Press Conference with President Trump

24 Feb 2018
Washington DC, United States
Prime Minister
International and Trade


I welcome my friend Prime Minister Turnbull of Australia. I’m looking forward to sending our newly nominated ambassador, Admiral Harry Harris very shortly. He's an outstanding man, you're about to find that very shortly. I want to thank the Prime Minister for offering his condolences for the horrible tragedy in Parkland, Florida. American's are grateful for the prayers and support of our Australian friends and friends they are. As our entire nation grieves the senseless loss of seventeen precious young lives and all of the horribly injured.

The United States and Australia are currently honouring the 100 years of mateship. The term that you use very beautifully, Prime Minister.

A century has passed since brave Americans and Australians first fought together in World War I over the last 100 years our partnership has thrived as a bulwark of freedom, security and democracy.

Last spring the Prime Minister and I celebrated the remarkable 100 year old milestone during an extraordinary evening on the USS Intrepid. And my friend Greg Norman and Anthony Pratt and some of the others who were in the room today. Hello folks, stand up Greg, stand up Anthony. It was a great evening, thank you

This afternoon I'm pleased to announce that the United States will name the Littoral Combat Ship 30 the USS Canberra in honour of an Australian cruiser lost fighting alongside the US Navy during World War II.

Our Secretary of the Navy has chosen Australian minister of defence Marise Payne to be her sponsor. I know that the USS Canberra will be a worthy successor to her Australian namesake and her American predecessor the former Navy Baltimore Class heavy cruiser, USS Canberra. As she sails the open sea, the new USS Canberra will symbolise to all who cross her path the enduring friendship between United States and Australia. There is no closer friendship.

Today strengthened by our common values and history we're working together to promote mutual interests. I want to thank the Prime Minister for serving as a strong voice for peace and stability across the entire Indo-Pacific region. Australia is one of our closest partners in our campaign of maximum pressure to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula.

Today we put the strongest sanctions on Korea than we have ever put on a country. We must continue to stand together to prevent that brutal dictatorship from threatening the world with nuclear devastation. Our nations likewise share a commitment to keeping our people safe from terrorism. Australian troops are currently serving alongside Americans and our partners in Afghanistan and the coalition to defeat ISIS, together we're denying terrorists safehaven and cutting off their funding and discrediting their wicked ideology.

ISIS land has been largely recaptured - almost 100 per cent - I'm very honoured to say. And they are in the wrong. Our strong partnership can also be seen in our flourishing economic relationship. Australia remains a key market for US defence products we make the greatest products in the world – so you have very great tanks.

Automobiles and aircraft and every reciprocal trading relationship is for other countries as we seek bilateral agreements news that America is open for business has also reached Australian shores.

In May Australian entrepreneur Anthony Pratt announcing a new $2 billion investment in box making factories across the United States. But he only did that if Trump won the election, I think, is that the correct statement Anthony?


100 per cent correct!


Boy that was a close one! These people would have had a field day if you gave the wrong answer, thank you

But Anthony did go and he said if he wins the election we are going to spend billions of dollars in the United States and I appreciate you giving the very, very correct comments, thank you.

I'll never do that again.

This investment will continue to build on an almost 100,000 American jobs taking place that already supported by Australian companies. I'm glad to share that the United States is also by far the largest investor in Australia. In the room today are dozens of American and Australian business leaders and great athletes, great athlete and businessman by the way Greg. Who are working together to identify further opportunities for bilateral investment and cooperation.

Mr. Prime Minister I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your immigration reforms and on Australia's commitment to merit-based immigration.

Now my friends from Congress listening to this, merit-based. We want to do merit-based immigration also. And we will.

That really protects the interests of Australia and its people it's the way to go. You've been very successful and here, we're working very hard to do the same. In that sense we're going to hopefully follow in your footprints.

Prime Minister Turnbull it's been a pleasure to host you today. Had a great lunch with your representatives a lot was discussed, a lot of deals were made for the purchase of additional military equipment and other things. For a century now the people of the United States and Australia have inspired the world with their determination, their bravery and their generosity.

I know that our close friendship and enduring alliance and our personal friendship will grow even stronger in the century to come. Our relationship with Australia will always be a very powerful and very successful relationship.

It's been incredible and it is only getting better.

Thank you very much.


Mr. President thank you so much. Lucy and I thank you and First Lady Melania Trump for your very warm welcome, generous hospitality and friendship.

Our meeting today was a great opportunity to strengthen and deepen our engagement with the United States. You are our most important strategic and economic partner. And to lay the groundwork for a new phase of intensified cooperation, the next hundred years of mateship.

I'm here as you noted Mr. President with the most substantial Australian delegation ever to travel to Washington D.C.

We have in addition to the CEOs, several of whom you identified here today, who are busy creating jobs. We spend much of our time today talking about jobs they are creating jobs in Australia and in the United States demonstrating that our two great nations committed to competition, to freedom, to economic innovation, science and technology working together compliment each other and that's why we're seeing strong jobs growth in both countries.

We've had 403,000 jobs created last year in Australia. The largest number, Mr President, in our country's history. Sixteen months continued jobs growth. We have been inspired, I have to say, by your success in securing the passage of the tax reforms through the Congress.

We have secured some tax reforms in terms of reducing company tax but not as much as we need to do. We've got more work to do and the stimulus, the economic stimulus, that your reforms have delivered here in the United States is one of the most powerful arguments that we are deploying to persuade our legislature to support reducing business taxes because as you are demonstrating and as we all know when you cut company tax most of the benefit goes to workers it produces more investment and when you get more investment you get more jobs.

Of course I'm also joined on this visit with six of the leaders of our states and territories, the only two that are not here Mr President are those that are fighting elections, so as you can imagine that is always a top priority.

And we are meeting the National Governors Association again broadening and deepening the relationship.

We have a huge amount to work with. Our relationship, as you said, has been forged over a century through times of war and peace. Securing both our nation's freedom and security in the world. And our relationship is based not only on history. We have the same values, we share a deep well of trust and spirit based on those enduring values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, enterprise, ingenuity - the spirit of having a go and if it doesn't work out dust yourself off and have another go.

That is a core American and Australian value. That spirit of enterprise is what leads us on. And of course our relationship is underpinned by millions of people to people and family links and of course the extensive economic cooperation you've spoken about.

Our security alliance is as close as it possibly could be. Yet keeps getting closer. The cooperation is more intense than it has ever been. Whether we are standing up for freedom's cause in the Middle East, in our region around the world combating terrorism. The cooperation in a connected world that we need to have is greater than ever. And that trust between Australia and the United States between the thousands of brace service men and women who are working together right now, that trust underpins our security.

You mentioned, Mr. President, our economic relationship and trade. You know since the US-Australia free trade agreement came in force in 2005, two way trade has grown by over 50 per cent. The United States does have a trade surplus with Australia of $25 billion. It's your third largest trade surplus with us. But we know it works both ways. The two way investment has more than doubled in the past decade. It was worth around one point one trillion dollars in 2016. Again, boosting jobs and growth in both our nations, both our economies.

And today we've agreed on some new initiatives that will deepen this relationship further. We are seeking to expand transparent and competitive global energy markets, cooperating on high quality infrastructure investment in the United States and in the region.

We've spent a lot of time talking about infrastructure including urban infrastructure. A subject, Mr President, you have a lifetime of experience in, and the leadership you are showing on infrastructure in the United States is being admired around the world and Australian companies and Australian experience is there to help, as you know. Is already operating here a number of our infrastructure players are very active in the US.

We're obviously working to intensify our cooperation on digital trade. Bob Lighthizer and Wilbur Ross from your side, Steve Ciobo, my trade minister who's here with them today have made terrific progress in that regard.

Now we turn to security. Yesterday, Lucy and I were with General Dunford at the Arlington National Cemetery and we honoured America's war dead, we honoured an Australian airman who had died in combat in New Guinea in the Second World War who is buried there at Arlington also. And we were reminded that all the freedoms we enjoy, whether it is in our Parliament in Canberra, or here in Washington in the White House, or in Congress all of those freedoms have had to be secured generation after generation by courageous men and women defending freedom's cause.

Our freedoms have depended on them.

And Americans know, as Australians know, that each of us have no better ally. We are mates. A hundred years of mateship. We are working together, as you said, to address the greatest threat to our region right now North Korea's illegal nuclear weapons program. And I want to welcome and, of course, support Mr. President the new sanctions that have been announced today and we continue to do precisely the same with our own autonomous sanctions and of course enforce the UN Security Council mandated sanctions.

We're working to combat terrorism around the world. Helping the Iraqis and Afghanis build up the resilience to hold their country's secure in the face of terrorists.

And of course we both recognise that the prosperity of our region and indeed the world has been underpinned and in fact built on a foundation of a rules based order which has been secured by the leadership of the United States ever since the Second World War.

That leadership has been critical and the commitment you showed, Mr President when you came out to the region, to the East Asia Summit to APEC last year, that commitment was so important.

It spoke volumes for America's continued commitment to our region to our part of the world to the Indo-Pacific. So vital, the engine room, if you like, of the fastest economic growth, the most rapid economic growth that we've seen in our times.

Now Mr. President I want to thank you as I have earlier in our meetings. I want to thank you very rare honour you have shown to Australia by naming one of your future littoral combat ships the USS Canberra. What a great symbol of our alliance and our shared security endeavours. What an extraordinary statement of commitment.

And, it's worth observing, that ship will be built by Austal in Mobile, Alabama so you will have an Australian company with American workers, working operating in the United States building ships for the US Navy. What a great example of a hundred years of mateship.

And when you grieve as you said at the outset, so do we. So we send our love prayers and our condolences to all of the victims and their families of the shocking shooting in the school in Florida. We are mates we stand by each other and when you are hurt we are hurt as well.

So Mr. President thank you for your warm welcome a 100 years of mateship, we celebrate 100 years ago on July 4. General John Monash led American and Australian troops in a battle in the First World War for the first time and we've been side by side ever since. 100 years of mateship celebrated and a 100 more years to look forward to closer than ever. Thank you very much


Well thank you very much Malcolm. That's very beautiful words and they're appreciated and on behalf of the first lady who is right here and the Vice President Mike thank you very much, it's an honour to have you. And we'll answer a couple of questions, is that ok?

How about Trey from One American News, Trey?


Thank you Mr. President I have a couple of questions for you.


How about one.


We'll compromise at two.

After mass shootings, there's often a lot of talk and little action. So I ask you today what specific pieces of legislation or legislative framework will you propose to lawmakers following the Parkland shooting?


We are going to be very strong on background checks. I have spoken with many of our people in Congress our Senators, our Congressmen and women and there's a movement on to get something done that we want to be very powerful on background checks. When we're dealing with the mentally ill as we were in this last case he was a very sick person and somebody that should have been nabbed as they had thirty-nine different occasions we they were able to see him or potentially see him. We want to be very powerful, very strong on background checks and especially as it pertains to the mentally ill.

We're going to get rid of the bump stocks and we're going to do certain other things but one of the feelings that I have and you probably heard me in the speech this morning, very, very important that we have offensive capability as well as defensive capability that's within the schools because when you have a gun free zone you're really inviting people to come in and do whatever you have to do.

And oftentimes you know I was the one that brought up the fact that these issues on average take three minutes and takes anywhere from six to ten minutes for the police to get to the site. And I wonder how people in the building and in many cases you have ex-Marines, ex-Army and Navy and Air Force and Coast Guard. You have them in the building and they could have concealed weapons and still be teachers or they can be in the building in a different capacity. But we have to have an offensive capability, to take these people out rapidly before they can do this kind of damage.

But we‘ll be putting in strong language having to do with the background checks so that will take place very quickly. I spoke with Paul Ryan this morning and Mitch McConnell and people are looking really energised.

I know that you have, this is been going on for a long time - many, many years. And you have people in my position and they would mention things, but not a lot of things got done. Okay so obviously, we take it very seriously and want to put an end to it.

And, by the way, the bad guy thinks somebody's in this room with a weapon that's going to be pointed at him, with live bullets, he's not even going into the school. It’s the one way you're going to solve it. You're not going to solve it with gun free spaces. Because they’ll get into them and be the only one with a gun.

So we need offensive capability and we’re going to be doing something about it. We are dealing with Congress right now.

Thank you.


If I can follow on Mr President, amid talk from teachers and mental health what the specific commitments to American students, can you make that these policies will make them safer?


Well I think it's going to make it safer and you know the problem that's been happening over the last 20 years is people have talked, you said it. It's all talk, it’s no action. And we're going to take action.

I think it’s going to be safer. I think the fact that you have some capability within the school, they're not going to go into that school. They’re not going to do it.

You look at what's happened with airplanes where we put marshals on planes with guns or where pilots in many cases have guns. Nothing’s happened for a long period of time when it used to almost it was getting to a point of being routine.

When you have somebody with a gun staring you down, it's going to be a lot different for them to walk into those schools. Right now they look at the sign outside, this is a gun free environment. That means they're the only one with a gun. And the damage this lunatic did in that school, for such a long period of time. And frankly, you had a gun, and he was outside as a guard and he decided not to go in. That was not his finest moment, that I can tell you. He waited and he didn't want to go into that school. I just heard this, it's a terrible situation.

But we need people that can take care of our children. We’re not going to let this happen again and the way it's not going to happen again, because they are basically cowards. Innately, they’re cowards and if they know bad things happen to them once they get into that school by the people that love the children. See a security guard doesn't know the children, doesn't love the children. This man standing outside of the school the other day doesn't love the children – probably doesn’t know the children. The teachers love their children, they love their pupils, they love their students. They're doing it also for love. Now, they have to be very adept. I'm not talking about every teacher, I'm talking about a small percentage, but people that have great ability with weaponry, with guns, those are the only people that I'm talking about but they’ll protect the students.

One for the Prime Minister?


Certainly, thank you Mr Prime Minister for joining us today here in Washington.

Australia is known for helping Assyrian people and Syrian refugees. So I ask you today, as the world watches, what steps can Australia take with the help of President Trump and the United States to ensure that civilians are protected in Eastern Ghouta?


Well the Australian armed forces have been working as part of a coalition to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria for some time now. It’s been our principle concentration of focus of our efforts in Iraq as with Syria, where we are training both their elite special forces unit, their counterterrorism service and their regular army and armed police. They’ve trained over 30,000 personnel at our task force Taji which is based at the airfield near Baghdad.

But in terms of refugees, Australia has a very substantial humanitarian program. We are currently taking about 18,000 refugees a year. We've taken 12,000 from the - in addition to that - from the Syrian conflict zone, but we determine which.

We are very careful about security of course. In terms of our humanitarian program. But I think it’d be fair to say that the President has of course the most insight into this area here, but it would be fair to say that ultimately, the resolution in Syria has to be a political settlement. And I’m sure that's what Secretary Tillerson is working towards.


And if I could briefly follow up, specifically though in Syria as two of the most powerful men in the entire world, is there anything you can do to stop the bloodshed?


Well ultimately, there has to be a political settlement. It is a, you know the campaign to destroy Daesh or ISIL has been largely complete. The terror and the so-called caliphate has been reduced down to a few pockets. It has been smashed, and that has been Americans and Australians have worked bravely, effectively with our allies and partners in the region to do that.

And it's very important by the way to keep Australians and Americans safe at home, because the image of ISIL’s invincible caliphate, sweeping across Syria and Iraq, and as they're going to sweep across Europe, all of that was a big recruiting tool. So, this is a very important part of our global effort.

But ultimately, the settlement in that region has to come from a political settlement among the people who live there.


I will say what Russia and what Iran, and what Syria have done recently is a humanitarian disgrace. I will tell you that. We’re there for one reason, and we’re there to get ISIS and get rid of Isis and go home. We’re not there for any other reason and we‘ve largely accomplished our goal.

But what those three countries have done to people over the last short period time is a disgrace.

Okay, would you like to take a question?


Yes, I think it’s with Phil Coorey from the Australian Financial Review.


Thanks gentlemen and Mr Trump, Mr Turnbull. Phil Coorey from the Financial Review.

With you Mr Trump just on the region, in china and associated issues, the United States Navy has conducted frequently freedom of navigation sail throughs in certain areas. Would you like to see the Australian Navy participate directly in those operations alongside the US allies? And whilst on the region can I ask you what your latest thinking is on the Trans Pacific Partnership, do you have an issue with that or do you remain as opposed?


I think the Trans Pacific Partnership is not a good deal for us and if they made it a good deal for us I’d go in. But honestly, it wasn’t.

I like bilateral deals much more than multilateral. I like to be able to negotiate with one country and if it doesn't work out, you terminate through a termination notice right after you give consent they call and they say let's make a deal and you fix the deal.

When you get into multi-deals you can't do that. But Trans Pacific Partnership – TPP was a very bad deal for the United States. It would’ve cost us tremendous amounts of jobs, it would have been bad.

But there's a possibility we would go in, but they will be offering us a much better deal. And we’d certainly do that.

As far as your lanes are concerned, we would love to have Australia involved and I think Australia wants us to stay involved.

I have to say we've developed a great relationship with China. Other than the fact they've been killing us on trade for the last long period. Killing us, absolutely killing the United States on trade. But we have developed a great relationship with China, probably closer than we've ever had. And my personal relationship as Malcolm can tell you with President Xi is I think quite extraordinary. He's somebody who I like and I think he likes me. With that being said, he likes China and I like the United States.

But a lot of things are happening. It's going to be a very interesting period of time but we do have to straighten out and as much as I like and respect, really respect President Xi. We have to straighten out the trade imbalance. Too much, it's no good.


Kieran Gilbert.


Mr President, Kieran Gilbert Sky News Australia.

General Mattis has called China a revisionist power and that there are growing threats from China. Yet you are very positive about the relationship with Xi. Can you tell us is he a friend or a foe and on North Korea, the sanctions, if they don't work, are all options still on the table? Can I get your answer and also the Prime Ministers thoughts on it?


Well with the second, we will have to see. I don't think I would exactly play that card, but we’ll have to see. If the sanctions don't work, we will have to go phase two. Phase two maybe a very rough thing, it may be very, very unfortunate for the world. But hopefully the sanctions will work.

We have tremendous support all around the world for what we’re doing. It really is a rogue nation and if we can make a deal it will be a great thing and we can’t something will have to happen. So we’ll see.

As far as General Mattis is concerned, he has that view, I mean a lot of people have that view. China is tough, they’re getting stronger. They’re getting stronger and to a large extent with a lot of the money they've made from having poor leadership in the United States. Because the United States leadership has allowed them to get away with murder.

With that being said, I think we can have a truly great even trading relationship with China, hopefully that's going to work out and hopefully the relationship I have with President Xi will make that happen, only time will tell.

Thank you.


I can confirm that President Trump and President Xi see eye to eye in every respect. And they have a - it's very clear at the meetings that I’ve been at, which we've attended in the region, the East Asia Summit and so forth, APEC, the respect that they have with each other and I think it's the single most important relationship, between China and the United States. It’s clearly very respectful, very frank, very clear eyed.

For our own part, we see China's rise as being overwhelmingly a positive for the region and for the world. The critical thing of course is the rule of law is maintained. You know that is the, there are people that want to try to paint the United States and its allies like Australia as being against China in some sort of rerun of the cold war. But that is not appropriate, it's not accurate.

What we needs to ensure is that the rules of the road, the rule of law, the rules based system, where big countries can't push around little countries. To quote Lee Kuan Yew all those years ago, where you don't have a world where the big fish eat the little fish and the little fish eat the shrimp. Where you have that rule of law that protects everybody.

That is what has enabled the great growth in our region. That's what enabled hundreds of millions of people, in our region and including in China to be lifted out of poverty. So maintaining that rules-based order is what we are committed to and we all have a vested interest in doing so. And I just want to say again, to the President, that his presence, his own personal presence in our region at the end of last year sent such a powerful message. The regular visits by secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and of course the presence of the United States Navy and so many other manifestations of American commitment to the region is so important to maintaining that rules-based order.

Believe me, that has been the foundation of the success, the prosperity and the security of these last 40 or more years.


I don't think we've ever had a better relationship with China than we do right now.

The only thing that can get in its way is trade. Because it's so one-sided, it's so lopsided and the people that stood here for many years in this position - right where I am right now - should never have allowed that to happen.

It’s very unfair to the United States and it's very unfair to the workers of the United States. Very, very unfair. And even today, it's extremely hard on companies that want to do business in China. Because the barriers are incredible, whereas the barriers coming into our country are foolishly not, seriously. I believe in reciprocal trade. If they do something to us, we do something to them.

Well, that never happened and it's got worse and worse over the years. But we’ll correct it. That can be the only thing that can get in the way of a truly long-term great relationship because we have all the ingredients, for friendship.

From the Washington Examiner – Gabby?


Thank you Mr President.

Your Chief of Staff General Kelly has recommended ending the practice of granting any security clearances to members of the Trump Administration. If that proceeds, will you be willing to grant a waiver to Jared Kushner, one of your senior advisers?


Jared done an outstanding job, I think he's been treated very unfairly. He's a high-quality person, he works for nothing, just so nobody ever reports that he doesn’t get a salary, nor does Ivanka, who is now in South Korea, long trip representing her country and we cannot get a better representative.

In fact, the first lady, Melania was telling me what a great impression she made this morning when she landed in South Korea.

Jared is truly outstanding. He was very successful when he was in the private sector. He's working on peace in the Middle East and some other small and very easy deals. I’ve always said peace in the Middle East, peace between the Palestinians and Israel is the toughest deal of any deal there is.

And I’ve had practice all my life, as a former dealmaker although maybe you can say maybe I'm more of a dealmaker than ever before. But the hardest deal to make of any kind is between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

We are actually making great headway. Jerusalem was the right thing to do. We took that off the table. But Jared Kushner is right in the middle of that, and he’s an extraordinary dealmaker and if he does that, that will be an incredible accomplishment and a very important thing for our country.

So General Kelly, who is doing a terrific job by the way. Is right in the middle of that. We inherited a system that’s broken. It’s a system where many people have just taken months and months and months to get many people that, do not have a complex financial, complicated financials. They don't have that and it's a broken system. And it shouldn't take this long. You how many people are on that list? People with not a problem in the world so that will be up to General Kelly.

General Kelly respects Jared a lot and General Kelly will make that call, I won’t make that call, I will let the General right here make that call. But Jared's doing some very important things for our country. He gets zero, Ivanka by the way gets paid zero, she gave up a very good and very strong, solid big business in order to come to Washington because she wanted to help families and she wanted to help women. She said dad, I want to go to Washington and I want to help women. And I said you know, Washington is a mean place. She said I don't care, I want to help women, I want to help families and she was very much involved as you know on the job tax cut. And now she's working very much on family leave, things that I don't think would’ve been in the agreement if it weren't for Ivanka and some of our great senators. But she was very much in the forefront of that.

So I will let General Kelly make that decision and he's going to do what's right for the country, and I have no doubt he will make the right decision. Okay? Thank you very much.


Your country conducted a buyback program of semi-automatic weapons back in the mid-90s and hasn't had a mass shooting ever since. Is this something that you discussed with President Trump and did you at all encourage him to reconsider his current recommendations to combat mass shootings in the United States?


Well our history with gun-control and regulations is obviously very different to the United States. And you're right, there was a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996, and my predecessor, John Howard was very well known here in the United States, Prime Minister for nearly 12 years. John undertook some very deep reforms and basically semi-automatic and automatic weapons are essentially not available. Indeed there are very many classes but the range of firearms available to people that don't have a specific professional need, like for example some people who are involved in pest-control and so forth, they're very limited. But it is completely different context historically, legally and so forth.

We are very satisfied with our laws, we maintain them. They're there, they’re well known, we refer to them. But we certainly don't presume to provide policy or political advice on that matter here. This is - you have an amendment to the constitution which deals with a gun initiative. You have a very, very different history and I will focus on our own political arguments and debates and wish you wise deliberation in your own.


I have to add, they are very different countries with very different sets of problems. But I think we’ll dwell on the way to solving that horrible problem, that happens far too often in the United States.

Thank you very much everybody, we appreciate it.

Thank you Mr Prime Minister.