan will continue to work through. And obviously they'll be consulting with their members. But I was very pleased with the discussions we had on that topic today, not just with obviously the European Commission and Council, but also the individual member states. Whether it was Estonia, or going through Austria and Sweden and others. So, I welcome those discussions.

The other thing that I take great heart from, in my discussions with European leaders today, and I'm sure Peter and Marise, in particular, she's had even more, is how focused they are on the Indo-Pacific. Two, three years, five years ago, the discussions that are had today about the Indo-Pacific are very different, and I welcome the fact as does the President, as we discussed today, that Europe is so keen to play a more significant role, partnering in the region. And it's been a good opportunity to point out that the new partnership we have with the United States, the United Kingdom, is an opportunity to engage Europe more broadly. This is not about excluding, this is the reverse. This is an opportunity to engage more because we will be able to do more in the region and do more together with other European nations. So I think it was a good opportunity to explain those opportunities that come from the new partnership. As Marise said, it was an opportunity to make it very clear this is not some new alliance or anything of that nature. This is a partnership that builds on long standing partnerships with two of Australia's, if not, well, it is Australia's two longest standing partners and allies, and so the opportunity to explain that today, I think was very important. Of course, there's understandable recognition of the disappointment for France. There was never going to be an easy way to not proceed with this contract. To think there was, I think would be naive. Of course it’s disappointing. But it's a contractual arrangement that we have. We're acting consistent with the contract and we will meet all our obligations in relation to the contract terms of the options we’ve exercised and the opportunity to explain those matters, I think was reassuring that Australia would be doing the right thing in terms of our obligations.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on those financial obligations, have you discussed with the US helping to meet any of those break elements in the contract with the French, so any financial contribution by them in ...?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's not a matter for the United States. I mean, Australia, I want to stress we haven't entered as yet into any contractual supply arrangements [inaudible]. We are now engaged in a 12 to 18 month process to determine those issues. But this is a matter that was initiated by Australia. Let me be very clear about that. This is not a matter that was brought to Australia by the United States or the United Kingdom. This was Australia acting in our national interests to ensure our national security in our region. That is our job, to keep Australians safe. And it's our duty to ensure that if we require a superior capability than one we would otherwise be provided, then we will get on and do that job. And if we didn't do that, well, I think Australians would have the right to be disappointed. But we've avoided that by ensuring that we are able to now proceed on a superior path to a superior capability, that is in no way, as we were able to stress today, to any criticism of the Attack Class Submarine whatsoever. That was never the point. It was a conventional submarine. It could only do so much. And in this strategic environment, that was not enough.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if I can ask you about climate change for a moment.

PRIME MINISTER: Sure.

JOURNALIST:  President Biden said that our two countries are in lockstep. He also said about climate change that we are almost at the point of no return. Given that our countries are, according to him, are in lockstep and he's taking zero emissions by 2050 to COP. What will you be doing or are we not in lockstep? Is he wrong?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I think we are both seeking to get to the same place ...

JOURNALIST: Which is net emissions zero by 2050?

PRIME MINISTER: I think we've always been seeking to get to the same place. We are going to see the most profound transition of the global energy economy that we've seen in a very long time ...

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the specific ...

PRIME MINISTER: And we are going to be making that transition and we're going to be making that with an Australian plan ...

JOURNALIST: By when?

PRIME MINISTER: Following an Australian path to achieve that goal. And we'll be outlining that between now and COP26. And that's why I was able to indicate to the President today, we are working through our own processes about our plan and when we are in a position to make further announcements on that then we will.

JOURNALIST: Officials from the Biden Administration have made it quite clear that they think Australia should have taken a bit more responsibility in dealing with the French before this announcement was made. Have you picked that up while you're here?

PRIME MINISTER: It was another good opportunity to indicate the process that they've been engaged in. We have made it clear for some months that the capability of a conventional submarine, to operate in that environment which we now face, pose serious risks. We were very clear, I was very clear about that issue. Now, clearly where we are, is we both understand that the environment that we're seeking to operate has changed. I don't think there's any dispute about that. There may be a difference of view, well there certainly is obviously, about whether the conventional submarine is going to be able to deal with that. Australia's view was it could not. And therefore, we took the decision that we have every entitlement to take. To protect Australia's interests and advance our national security.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister on the submarines, the United Kingdom has indicated that they may station up to three nuclear submarines in Australia. Is that an option? And is there also an option for a similar arrangement with the United States? Are these options that Australia is looking at and may come up in the near future?

PRIME MINISTER: Today, we had the opportunity to get some clear early priorities on what we wanted to achieve under the AUKUS arrangement. And, of course, going through that 18 month process and making sure that we have a right sized option for Australia to be able to pursue the right scale, to mean we can move as quickly as possible and get that capability in place. But in addition to that, a lot of work Minister Dutton has been doing, is to work to see how we can bring other elements to that capability in an even sooner timeframe. Now, that could involve the very things that you're talking about. There are no commitments on that as yet. But being able to bring that capability to our region and to work with that, that provides training opportunities for Australians as well as we seek to build our capability, to be able to support our own nuclear-powered submarine fleet over time. But it wasn't just about that. Issues of AI and cyber and quantum, all of these technologies are critical parts of our national defences, and these will be significant early areas where we will work together, as indeed the announcement made very clear. So there's a lot of work to do. This is about Australia doing more and doing more with others and not just with the United States and the United Kingdom. Our policy, our plan, our strategy is about doing more and more with more partners to ensure a stability that delivers peace and security.

JOURNALIST: PM, can I just ask what assurances did you get today within that US bilateral that all the legislative requirements in Congress that are needed for AUKUS to go ahead, would actually go ahead? Is the President telling you that he's going to push everyone in Congress to agree to all those legislative changes to make AUKUS a reality as opposed to announcement?

PRIME MINISTER: What's important to note, is today the President affirmed again, obviously the support of the announcement we made last week. But as we led up to the AUKUS arrangement and particularly to pursue the option of nuclear powered submarines, then all parties are very conscious of the many issues each of us will have to address. And so we have entered into this arrangement as a partnership with our eyes wide open about what will be necessary.

JOURNALIST: The President felt compelled today, Prime Minister, at the UN to assure the world that America wasn't leading its allies and Australia into a Cold War with China. So obviously, he sees the seriousness of this matter in those terms. Are you confident that that can be avoided without diplomatic contact with Beijing?

PRIME MINISTER: I am confident that we can avoid the conflict that we all want to avoid, and I believe that includes not only Australia and many countries in our region and friends across ASEAN, but I believe that extends to our partners in the Quad, Japan and India, as we'll discuss later this week, as it indeed does to China. I have no doubt that's what we all are seeking to achieve. I am encouraged by the President's efforts in seeking that direct engagement and having that direct and honest engagement with China. We had the opportunity to discuss those issues today. The President has a deep understanding of the Indo-Pacific, a very deep understanding. He's been around this space for a very long time and he knows it intimately. And that is a great reassurance to our partnership, that he understands these issues at this level. And so we are joined in this objective of peace. We are joined in this objective of doing all we can to ensure the stability that we can provide will deliver the peace that is necessary.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the European Union free trade agreement. Do you feel any more confident about the progress of the negotiations following the discussions with the Europeans today, particularly with the Austrian Chancellor?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I particularly welcome the fact that Sebastian and I were able to come to the agreement, which we took about last year, it actually began when we were working together on COVID issues and we had quite a discussion about those also today. The progress of an EU free trade agreement is not a simple one. The timetable for that, I've known for some time, is one that's going to continue to require a great deal of patience. Other countries know that as well and so we will just continue doing the work, and that's what I discussed with European leaders today. There is still a journey ahead of us. That journey is unchanged by the events of last week. And that will be about the issues of trade, because ultimately, I think an improved trading arrangement between us and the European Union is important for parties on both sides. It was a key point to make today by the Estonian President. There is a lot of enthusiasm for a close trading arrangement with Australia, across European leaders, and that has been my experience in dealing with them for some time now. But it is not a simple thing to come to an EU agreement with so many nations involved. And so we will continue to exercise the patience needed to get there. OK. Thank you very much everyone.