Press Conference - Newquay Airport, United Kingdom

13 Jun 2021
Newquay Airport, United Kingdom
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, everyone. I was very pleased to join with the G7 and the other extension partners over these last few days. I said it would be an important time to be sitting around the table with the leaders of the world's largest liberal democracies and advanced economies to address some of the most significant issues we've seen in a very long time. Whether it is how we're handling COVID together and the many challenges that are still ahead in relation to COVID, dealing with issues of a fraying system under stress when it comes to world trade and the rules that sit around that. Ensuring that we are understanding the need to be working together in multilateral fora. But also importantly, understanding the challenges to stability in the global system, in particular in the Indo-Pacific.

I was very encouraged, very encouraged by two things. Firstly, the strong support that Australia has received, both in acknowledging the relative success we've had in handling difficult issues like COVID, but also the very strong support for the stance that Australia has taken very consistently in standing up for liberal democratic principles and in our own region in the Indo-Pacific. Over the course of the last few days, both with the direct bilateral exchanges and trilateral indeed, as well as in the fora of the G7 Plus, we have had the opportunity to pursue so many issues that are essential to Australia's interests. Whether it was our commitment to supporting the dose contributions that the G7 are making as a result of this latest gathering and as well as through the COVAX facility and the Quad commitments that Australia has already made and the work we're already doing in our region to strengthen transparency and accountability when it comes to managing potential future pandemics. We made very strong cases. We have for some period of time now, both in alert systems of potential pandemics at the outset, as well as the importance of ensuring the follow through of the investigation process, that are still necessary and need to be undertaken as recommended by the WHO team that was brought together to investigate this pandemic, for no other reason that we are better prepared to deal with future pandemics. It was an important opportunity to share and understand the experiences of the other countries, large countries in particular, in how they're handling the pandemic and the various methods that they've been using to manage it from a day to day basis. But there was considerable interest in the success that Australia has had and we'll be watching carefully, particularly as we go into this European summer, as we've seen the additional strains that are coming through on COVID-19 and what the implications might be for Australia as we understand the experience here as it plays out over the next few months.

Importantly, today we spoke about the importance of having open economies and open societies. The most significant element of the gathering that you've seen here in Cornwall over these last few days is it is a gathering of like-minded countries, countries that understand that the world order that has favoured freedom for so long has been so beneficial to so much of the world, to usher in a period of peace and prosperity like the world has never seen before. And it's important that we tend to that and ensure that the world order that supports freedom continues and that we address the challenges that are there, whether it's big issues such as climate change or COVID, or ensuring that operating across everything from the ITU and the WHO and the many other international fora which are there to support those arrangements are working effectively. But I suppose the big thing, which President Biden said when we met together is a group of Quad leaders, is it demonstrates we need to demonstrate how liberal democracies, how democracies work, how they work in their own countries for our own people, how they work in the regions in which we need to support and engage countries in our own regions, but also globally on the big issues such as climate change and on managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just briefly, on climate change. There was the opportunity today and over the last few days to make the announcements that we've had. New partnerships, new technology partnerships, you're already aware of the announcements we made in Singapore en route to the G7 Plus dialogue, but also with Japan and Germany and soon also with the United Kingdom. Today, there was a very strong focus, just like with COVID, where there was the need for the world to focus on the solution of a vaccine, to address the challenge of COVID-19, so to the challenge of achieving net zero requires the technological solutions which work as effectively in an advanced economy like Australia's or Japan or Germany as it does in an economy like India or South Africa. And finding those technology solutions and ensuring that commercial, scalable, affordable, achievable and adaptable right around the world, that is how you get emissions down. And as you would have seen in the statement that was released today, the communique, there was a very strong focus on the technology led process that is needed to achieve those ambitious net zero goals. So a very productive and efficient few days here together. But most importantly of all, it is about coming together as like-minded democracies in advanced economies to address the big issues that we all must face globally as well as locally within our own domestic settings.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Italian Prime Minister said to you this morning 'the only difference of views was the intensity of the message to China.' Was he referring to your view as opposed to his or were there other countries that weren't as keen as you and America and the UK are on such an intense message?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, he was referring to the G7 discussions. He wasn't referring to any discussions that Australia was involved in. As you know, the G7 communique is produced by the G7 nations and Australia is an extension partner. But look, we had very frank discussions about those issues today in the Indo-Pacific. We had very important discussions yesterday in the trilateral meeting that I had, that we initiated and sought with both the United States and the United Kingdom. So these issues were very present at this gathering, particularly for countries like Japan, ourselves and India, where the Indo-Pacific is our home.

JOURNALIST: Do the Europeans have a different view than to the rest of the G7 countries?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they have a different perspective because of their geography. They have a different perspective because of their economies. We have a different perspective because we live in the Indo-Pacific and so our economies are integrated into the Indo-Pacific differently to what they are in Europe. But that's changing rapidly. What I detected was an increasing and significant awareness of the impact of tensions in the Indo-Pacific for the broader global system. And that in particular relates to Europe. There was a very high level of awareness, high level awareness and a very strong level of support for what has been a very consistent and clear stand that Australia has taken consistent with our liberal democratic values, which are shared by all of those who joined in the discussions these last few days.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is it accurate that you brought up China's 14 grievances in the open society session? If that's right. What did you say? How did the leaders react?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is true that I did make reference because it is no surprise to leaders who gathered in Cornwall that Australia has been in a position of some tension with China now for some years. And there was obviously a lot of interest about the reasons for that. Well, as you know and others know, the issues of contention were set out in that statement from the Ambassador and from the Embassy, Chinese Embassy in Canberra. And so to have set those out and there is not a country that would sit around that table that would seek a concession on any of those 14 points as something they also would tolerate. So I think you just set out very clearly that there are differences in world view here and they may never be able to be resolved. But living with China, which is the goal, also requires us to be very clear about what our values are and what our principles are and how our countries are run and and how we will continue to run, free of interference.

JOURNALIST: Were they shocked by that list of grievances? Is that something that's never happened? Is that a unique experience that Australia is going through on that front?

PRIME MINISTER: I mean, it certainly wouldn't be of any surprise to those who have had similar experiences as Australia and particularly those who are more familiar with the region and have had greater engagement with the region. There are European countries that have been through similar periods that Australia has been. But the way through that is just to be patient. The way through that is to keep seeking what the ultimate goal is. To be consistent, clear and resolute in the positions that you hold, but with the objective of getting to a point where we once again can engage in the dialogue and the partnership that we have in the past, but not at the cost or the price of any of the issues that are set out on those 14 points being conceded.

JOURNALIST: I asked you yesterday who's idea was the trilat? Penny Wong said it's disappointing you didn't have a bilat with Joe Biden, that you didn't have that. What's your reaction to that? And can you tell me who's idea it was?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it was ours. I said that yesterday. We initiated the trilateral. It was important to discuss the issues, I was seeking discussion in relation to the Indo-Pacific, both with the United States and the United Kingdom. And so that is what we sought and that is what we did. And I think that is, that was a very useful meeting, as you know, it went double time for what we had first allowed for. So I'm very appreciative. I mean, the President has a busy schedule at these meetings, and he was very generous with his time. And we also had the opportunity to speak one on one to each other at that meeting as well and afterwards. So it was very constructive. We share the many challenges in the region and we're great partners and allies in addressing those challenges in the region.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a short time ago, Joe Biden said that the G7 countries have agreed to end the public financing of unabated coal generation. And he said that the G7 Plus countries, which would include Australia, have agreed to work in that direction as well. What have you agreed to on that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the G7 is the group that makes decisions about these things. We're not a signatory to the G7 communique, and we participated today very positively in the discussion about climate change. And we were able to demonstrate once again that Australia's performance speaks loudly. 20 per cent reduction in emissions, over 50 per cent reduction in emissions intensity per unit of GDP. $20 billion being invested in finding those technology breakthroughs, particularly when it comes to hydrogen, because hydrogen and the other technologies are vital as you bridge out of the very technologies that you're talking about into the new one. Australia, particularly in Asia, has had great success over generations in being one of the primary energy exporters into our region. And what I said today is I'm very confident we will be in the new energy economy in the future. And when it comes to those new energy technologies being hydrogen or others, I mean, Australia's coal fired generation fleet obviously has an economic life. And that will run its course, just like the coal fired fleets in Germany and many other places will run their course. And I think the wording that was used in that statement about unabated, I think talks of a level of scale and Australia has no plans or is not pursuing anything that could be described in that way.

JOURNALIST: And just [inaudible], yesterday you said that you rely on health advice to help guide your COVID policy. Overnight, the advice from the WA Health Department has been that the Murugappan family should be reunited in Perth. Is that something that you're willing to accept the advice on?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we take our advice from the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Home Affairs, and we have medical experts as part of the Department of Home Affairs and supporting the work of the Australian Border Force. And so those issues are always carefully considered in all of these sensitive cases and indeed will be on this occasion. That is why members of the family are already in Perth receiving that medical attention, and that is our number one priority and providing support and care to that family and other options, too, that both are consistent with the government's policy when it comes to these matters, as well as the need to provide the appropriate humanitarian and health support are being worked through right now.

JOURNALIST: So will they be settled in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, when we have more to say on that matter, well, settled? Well, that wouldn't be government policy for a pathway to permanent settlement. That is not the government's policy.

JOURNALIST: Well [inaudible] or some other visa?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I just said there are options that are being considered that are consistent with both health advice and the humanitarian need and the government's policy.

JOURNALIST: It sounds like it's possible.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll let you commentate. I'm just telling you where we're at right now.

JOURNALIST: Did you receive any pressure from leaders over the last few days over your climate policy?


JOURNALIST: No one told you to make your targets for emissions more ambitious?


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, today's communique calls climate change a, quote, 'existential threat'. Can you tell us whether you agree it is an existential threat? And just on tax, if I could just ask a quick second one. The G7 has also endorsed a few reforms, including a minimum corporate tax rate of 50. Obviously, that doesn't worry us because Australia is at the higher end of corporate tax in the OECD. Do you have any appetite, interest, desire to revisit Australia's corporate tax rate with the intention of lowering it other than what has already been legislated. Does Australia need to revisit that issue?

PRIME MINISTER: On the first matter, of course, we need to address climate change and we are. And for all the reasons that are obvious and we are making great progress, in fact, greater progress then many of the countries we sat round the table with today.

JOURNALIST: Is it an existential threat, though?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, we heard today from David Attenborough and I mean, the science on these matters, we understand all very well. And what is more important now, as I've been saying for some period of time, the destination is clear. I've made it very clear that we are moving towards net zero. And I talked about a carbon neutral economy. This is a reality. The new energy economy is coming. It's a reality. You'll see it working through financial markets. You'll see it through working through so many different areas of the financial system. And I had a very, very, very informative discussion today with Mario Draghi, not only Prime Minister of Italy, but he used to be the head of the European Central Bank, which is where I knew him when I was Treasurer. And we had a very good discussion today about the direction of financial markets, bond markets and how they are working and pricing in and positioning for the new energy economy. So they're economic realities that Australia has to address. But my ambition is to ensure that Australia is as successful in the new energy economy, as we have been in the old one, and to make the transitions that both address climate change, but also ensure that the jobs of Australians, the price of their electricity, it is affordable and reliable, the lights staying on and we address these environmental challenges, our regions thrive and our heavy industries come through. And so that's my task.

On the other matter, I've referred to that fact in Australia on a number of occasions. But you're right, the work that was done by the G7 finance ministers, largely rounds off some work that's been done, even going back to the [inaudible] process through the G20 and the OECD, which I had involvement in again when I was Treasurer. And that sort of moves into a next phase with that minimum tax level, which, you know, we anticipate might have a small positive impact in Australia from a revenue point of view. But that is really about trying to ensure that large multinationals pay tax, in a jurisdiction. And so I think that was a positive development. In terms of where Australia is, we always think our taxes are good for the Australian economy. But I think the Australian Parliament and has made their views on these things pretty clear. So I tend to focus my efforts on things where I think I can make greater progress.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has said that a sensible person wouldn't discount that the COVID-19 came from a lab. Is that your agreement as well? And how quickly does this second probe need to get started? Can you put a timeframe on when you want to see action taking place on the second?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's already overdue. I mean, the panel that already reported, recommended that there'd need to be further investigation. Now, I can't tell you how it's sourced, I don't know. That's the point. We don't know. And all the potential sources should be obviously understood and for no other reason so we know how we might be able to handle this better in the future. Now, the point I've been making now quite consistently and as we saw when the virus spread early, and particularly when it moved into Europe and particularly into Italy, had there been more early warning and had countries been able to do what Australia did, which was put up our borders, and as a result today, we've sadly lost 910 people to COVID in Australia. But, I've been sitting around the table today and yesterday with countries that have lost tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people. And that is not Australia's experience, so an early warning system, an early radar system as was described by others, I think is very important and transparency is important. You'll see the word transparency in the communiqué. That transparency is talking about ensuring that there is an openness, that there is a an obligation, if you like, a duty for any country that finds itself potentially at the commencement of an outbreak of a seriously transmissible virus or disease, that they will put up the flag, that they will let others know so other countries can take precautionary actions and to prevent the spread of the virus. Now, these viruses can start anywhere. If they were to happen in Australia, if they were happen in South America, if they happen in other parts of South East Asia or Central Asia, wherever it would commence, it's incredibly important, we believe, that there is an understanding that any country in that situation would advise, would alert. But in addition to that, that the WHO should have greater authority to be able to investigate these matters and for the purposes of informing the world, which is their job, about the nature of these pandemics, so we can better handle it. It's a very practical task, and that's why it's urgent that it gets underway in its next phase as soon as possible. And I will let the investigators investigate as to what the cause was. We would just like to be informed.

JOURNALIST: I mean, how quickly?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, as soon as possible. As soon as possible, I can't underscore its urgency more than that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the line in the communique around decarbonisation of coal fired power stations by 2030 (inaudible), do you think that's achievable?

PRIME MINISTER: What's important is that we develop carbon capture technologies that enable us to make the progress in the area you just talked about and to do that at an affordable scale. Now we have a technology roadmap which sets out a stretch target on carbon capture, at $20 per tonne of CO2. I went through all of our technology target costs, whether it was green steel, green aluminium, and I put it in US dollars. $1.50, we're talking about $2 Australian for hydrogen per kilo. These are the things that need to be achieved in order to achieve the goals that are being set for emissions reduction. It's the technology, it's the soul, it's the solution. So that is why Australia is reaching out and putting agreements together with like minded countries in particular, like Germany, like Singapore, like the United Kingdom, like Japan. And we had a very good discussion with President Moon as well in South Korea. These are positive, really positive developments because we're looking to find the answer. As I said, dealing with climate change isn't that different to dealing with COVID-19. COVID-19, you need a vaccine. Climate change, you need technologies that enable you to run your economies at net zero emissions. Keep the jobs, keep the power, keep the lights on and keep your industry. That's my goal. And I was pleased there was a great deal of support for that approach and many others that were shared around the table today.

JOURNALIST: Do you want to come back to the G7 next year?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's three invitations in a row. So these are, these are matters for hosts to determine. But Australia has found, I have found once again, this forum, very, very important for Australia to be at. Australia is well respected in this forum. And I've greatly appreciated the opportunity to share our views, to share our Indo-Pacific perspective, along particularly with Japan as well as Narendra Modi, who joined us virtually. It's very important for the Indo-Pacific view to be expressed from the Indo-Pacific. And so the many countries of the G7 can have that report direct from the ground. Anyway, I'm going to have to go. Thank you very much.