Press Conference - Rome, Italy

31 Oct 2021
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well, good evening, everyone. Australia is open. Australians are travelling again. Victoria has reached 80 per cent vaccination. Australia's opening up to Singapore, opening up to New Zealand. The National Plan is working. The Australian public have been keeping their side of the deal, which means the national plan is enabling them to regain the things that COVID has taken from them. We've been here over the last couple of days and indeed in the days ahead where we've been with more countries from around the world. It has highlighted to me once again that Australia's experience through COVID has been quite unique. The lowest fatality rates anywhere in the world from COVID. Our economy has performed strongly through COVID by comparison to so many, both advanced and developing countries, countries around the world. But thirdly, as our vaccination rates continue to rise, it just demonstrates that our response to COVID, ensuring that Australians can grab onto the things and reclaim the things that have been taken from them during the course of this pandemic. You look right across the pandemic, it continues to rage around the world. And that's why the vaccination programme we've discussed over the last few days remains so important because until the world itself is more broadly vaccinated, then the pandemic continues to rage, I was very pleased that over the course of the last couple of days while we were discussing, of course, some serious and significant issues of our responses to climate change and of course, the issues around the pandemic. The issues that we also raised, as a build up to next year around social media and digital platforms.

I raised that in my first intervention and then subsequently in many of the direct discussions I had with other leaders. This is not just something that Australians are experiencing. The harassment, the bullying, the misuse of these platforms shielding behind the anonymity of these digital media platforms, the lack of accountability when it comes to being a publisher. These are the same issues, whether I'm talking to those in Korea or in other parts of the world, in Indonesia. And so I was very pleased to see the communique today that this was recognised and understood. And when we talked about this, people and leaders had a very keen and deep appreciation of the impact this is having on mental health, particularly of young people and vulnerable members of their population. So having a work programme to go forward into next year, which will be led by Indonesia, we'll be supporting them strongly.

One of the things I discussed with President Widodo yesterday, and I'm just so pleased to see it picked up by so many others. When it comes to climate change, one of the things I think that was highlighted in my discussions here is that Australia has a deep understanding of the challenges being faced by developing countries and whether it's Indonesia, close by our dear friend and neighbour, the countries in the Pacific. But further across Southeast Asia, Australia because of our relationships, our economic relationships and you know, our involvement in our own region gives us a special insight, which says that, just like with vaccines, unless the whole world is vaccinated, then the pandemic continues to rage, the same is true when it comes to dealing with climate change. Unless the technologies are both affordable and scalable in developing countries, then you will not see emissions fall in those countries. It is not okay for developing countries to say, sorry for developed countries to say to developing countries that they somehow have to settle for less, that they can't have the same growth that their own economies and the jobs and the lifting of living standards that developed countries have been appreciating. And the way that is achieved for them is ensuring that we can get those technology costs as low as possible and so they can be taken up in developing countries and they can realise what they hope to achieve. I'm positive about this, so I'm optimistic about it, because 18 months ago there was no such thing as a COVID-19 vaccine. And in the space of less than two years, the world is now becoming vaccinated against a pandemic that we knew nothing about two years ago. And that just demonstrates that when the world focuses its investment in technology, science and research, that these answers are found and so the if and the when, those issues are no longer the issues, the only issue now is how, as we go to COP26. I hope that is the focus. The focus is on how we achieve that and how we achieve that is through ensuring that that technology is affordable and scalable. And if we hit those technology targets that are set out in the Australian way plan, then net zero by 2050, is something that not only Australia can achieve but so many other countries as well.

JOURNALIST: The reluctance expressed at the G20 on climate change on 2050 by the Russians and Chinese, the Indians for the watering down of the communique. Does that sort of kick the stuffing a bit in out of COP26 in terms of what we can expect from it in terms of meaningful progress.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think there will be progress. The destination, I think is understood and agreed. The world will move to a new energy economy. It will move to a decarbonised net zero economy. And the pace of that and the way that journey is, is travelled by countries will be different. In different countries they've got different, different challenges and they will find their different ways to that same destination. And to think that aspiring to that goal means that every single country has to get there the same way. I don't think that's realistic. And frankly, I think it's a bit naive.

JOURNALIST: But Prime Minister not at the same time either, like 2050 is what you've signed up to.


JOURNALIST: But the big emitters aren't signing up for that. How much of a concern is that? That really weakens the COP26 result.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me speak to Australia's performance, and you've heard me say many times I'm going to tell you again. There are only four countries that sit around the G20 table that have a larger reduction in emissions since 2005 than Australia. Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. There's only one other country other than Australia, who has had a greater reduction in their emissions intensity, expressed as a percentage of their GDP. That's the United Kingdom. Australia ranks second in the G20. So we're getting it done, we’re 20 per cent more down already on our emissions and our path is going to be set by technology. The point I make, is that technology is the way that China can achieve it, India can achieve it, Indonesia can achieve it. The idea that we're going to take developing economy models and force them, sorry developed economy models and force them on developing economies and say this is the path you must travel, that is not going to work. The path we're setting out is to say let's get those technology costs as low as possible. Don't force up the cost of what they're currently using. That is only going to hurt the people who can afford it least. Our model, and I think this comes from a deep appreciation of the challenges faced by our own partners and friends in our own region, whether it's in Indonesia, or India, or Vietnam or places like this. They need this technology cheaper. Now, if we can produce a COVID vaccine in 18 months, we can achieve this as well. And when you achieve that, these countries will embrace it. Why wouldn' they?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, President Macron has told a couple of us around the corner that you didn’t …

PRIME MINISTER: A couple of you, sorry?

JOURNALIST: President Macron told a couple of us around the corner that you didn't tell him the truth on the subs deal. In fact, you said that you might have lied. Is that true?


JOURNALIST: He said that what happened was detrimental to your reputation. What do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll always stand up for Australia's interests.

JOURNALIST: But he's also accused you. He says he doesn't think you lied to him, he knows you lied to him.

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t agree with that.

JOURNALIST: Has not not told you that to your face? You saw him today. You saw him yesterday. You just said to a to a camera, I don't think you lied to him. He knows you lied to him.

PRIME MINISTER: It’s not true.

JOURNALIST: What are you going to do to repair the relationship, because he said it was, he was pretty clear that you need to do something to repair the relationship?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve begun that process.

JOURNALIST: But he doesn't, he obviously doesn't feel that way.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’ll be some time, I think, to go down this process. But we've begun it, we've spoken several times over the last couple of days. I'm sure we'll speak a bit more before I head back to Australia. But let me be very clear, the decision I've taken as Prime Minister, that my Government has taken, was in Australia's national interest. I don't resile from it for one second. These decisions are difficult. Of course, it has caused disappointment and it has caused an impact on the relationship with France. But I'm not going to put that interest higher than Australia's national interest, and I don't think any Australian would expect me to do the same - would expect me to surrender that interest for the sake of another. Now, we just wouldn't do that. Australians wouldn't expect me to do that. I've been very clear about the way I've communicated about this. We had dinner together. As I've said on numerous occasions, I explained very clearly that the conventional submarine option was not going to meet Australia's interests.

JOURNALIST: So, are you saying that he said that at the Élysée Palace - because that was in June - are you saying that over dinner, a private dinner, as I understand it, you told the French President that this deal was not going ahead. Is that what you said?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I didn't say that. I said the conventional submarines was not going to meet our strategic interests.

JOURNALIST: So, does that mean, did he offer a nuclear option?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to go into the discussion. That is all I have ever said. At that stage, we had not concluded any other arrangement with any other parties.

JOURNALIST: But doesn't this, doesn't this show that the diplomatic relationship is a lot worse than you think, he has accused you of lying?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I'm quite conscious of the disappointment that's there. And I'm not surprised - it was a significant contract. And so I'm not surprised about the level of disappointment.

JOURNALIST: You're going to have to see him at COP.

PRIME MINISTER: I've seen him several times today. You guys have seen him, you were getting selfies with him.

JOURNALIST: You’re going to have to continue to see him over the next couple of days. Will you be, you’re going to have to continue to see him over the next couple of days, will you be talking to him about the comments he said to people here?

PRIME MINISTER: No, look, I literally saw him about half an hour ago, just before, sorry, just before the last session I was in, and we exchanged pleasantries once more.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the submarine contract. First of all, we weren't taking selfies with President Macron. Second of all, when he talked about …

PRIME MINISTER: I must have been misinformed.

JOURNALIST: When he talked about the submarine contract, he expressed no confidence that there would be an outcome for Australia. He said, ‘good luck’.

PRIME MINISTER: On what, sorry?

JOURNALIST: On us getting nuclear submarines. He said, you've got an 18 month process. Good luck. The question then, is, how confident are you that out of this process, you'll have a nuclear submarine in the water by 2040?

PRIME MINISTER: That's exactly what our plan is.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that that will come to pass?

PRIME MINISTER: I am confident.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you say that you’ve begun that process of, you know, figuring out where to next. Can you give us any detail about what that process is, what your thoughts are, and how you plan to actually move forward with France as a nation?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we will work together on projects of shared and mutual interest, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.

JOURNALIST: But it doesn’t sound like he wants to work with you?

PRIME MINISTER: These things take time, these things take time.

JOURNALIST: So, did you, Prime Minister, just to be clear, in your discussions with President Macron, did you tell him at any stage you were considering exercising the gates - I think you have described, in the contracts - and getting out of it?

PRIME MINISTER: I was very clear that the conventional submarines were not going to be able to meet our strategic interests, and that we would need to make a decision in our national interest.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, that’s not the question, though.

PRIME MINISTER: But that’s my answer.

JOURNALIST: But it's now a very important matter, Prime Minister. You have a leader of a major European country accusing you of being a liar. That's an extraordinary allegation.

PRIME MINISTER: And I don't accept it.

JOURNALIST: And it's on the basis that you weren’t frank with him and you didn't tell him that you were considering exercising this exit clause in the contract. Did you or did you not?

PRIME MINISTER: I was very clear that what was going to be provided to us was not going to meet our strategic interests, and there was still a process we were engaged in, and we then engaged in, over the months that followed. And then we communicated to him our ultimate decision.

JOURNALIST: But did you indicate that you’d break the deal?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it was very clear. We all understood what the gates in the contract were and what then needed to be decided.

JOURNALIST: But you didn't, you hadn't told him that a new gate had opened, that Australia was …

PRIME MINISTER: Well, not until it had opened.

JOURNALIST: But but Australia, at that period, was also red hot in favour of a nuclear option, surely?

PRIME MINISTER: We were considering all our options, and the French Government was aware that other options were being considered …

JOURNALIST: Were you considering …

PRIME MINISTER: Because there was, because there was quite, that had been a fairly open process.

JOURNALIST: But no, but that, I don't think that they knew that we were considering a nuclear option.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that was a matter that was secure to Australia and our partners, so that was not a matter that I was going to engage in in any sort of broad conversation about. That would have been against Australia's national interests to do that. See, I want to be very clear. The ability for Australia to have now gained access to the most sought after defence technology in the world - there's only one other country that has it other than the United States, and that's the United Kingdom. This is not something that you go around having broad conversations about. Well, as you know, even within the Government this was incredibly tightly held. Why? Because the outcome for Australia was so incredibly important for our future security …

JOURNALIST: But France has …

PRIME MINISTER: No, let me finish. The Australian Government secured this, something that no previous government has been able to secure in 50 years, and this has well-positioned Australia to defend ourselves into the future. So I make no apologies for getting the right result from Australia. And we knew it would be a difficult decision …

JOURNALIST: No apologies…

PRIME MINISTER: … We knew it would be hard to work through that decision, once we had made it. It is not a small thing to not go through the gate on a contract of that size. But that's why you have gates in contracts. You have gates in contracts because you make decisions of that which whether you wish to proceed or not. But Australia decided not to proceed. That was our right. That decision was made in Australia's national interest. And I'm going to back Australia's national interest, and I know Australians are going to back Australians who back our national interest.