Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at The Sydney Institute in Sydney, Saturday, December 15, 2018. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Q&A, the Sydney Institute

15 Dec 2018
Sydney, NSW
Prime Minister

Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

GERARD HENDERSON: Thank you Prime Minister for an important address. As I said, the PM has got a busy day so we’re going to take a few questions and they are not going to go too long. So if you have the microphone, you have got the question, so Anne and I are so here with microphones. I am going to lead off. Prime Minister just come back this way some, there is a lot of people watching on television. As you know Australia is an influential nation, a formidable power and as you know and pointed out in your speech, we have been influential in the Middle East and North Africa in the First World War and Second World War, in 1948 particularly under the Chifley Labor Government with the establishment of Israel. So a speech like you are giving today, to what extent do you think we can play a significant role in bringing about a two state solution? Or is it just kind of a role on the sidelines?

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Gerard, this is a critical question. I said in my statement that Australians have earned the right over a very long period of time to be making influential contributions in this area. I said ‘to step up to the microphone’ - and I don’t think we should be doing the microphone drop when it comes to dealing with these issues - I think those who put us in this position deserve better than that. They deserve us to steward that responsibility about how we continue to contribute when you look at our incredible influence both in the creation in the State of Israel and our partnership with it over so many years. It’s hard to say that Australia’s influence has been small. It has been quite great, often through the great fashion of the expatriate population that has settled in Australia, who I think has always kept us up to the mark on these issues, as they should.

So while Australia’s voice and the megaphone we have, is not as great as the great powers - that is true - but I’ve got to say that ever since I raised this issue several months ago, people have been pretty keen to know what we are going to say. I think a world that was disinterested in Australia’s view I don’t think would have responded like that. Of course, I’ll tell you why our voice matters; because we are a successful country, we are a fair country, we are a democratic country, we have got the runs on the board about how you run an effective nation state. You look after your people with compassion and you engage with the world in an outward way. This is our form and our form gives as great respect as Marise knows better than most on the world stage. We come from the voice of reason, we come from the voice of experience, we come from a voice of passion and commitment to the principals of peace, democracy, the inalienable rights of individual human beings. We speak for that, we live that as a country and as a result I think our voice holds great importance.

GERARD HENDERSON: Stephen Hollings.

STEPHEN HOLLINGS: Prime Minister thank you very much for your speech and thank you for your references to the leadership role that Australia has played in since 1948 and beyond in the UN. At the beginning of your speech and also at the end you talked briefly about the Pacific. I was wondering if I could ask you more about the challenges you see to our traditional leadership role in the Pacific, given the fact that big powers now have taken such interest in countries very close to our home?

PRIME MINISTER: Sure, well thank you very much for the question. I have titled it the Pacific ‘step up’ because that’s what it is. Now our pace and level of involvement with our overseas aid program in the Pacific has been strong over many, many years. But as I said, we are more than the sum of our transactions whether that be aid or trade there is another dimension to our relationship with the Southwest Pacific which we are stepping up on. It is cultural, it is educational programs like once again ensuring that young people from across the Pacific will be given scholarships to come to Australian schools, that we are extending both our strategic partnerships, whether it is in defence or law enforcement, training officers, lifting standards, working alongside and continuing on the work we have just been doing over the last few years particularly up in PNG through their constabulary. But also the work we are doing in health, the work we are doing in cultural exchanges,  whether it is on everything from football - it doesn’t matter what code you follow, they will follow it all - these are cultural connections. Our unique role here is to be the honest family member who can engage together with our other family partners in the Pacific with how we deal with the rest of the world. 

There are plenty of people making offers, as to how they might come and help and they do look to us like a brother or a sister to say: “Well, what do you reckon, will this be good for us?” You would know; “You’re part of our family.” That is very much how I have communicated the nature of our role along with New Zealand with the other world leaders and that is well received. The great powers, they have a presence in so many places but their size means they don’t have the advantage of flexibility which we do. So there; through our great partnerships with them, we are able I think to achieve even more on behalf of our Pacific brothers and sisters.

So the most exciting project in PNG joining together with United States, Japan, New Zealand and ourselves to take PNG from 16 per cent electrification to 70 per cent by 2030, that’s a game changer. That changes our part of the world. Think of what that will mean in Papua New Guinea. When I am often asked about why I am in Papua New Guinea, I say if you walk the Kokoda track you know why and that will never change.

GERARD HENDERSON: Final question, Katherine O’Regan.

KATHERINE O’REGAN: Thanks Gerard and thanks Prime Minister for coming to today to the Sydney Institute it’s good to see you again. One of the things which I think is great is a clarification you have given in terms of Israel, but maybe you can expand a bit more on why West Jerusalem and particularly the trade and defence presence that will be there and how that can work towards the two state solution?

PRIME MINISTER: Sure, let me start with the second part first. Trade and defence - I am particularly talking about defence industry when I am talking about defence as we know - the Ministry is established in Tel Aviv so we are not talking about a diplomatic type activity there. We are talking about trade activity there as we have been embarking upon what has been the biggest capitalisation of our defence forces since the Second World War, getting to 2 per cent GDP of investment in defence. That is a well-recognised achievement. Now as I have met with the various leaders in recent times, not too many people are moving in that direction and that is well respected particularly by our allies. That defence industry capability in the partnerships we are making there, right through the supply chain, are incredibly important. So this is another great opportunity to take another step in that space and our trade relationship with Israel is only building up, particularly in the technology space and particularly in these sort of security type related sectors and that obviously feeds into defence.

I said there were two guard rails, if you like, for the discussion. One was a two state solution and Dave first suggested about how this would be considered in context of the two state solution. I think that was a very interesting suggestion and I was quite taken by it. But the other premise was - as I have outlined - the importance of for us to remain in the rules to Security Council resolutions. We rely on those resolutions in many other contexts, so we don’t get to give ourselves a leave pass on those in how we deal with other issues. So when it comes to West Jerusalem in particular the 1967 boundaries and green light and so on, those issues are not in dispute in terms of where Israel is a resident within those borders. Now where those ultimately are, well, that’s a matter for the final status and that will be determined just like where East is, a matter for final status. So we are not buying into that particular discussion, but what we are saying is that we have got to move this forward.

The rancid stalemate has to be broken. This is our contribution of submitting measured thinking about how we think this can move forward. In part calling it out and daringly ask the question, which others don’t seem to want to ask in this country. Those who say they support Israel didn’t even want to ask the question and even today the Labor Party doesn’t seem to be able to even embrace talking about the answer we’ve put forward.

So people know where we stand I think we have always been consistent on this issue. My view is the same today as it was yesterday and what it will be tomorrow when it comes to this issue. It may not always be popular and it may cause controversy from time to, time but politics is about doing what you believe in. I’ll leave it at that.