Press Conference - OECD Headquarters, France

16 Jun 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well, good morning everyone. This has been an essential time for Australia to be bringing an Indo-Pacific perspective to some of the world’s most important like-minded forums. The G7, the OECD. But also to have direct engagement with some of Australia’s greatest and most important partners, both from a defence and security perspective but also from an economic perspective so the opportunity, whether it was to dine with President Macron last night and the night before with Prime Minister Johnson, the opportunity to engage directly with G7 leaders and the extension partners whether from our own region in the Republic of Korea, of course with Japan. But also importantly to have dialogue with South Africa, dialogue with the Italians, dialogue with the outgoing Chancellor in Germany who has played such an incredible role on the global stage for so long. This has been an essential time for Australia's voice to be heard and I have been incredibly encouraged by the very strong and steadfast support that Australia has received.

You've heard it from the world's leaders, understanding that the Indo-Pacific sits at the centre of some of the biggest challenges that the world faces. And to have an Australian voice that is speaking into the important forums that will play such an important role in how these issues are managed, has been incredibly important. For our own interests, for jobs, for security in Australia, but also more broadly for our partners. 

So it has been an invaluable time for us to be engaging in this way, to keep building those incredibly important relationships which ensure that Australia can be prosperous but also can be safe and secure and so I thank all of those I've had the opportunity to meet with in these past many days, from Singapore through to the G7 in the United Kingdom, here in France and of course the OECD today and to be here with Mathias Cormann as he begins his five-year term. We are incredibly proud of what Mathias is already doing here and this will ensure though with an independent voice now as the Secretary-General of the OECD now. That there is a voice here at the OECD at the most senior level that understands the Indo-Pacific. And that was one of the key issues that we promoted as part of the candidacy for Mathias Cormann. That it would enable a greater understanding of what was happening in the most dynamic and radically-changing part of the world that would have such a big impact on the economies of the world and indeed the global economy. And we are seeing that play out even as we speak as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and indeed continues to seek to move through that pandemic and the economic recession that it has caused around the world.

So there has never been a more important time to sit around these tables. I am looking forward to returning to Australia and of course the many challenges that we have there. But the opportunity to put Australia's position on so many issues, the technological challenges of climate change, the need to ensure defence and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, to ensure that we keep our free trade momentum around the world and it is not stymied or slowed. That important institutions like the OECD and the World Trade Organisation remain vibrant and remain effective, as they effectively ensure that the rules-based order can be effectively applied across the world. A world order that favours freedom is a world order that favours prosperity, one that favours security for all peoples around the world. Australia is a keen advocate for that and it has been a privilege to be able to make that case on Australia's behalf over the course of the past week.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how did your discussions go with President Macron around the submarine program and the cost of that?

PRIME MINISTER: It was a very positive discussion we had last night about a whole raft of issues and of course including the contract. We are coming up to important gates in that contract and there have been issues that we have had to address over particularly the last eight months and President Macron and I have a very, very open and very transparent, and very friendly relationship where we can speak candidly to each other about these issues. But what is most important is we understand the strategic imperative of our broader relationship, whether, we obviously have our relationship as it presents with that contract, but it is far bigger than that. We both have a shared interest in the strategic security of the Indo-Pacific. France is a partner in the south-west Pacific. We had the opportunity to discuss the south-west Pacific in some detail last night. Obviously with their long history, just like ours. So it was a good opportunity to swap notes on those issues and the many other things that we have both been engaging with over the past week.

JOURNALIST: Did you ask President Macron to take a greater hand in the subs contract and in your meeting with Naval Group, did that leave you with a sense that we do need a Plan B?

PRIME MINISTER: First of all I would say that President Macron has been taking a very active role. He and I have been discussing these issues for some time and he has an open invitation for he and I to raise issues that relate to this contract and we have, consistently. And I appreciate the direct role that he has played in ensuring that we've seen a much-improved position come forward from Naval over the last six months, but there is still a long way to go.

JOURNALIST: Is it true that Naval Group has a September deadline to submit the design work for the next two years and if the Government is not happy in September would you, will you walk away from the contract.

PRIME MINISTER: The Scope Two works, the master schedule, total costs, these are all the next steps. Contracts have gates and that's the next gate.

JOURNALIST: You’ve had some big support here over the past few days for Australia's difficulties in the Indo-Pacific, can you just talk about how significant you think this is? Do you feel there is a bit of a shift going on, a turning point moment, in how countries, in the thinking of other countries and how do you respond to people who say if Australia really wants to deal with the issues in the Indo-Pacific it will not get helpful, hugely helpful support if Europe, it should be forming its own coalition closer to your own backyard with countries like Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER: In relation to the last point, I would say this is what Australia has always done. I'm here at the OECD where we're acknowledging 50 years of our participation but in ASEAN there has been no more enthusiastic and forward leaning and engaging partner with ASEAN than Australia. Our view of the Indo-Pacific is one that we see through the eyes of ASEAN. Their notion of a free and open Indo-Pacific is what we endorse. We see our role in enabling what ASEAN is seeking to achieve in the Indo-Pacific and within ASEAN there are countries of  many different formations, many different systems, and we work with them all and we share with ASEAN that ambition of a free and open Indo-Pacific because that is what is good for their sovereignty and their independence and ours. That is why we work so constructively together. The first place I went was Indonesia. That has now become the right of passage of any Prime Minister. It is Jakarta first when we engage beyond our own shores and we have done that and done that consistently. COVID has made that obviously more difficult over the course of the 18 months but I do look forward to being in Indonesia again, I do look forward to having President Widodo in Australia again as I know he would also. But across the region, that is why I was so keen to go to Singapore on the way here, because the last conversation I should have as we enter into these forums is to ensure that I am constantly refreshing with our Indo-Pacific regional partners, particularly within ASEAN, how they're seeing the situation because you talk about the great support we've had while I've been here. I think there is a growing awareness of the Indo-Pacific full stop. It is so much more a factor in both the considerations and assessments of Governments and not just strategically but economically as well, but also of the business community. My meetings yesterday with the business community here in France, there is a keen interest in understanding what is occurring in the Indo-Pacific, the implications for that but more importantly how positively we can make our way through, which remains our objective, always our objective. And so this trip has been a good opportunity to try and fuse together, to link together the understandings of the challenges in the Indo-Pacific as we see them heavily informed by our relationship with ASEAN partners with those of UK and Europe and indeed North America. And so that is what I believe is happening. And as that appreciation, as that understanding and that knowledge increases as I discussed with President Macron last night, then that greatly impacts and informs on the decisions they are making. I said last night it was only in May that we sailed through the South China Sea together with the French. German ships are doing similar things. This is simply, just to demonstrate a keen interest in the stability of the region and I think this is positive. I think it creates stability and on the platform of stability is the prosperity that flows.

JOURNALIST: Are you leaving Paris more, or less confident about the subs program?

PRIME MINISTER: I leave knowing that we have properly raised the challenges that we need to address, and so it is now for us to work forward on that basis.

JOURNALIST: Do we need to do something different as well, or is it all the French?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’re, it’s their contract, that is Naval Group, and like with any contract I would expect them to be able to deliver on that. And what is most important at the end of the day though is the capability we’re looking to establish. We can get very focused obviously on contracts, as we should, as we absolutely should, on value for money and the performance of the contract and the building up of our workforce, and that remains a challenge for us which we need to keep working on, and that is a constant focus of our Government. But at the end of the day, what matters most for France, for Australia, for the United Kingdom, the United States, for Indonesia, for Malaysia, Singapore - all of us who have a keen interest - Japan who I must acknowledge as being the most steadfast partner in Japan that we could ever hope for in our region. All of this depends on the capability and the effect that is produced from our combined efforts. That is the goal. That is what matters above all else.

JOURNALIST: The Government helped Mathias Cormann become Secretary-General here. I mean, has Australia's success in that race emboldened you to maybe put up more candidates for other international posts? Would you even consider running someone for the UN Secretary-General position, obviously not Kevin Rudd?

PRIME MINISTER: Some years ago I remarked and gave a speech at the Lowy Institute and I talked about globalism. I also talked about positive globalism, not just negative globalism, because it can go both ways if it’s not managed properly. And that was the point I was making. And for it to go in a positive direction is when you have a rules-based order which is functional and efficient and is being implemented across all economies, whether it’s at the WTO or the ITU, or any of these bodies. All of these bodies, whether we like that or not, and we like it more often than we don't, we need to ensure that across our partners that we are collaborating well. Now, in this case it was the right decision for Australia to put forward a candidate for the OECD, just like with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization where we’ve also just been successful. Now, that has been something where Australia believes it can make a difference and make an effort. Whether it’s the ITU, the United States has a very good candidate. So it really is about where best and who best and what ensures that the standard setting and the operation of the rules-based order works most effectively. Mathias Cormann being the Secretary-General of the OECD is not a statement of Australia's ambition, it is a statement of Australia's contribution. And we will make a contribution where we think it, where it best assists that broader international effort and Australia's international interests. So, you know, these aren't a set of competitions and prizes. They are practical, important jobs and we just need to have the best people in them, and Australia will always back having the best people in them that favours a world order that favours freedom. Thank you very much.