Prime Minister: While there are many challenges back at home, this is a very important place for Australia to be today as we touch down here in the United Kingdom to join the G7 Plus dialogue. This is the third occasion that we had the privilege of being invited to be a part of these discussions – and there is a lot on the agenda for Australia. There has never been a more important time for Australia to be sitting around such a table. Dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recession that it has caused, and the recovery that we are building. Particularly at home in Australia with our economy being bigger today than it was before the pandemic hit. There are more Australians employed today than before the pandemic hit. Working together on ensuring the rules-based order that protects our trade but also protects our seas and protects the way our country can live and work together in a positive way all around the world. Taking on the big challenges of climate change and the new energy economy, which Australia is determined to be a very positive part of. And, of course, the Indo-Pacific and securing a free and open Indo-Pacific – so central to Australia’s interests – but increasingly so much more central to global stability. These will all be important topics of conversation as I engage with the leaders who are assembled here in Cornwall over the few days.
A big part of that discussion will be the big commitment that has been made and led by the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to vaccinate the world. Australia will be doing its part, as we already have been, committing some 20 million doses as part of that effort here at the G7 Plus in Cornwall. That comes on top of a very recent commitment of $100 million USD in support of the COVAX initiative, working together with the Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, and I commend him for his great leadership on that initiative. That of course comes in addition to the significant work that we are already doing in our region supporting our Pacific family and in Timor Leste and throughout South East Asia. These 20 million doses will go to support cases in our region to ensure that we continue to exercise our responsibility as part of a broader global responsibility to combat this virus.
Just before I take questions, I want to assure people that we continue to stay in close contact with the situation in Victoria. In particular, the terrible floods which have already claimed two lives and we extend our sincere condolences to the families who have lost loved ones there. If it is flooded – forget it. That is the clear message. The Federal Government is working closely with the State Government. The Acting Prime Minister back in Australia, Michael McCormack, is engaging closely with the Victorian Premier to ensure [inaudible]… And also pleased to see that more than 150,000 doses of the vaccine – a record day, a record day. We are almost to a million doses in 8 days now and we are going from two in five Australians who are eligible for the vaccine – we are getting pretty close to a quarter. So we continue to surge forward with the roll-out.
Journalist: Prime Minister, there have been reports that Joe Biden is going to lobby the G7 to rebuke China over a number of issues with the treatment of Uyghur people but also economic coercion measures against Australia. Is that your understanding of what is going to occur and what is your reaction to that?
Prime Minister: We always welcome the great friendship and support we have from our ally, the United States. We have stood with them firmly over a very long period of time. We greatly appreciate their leadership and the alliance that we have. Here in our discussions over the next few days we look forward to particularly pursing our relationship when it comes to our Defence co-operation, our technology co-operation, the work with energy technology and supply chains all around the world. The G7 Plus isn’t about a club. It is about ensuring a world that favours freedom, an inclusive world order that ensures all countries can engage, trade with each other and all countries – wherever they are, whoever they are – can do so without coercion and can do so consistent with their sovereign interest.
Journalist: The cases here in the UK have gone up from 3,000 a day to 7,000 a day. You are coming to a country which is living with the virus. Do you have any concerns about that?
Prime Minister: Well I’m sure that all the normal health protocols will be observed. No doubt about that. It is a big undertaking to pull together a Summit of this nature in a pandemic. And I commend the UK for pressing ahead and doing it this way. We’ve met on so many occasions over the past eighteen months over screens. There is no substitute for leaders getting together and doing what we are doing now. And there has never been a more important time to be doing that. That said, it is a timely reminder about how the pandemic is raging whereas back in Australia at the moment I understand – my latest report – is that there were zero community cases in Victoria today and we welcome that – absolutely welcome that. Here in the UK, there are 7,000 cases a day in a country that has a vaccination program of first doses well over 70%. Now I welcome the fact that we are not seeing in this latest phase in the UK the level of fatality that we were seeing on previous occasions. I think that goes a lot to what the vaccine does to protect against serious illness. But any suggestion that vaccination rates in their 70s doesn’t lead to a higher number of cases, that’s not the UK experience (inaudible).
Journalist: On the 20 million vaccines… [Inaudible]
Prime Minister: [Inaudible] we have put in place supply contracts many times over what is needed for the Australian population we did that to ensure we were covered for as many bases as we possibly could. So that puts us in a very strong position – as we always hoped to – to be supporting not only our own region but I think what is quite unique about Australia’s contribution here and the 20 million doses is where we are going to send them. These aren’t going in large warehouses which essentially without going anywhere. We want to ensure that we are taking responsibility for our region, our family in our region. We’ve done that all along. I’ve had many discussions in recent weeks with Pacific leaders and the leaders of South East Asia and I know that’s greatly appreciated that Australians are doing its bit in our region but also as part of a global effort and I really do commend Prime Minister Johnson for bringing us together to put even more effort into this area because the virus doesn’t know boundaries, the virus goes where it will. And the more places we can frustrate it, the better we can stop it and the sooner we will be able to return to a world that we once knew.
Journalist: What do you make of Mr Johnson’s commitment of trying to get the world vaccinated by the end of next year. Is it too ambitious?
Prime Minister: Well, no one is ever going to accuse the Prime Minister of Great Britain of lacking in ambition when it comes to anything, I think. That is one of his great assets. He is a big bold thinker and he gets out there and I’m happy to get in behind him with this and I am sure the other leaders are. It does require that concerted effort and I think he has laid down that marker quite firmly. I think it is a good thing and very consistent with his well-known character.
Journalist: How’s the free trade deal?
Prime Minister: Still got a bit of work to do yet. Look forward to seeing him next week particularly. He’ll be very busy over the Summit over the next few days. That’s why we’ve arranged a time on the other side of the Summit to spend quite a bit of time together.