Press Conference OECD, Paris, France

01 Jul 2022
Prime Minister

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s been a terrific opportunity to speak to the OECD today and to then answer questions from OECD members. People who’ve heard a speech which was emphasising the importance of inclusive growth, the importance of acting on climate change and economic reform, but also commending the OECD for its work. The questions I received during the forum were from the United States about the importance of climate action as economic reform going forward. And of course, the Biden administration have had a very strong position and they welcomed the change in Australia's position when it comes to climate action and us joining the world in understanding that it's not about the economy or the environment – that what we need to do is to reform our economic structures so that we drive clean energy which will also have a positive benefit for our climate.

I received a question as well from Lithuania, about Ukraine and the impact it's having on that nation. And Lithuania welcomed Australia's contribution. We're of course the largest non-NATO contributor to the effort of protecting the sovereignty of the Ukraine and standing with the Ukrainian people and their struggle against Russia's aggression and illegal war. And $285 million of military support so far; $65 million in humanitarian support I think is something that Australians can be proud of. We understand that the defence of Ukraine is about defending the rules based international order and the implications for its disruption would have ramifications throughout the world.

The last question was from Japan about the involvement in the Indo-Pacific, potentially of the OECD, and about the rules based international order. I am very supportive of the OECD's vision for greater involvement in our region. It is important that institutions that promote democracies, promote open economies, open societies and open governments are ones that Australia values and in the Indo-Pacific, of course we are located in the fasted growing regional world in human history. And that presents enormous opportunities for economic growth, for lifting people out of poverty, but also of course opportunities for Australia to benefit from that in the future.

This afternoon I will be addressing MEDEF, the peak business organisation here in France, and an opportunity to talk with French businesses about the opportunities that are there for investing in Australia, engaging in cooperation with Australian businesses investing here as well. We believe in trade. And part of what I've done at the NATO Summit and I'll be doing again today, is supporting and emphasising the need to get the Australia-EU trade agreement back on track. I received real support in the bilateral meetings that I held in Madrid as well as from the European Commission and European Council Leadership for getting those negotiations back on track. There will be a meeting in October at the latest, and we want to see that agreement progress by the end of the first quarter of next year. This is important given the timetables of changes that will occur in the European Union. This is an agreement that would have substantial benefit for Australia and I will be discussing that with MEDEF this afternoon, before I then I attend an event at the Australian Embassy that will be attended by Australian and French businesses as well, before I have my bilateral meetings with President Macron, tomorrow.

JOURNALIST: About your meeting with President Macron tomorrow, what's the tone you’ll be taking? Will it be an apologetic tone for the act of your predecessor or will it be more looking forward?

PRIME MINISTER: It will be one that's about looking forward. Australia and France have a great history. More than a century ago, Australians sacrificed their lives for freedom here in France. That's something that the French people are very conscious of. We again fought here in World War Two. And we have close relations in terms of Australian businesses here in France, but also in French activity in Australia through infrastructure companies like Bouygues, companies like Thales. There are real opportunities going forward. We have a settled the issue relating to the submarines and I look forward to working with President Macron in a positive way. There are two impediments have been here for greater Australian engagement in Europe. One of those was the breakdown of the relationship with France. I think tomorrow, on the 1st of July is an appropriate time with the new year to enter a new dawn and a new arrangement between Australia and France. And secondly, of course climate change, Australia being seen to be an impediment to global action was a handbrake on our engagement with Europe and every leader who I've met over recent days has indicated a welcoming of Australia's changed position.

JOURNALIST: The G20 has got very strong connections with the OECD. We have the next host, Joko Widodo, who has been both in Ukraine and Moscow, I think he's going to Moscow. With the world leaders that you've been talking to, what attitude are they bringing to the prospect of Vladimir Putin going to the G20 in Indonesia? And is it possible that you might be one of a few world leaders to actually attend the summit?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I expect that the G20 will be successful and I will continue to work with President Widodo, as I committed during my visit with him in Jakarta to ensuring that the G20 is successful. It's important that world institutions such as the G20 not be undermined by the actions of an authoritarian person like Vladimir Putin, and the outrageous actions that he is engaged in with the brutal invasion of Ukraine. It's important that there not be any benefit that, indeed, Vladimir Putin should have to endure the consequences of that. The consequences should not be worn by countries that are doing the right thing supporting Ukraine.

JOURNALIST: So do you think that there's (inaudible) in attending?

PRIME MINISTER: The G20 is an important institution and I indicated that I will be attending the G20 because Australia understands it’s an institution that we fought to create when Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister and it is an institution and a meeting that’s also very important to our friends in Indonesia. I indicated I'd be an advocate of people attending the G20 and I have done so.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, would there be benefit if Vladimir Putin actually turned up to the G20 though? I mean, that's the fundamental point, would it be a hindrance to the work of G20 or a benefit?

PRIME MINISTER: The G20 is bigger than any individual.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you've spoken to President Macron in Madrid. Do you expect this new dawn you were speaking of to include him now supporting Australia's bid for a free trade agreement with the EU?

PRIME MINISTER: I had very positive discussions with President Macron. I look forward to one on one discussions with him tomorrow, and then we'll have more to say about that. But President Macron wants to have a good relationship with Australia, and Australia wants to have a good relationship with him and his government, and a country to country good relationship as well.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, it's been almost six weeks to the day since your election win and in that time you've met with dozens of world leaders. What are your personal reflections? What have you learned in that series of high-level engagements? What's been your takeaway so far?

PRIME MINISTER: If I could emphasise maybe make three points. One is that Australia's starting point is one of goodwill from other countries. We're seen as people that are good global citizens, by and large. If you look at the effort that we're making in Ukraine, a bipartisan commitment, that’s got to be said about that as well, and I acknowledge the decisions taken by the former government with our support in that area. Australia starting point was one of good will. The second point I’d make though is that climate change, the failure of Australia to step up with its 2030 target, at the Glasgow Conference was seen as a handbrake on good relations. And that's just the fact. Every single leader, without exception, who I've met with, has welcomed the new commitments. And that's been reflected in the communiques of the Quad Leaders' Meeting, the communique after the Australia-Indonesia meetings that I held with the President Widodo in Jakarta and indeed was reflected in the discussions that I had in Madrid. So our starting point has been improved. And the third is that the failure to be seen to be good global citizens on climate was an impediment to our economic engagement, was proving to be a barrier to the EU trade agreement. It was no accident that there was only one meeting in the last twelve months about that trade agreement. You don't get trade agreements by having one meeting annually, you get them by sitting down and working through the issues over a period of time, in an intense way. We're now in a position, I would hope, to progress that and they're the big reflections that I've had. I understood, I've got to say, that climate was a major issue, obviously, it's one that I campaigned on very, very strongly. But I, if anything, underestimated the extent to which the world was looking at Australia, particularly in the context of Australia's bushfire crisis and floods, the impact climate change is having on Australia.

JOURNALIST: Going back to the submarines, will you actually apologise to President Macron? And also how are you going to have the French community, business community you’re meeting this afternoon trust you again? Because now the French have felt betrayed because the way it was done was a deception.

PRIME MINISTER: Well one of the things I will do and a part of keeping faith is keeping private conversations private. And that's one of the ways that I'll deal with President Macron and deal with everyone. It's the way I deal with domestic politics as well and it’s the way I intend to deal with diplomatic politics going forward. The fact that MEDEF have invited me this afternoon shows that the French business community want to engage with Australia. The last time I was here I went to Bouygues’ office just outside here of Paris, it's not quite Versailles, but it's not far removed from it from my memory of that. I invited them to come to Australia. Bouygues are now involved in building the Metro in Sydney and involved in many infrastructure projects. Trade is a good idea, engagement between business is a good idea as well and I'm confident that we'll be able to promote increased trade engagement between Australia and France.

JOURNALIST: So just off the back of that, should French business and investors trust you?

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. Just as everyone should be able to trust me, that's why I deal with people. That's how I got to be Leader of the Labor Party and that's how I got to be Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: So just to clarify, Mr Macron in his phone call with you after you won, reminded you that it was a profound breach of trust. You don't think that warrants an official apology from Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll deal with Mr Macron in a professional and a courteous way. And our private discussions will stay private. President Macron...

JOURNALIST: Will you be apologising on behalf of the country?

PRIME MINISTER: President Macron has invited me here to France. It was his invitation and I was very happy to accept. I look forward to having a constructive relationship with President Macron. I've made it very clear what my position is about the way in which Australia engaged at a leadership level with friends and I've made that clear. What I want to do though is to make sure that we can look forward, look forward in a way that builds the relationship to what it should be. It should be a relationship in which we can rely upon each other as we have for a long period of time, and in which we can trust each other and mutually benefit from building that relationship. Thanks very much.