Press Conference - Rome, Italy

29 Oct 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: The G20 meeting in person. This is very important. The first opportunity we've had to do this since we all met back in Osaka. And so the opportunity for us to come here at a pivotal time, the world's largest economies, to be focusing on the road ahead. Now that road ahead is still one where the global pandemic is still raging and particularly in the developing countries of the world. And Australia is moving towards one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, joining others, particularly in Europe and North America. The rest of the world, particularly in developing countries, still have very low rates of vaccination. Now Australia, we're doing our bit as part of that, particularly in our own region, particularly in the Pacific Island Forum and our family there. But as well as out throughout Southeast Asia, which was an opportunity I had just recently to address the East Asia Summit to reinforce the 60 million doses that we'll be getting out around as part of our initiatives through the Quad throughout the region.

But the economy is going to continue to change as the pandemic changes. The economic response has been very clear and our economies are now starting to emerge and indeed the Australian economy as well, particularly this quarter, with the scenes in Melbourne as people rushing back to retail shops in Melbourne. It's just another sign that the national plan is opening up our economy as our vaccination rates rise and Australians start reclaiming the things that COVID has taken from them. But around the world, that remains a very big challenge, and I know that will be a key focus of our discussions here in Italy, in Rome over the next couple of days.

In addition to that, there's also the build up to Glasgow. And of course, those issues will be discussed here and that Australia's commitment for net zero by 2050, as you well know, is a significant commitment from Australia, and I'm looking forward to updating other leaders on our plans and programmes, particularly on our keenness to work with other countries on those technology breakthroughs that frankly, when you're talking about hitting net zero emissions, it's the same sort of challenge the world faced when you're looking for a vaccine, a vaccine to end the pandemic. It's only through those solutions that all around the world will ultimately address this very big challenge. 

But there are many other issues as well. When we were in a Osaka, we had the Osaka declaration. That followed the Christchurch massacre, and that was about bringing the world together to put the pressure on the big digital platforms to ensure that they were not being used as a weapon by terrorists. But we know these risks exist beyond the threats of terrorism. We know the threats that come from digital platforms, which have many positive utilities, but at the same time can be a tool that is used by those looking to to harass and bully and cause great harm to others, not just in Australia, but all around the world. We can't have a digital world that plays by different rules to the real world, and that is really our challenge as countries to set out really what our expectations are of digital platforms to ensure that they are providing a safe environment for those who are using them to engage, to enjoy the many benefits of those platforms. Whether it's our children or particularly women who could be the subject of harassment and abuse on these platforms, it's not good enough for them to operate on different rules. Ensuring that we have digital platforms that understand their roles as publishers and do not provide a shield for anonymity for people to go and just go out and impact on others lives. Anyway, happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, China's President Xi Jinping is not going to be at this conference. He's not going to be Glasgow. What do you think it says that an important global economy like China is not at these conferences?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, if we're to address climate change globally, which is the challenge, no single country acting on its own can impact on that overall outcome, particularly Australia. And it is true that China, the biggest emitter in the world and their emissions, will continue to rise to 2030. And it is important that we get these global technology solutions that can work as well in China and India and Vietnam as they do in Australia and Europe and the United States. This is why Australia, the Australian way to achieving net zero emissions, I think, is a way that all countries could embrace because it's about getting technology solutions at scale and affordable cost, because that's what history tells us always makes the change.

JOURNALIST: Just on the phone call with President Macron. What did you make of the timing of the call? It sounded like a tense call, and when he asked for something tangible in his statement, what do you think that is?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I welcome the call, firstly. As I've written personally to President Macron and set out our keenness to to find a way forward following the obvious disappointment which we respect and understand. And so I very much appreciate the fact that he reached out to have that personal call, which we had last night before I joined you all on the flight here. And so we started the way back. I think that's a positive thing. Of course, there'll be candid conversations at the start as we as we deal with the issues as they presented. But Australia and France have so many shared interests, apart from being longstanding liberal democracies who share values and beliefs. Our interests are shared in the Indo-Pacific, and the way you build back those relationships is you work together on the things that matter to us both and the Indo-Pacific policies on our oceans, our policies on technology, particularly moving towards a net zero economy out to 2050. All of these are shared interests where I think we have a great opportunity to work together. Antarctica is another key one of those where we share an interest. And Australia is a highly reputable operator there, and I know France equally has their interests there so we can work together on all of this. So I'm quite positive about it.

JOURNALIST: On climate Mr Morrison, as Lanai said, the Chinese aren't coming. The Indians have said they're not going to do net zero by 2050. Russia is not turning up. Joe Biden apparently [inaudible] a bit of is his package through the Congress, just as he came. Do you think there's a risk that Glasgow might end up a bit of a damp squib?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it all depends on what your expectations are. What I know is we'll just keep taking steps forward. That's what this is about. Australia's taking steps forward. We're taking strong steps forward. Our emissions are down by over 20 per cent. By 2030, we anticipate they'll be down by 35 percent. So we're all taking steps forward. And I think this is a good opportunity to align and discuss what our various plans are, learn from each other, but in particular work together to ensure that we keep moving forward to this very important goal.

JOURNALIST: Will you be meeting on the sidelines with Mathias Cormann at all, and what do you make of his calls for a stricter carbon price globally? Are you shocked by that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I look forward to meeting with the Secretary-General of the OECD over the course of the next little while, and he's there to represent the broader views of all the various members of the OECD there. He's not there representing Australia's interests. That's my job. And so I'm sure we'll have a good opportunity to discuss what he's been, what he's been raising in his role as the OECD, but that's his job now. He's focused on the policies and the measures that are considered within the forums of the OECD. It's my job to represent Australia's national interest, and I'm sure he has a deep understanding and appreciation of it.

JOURNALIST: Back on President Macron, he said that Australia's commitment should be commensurate with the climate risk, and he says that Australia should stop the consumption and production of coal both domestically and internationally. This is our second biggest export. What do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I raised it, advised President Macron on the fact that we've reached this point in Australia, where I simply would now be able to commit to a target of net zero by 2050. They are issues that he and I have discussed in the past and I was pleased to be able to report that progress. But our policy is very clear. We are not engaged in those sort of mandates and bans. That's not the Australian Government's policy, it won't be the Australian Government's policy. All countries are coming at this task from different places, their economies are different. And as a global community, we've got to understand that. Developing countries have different challenges to those in Europe. Indeed, Australia's economy in the shape and form of our economy is very different to many of those as well. So we'll all get on this path. That's what we're doing. But we've always got to make our own path, and the Australian way is our path and that's what I'm here to talk about and and be faithful to.

JOURNALIST: PM, with China and Russia not being here and also not going to COP, are you concerned that the strategic competition that's going on, that the world's becoming more divided and making it more difficult to continue to face global challenges?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's why I think events like the G20 and as many as those who can be here in person, I understand that particularly China will still participate in the G20. Not many Chinese officials leaders have been travelling, so that is not a great surprise, I must say. Premier Li Keqiang was on the East Asia Summit the other night, and he had his contribution. So they're engaging in those forums, indeed, as they'll with this one. COP26 has another very separate rule and respect that. That's why I'm here in terms of the rules that are set out for an in person attendance, and I'm very pleased to be here for that. But that's why I think the G20 is such a useful and practical forum. Anyone who thinks that at all times there is a complete consensus agreement amongst 20 countries of this size with very different populations, many different political systems and many different economic economies, I think that would be an accurate assessment, so this is a good opportunity to focus in on some of the priorities. And as I said on something like social media where it doesn't matter what country, those digital platforms are having massive impact on those societies, and we need to ensure that the rules that we all apply differently in our own countries in the real world apply in the digital world and that we don't allow those digital platforms to be used as tools, weapons for others to oppress and coerce and harass people. And we're going to have to stop that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you expect to cop any flak at all for not a stronger medium term target? And what do you think of Boris Johnson's comments being pessimistic about what will come out of the COP26?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I wish Boris well the best for this COP26. He chaired a magnificent G7 Plus at Carbis Bay earlier this year, which I attended. And you know, Boris is really good at these events and trying to get people to focus on what's most important. I'm sure he will do everything he can to get the best possible outcome here, but one that respects the different views and starting points and where people are at in the journey. I think that's a very important point. And so I'm looking forward to discussions over the next few days. But Australian policy is very clear. Our interests are determined in the policies that we've set out, they're designed for Australia and our way forward. Australian jobs, the livelihoods of people in rural and regional areas in particular. We've made a lot of great progress in the announcements we've made on net zero by 2050 is a significant shift forward for Australia and for our government. I'm pleased that I've been able to bring the government together to do that. And so I can come here with that with that clear statement and to ensure that we're moving forward on what is a very important issue.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you'll see President Macron both at G20 and COP. Do you envisage having a bilateral with him or a pull aside or something formal or informal engagement. And also if I may, Reuters has draft copy of the G20 communique, which contains some strong language on the phasing out of fossil fuels. What will Australia's position be in relation to that aspect?

PRIME MINISTER: Every time you come to these events, there's all sorts of bits of paper that's flying around well before, and I'm sure the final communique will be worked through over the next few days and Australia's policy on these issues are crystal clear, and you can expect the Australian Government here, whether it's in Rome or whether it's in Glasgow, myself as Prime Minister, to be always putting Australia's national interest first and ensuring that they are the views that are represented here on behalf of Australia. Thanks everyone.