Radio Interview - ABC AM with Sabra Lane

11 Nov 2022
Prime Minister
International summits; Relationship with China; Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine; Medibank hack; Parliamentary agenda; Energy prices

SABRA LANE, HOST: After attending a Remembrance Day Service in Sydney this morning, the Prime Minister jets off for a nine day trip around the region to attend key meetings with world leaders. Anthony Albanese is attending the ASEAN East Asia Summit in Cambodia, the G20 in Indonesia and the APEC summit in Thailand. There's a chance at one of these events he might meet face to face with China's President Xi Jinping. Mr Albanese joins us now. Good morning, welcome back.


LANE: There is that chance that you'll meet President Xi next week, the China Daily which is owned by the Communist Party says China values its relations with Australia and it says as long as the two countries meet halfway, they'll be able to rebuild trust, it seems to be signalling that Beijing is ready to repair the relationship. What do you make of it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I want to see with the relationship with China is cooperation where we can, but we of course will maintain our Australian values where we must. So dialogue is always good, a meeting is not locked in at this point in time. But we will no doubt be at the same meetings. The East Asia Summit, the G20, and the APEC is going to be a busy time in international diplomacy.

LANE: Next month does mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries. For the relationship to return to normal, what would Australia like China to do?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, firstly to lift its economic sanctions, they total some $20 billion. They're not in Australia's interests of the wine industry, the meat industry and other industries where sanctions have been placed on, but it's also not in the interests of China. This is a counterproductive measure because the products that Australia sells to China are the best quality products in my view in the world. And it makes sense to actually normalise the relationships. We want to see a stabilisation in the relationship.

LANE: And what would China want from Australia for things to return to normal?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's not up to me to put forward their case, it's up to me to continue to pursue Australia's national interests. We'll always stand up for human rights, we'll stand up for our values, and we won't be compromising on that and nor should we. But that should be respected, just as we should have open and constructive dialogue with other international partners.

LANE: Some Australians were unnerved this week by the pictures of President Xi in combat fatigues, as the nation's army and defence force displayed new machinery. He's told his country to be ready for war. What's your assessment of all of this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well China of course has changed its position. And it is much more forward leaning than it was in the past. And that has caused tensions in the relationship, and we need to acknowledge that that's the context in which the relationship exists. We have strategic competition in the region. And I would just say that what Australia wants from the Indo-Pacific is a region of prosperity, a region of peace and security and stability.

LANE: President Putin won't be attending the G20 meeting in Bali, he might address it by video, but his absence removes now that potential for awkward face to face meetings. Can countries do anything more to pressure Russia over Ukraine as that's a big reason for the problems with supply chains, that shortage of gas and inflation around the world?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is part of the context of these summits, is the global economy facing headwinds that arise directly out of the Russian illegal invasion of Ukraine. The international community should continue to stand for the international rule of law, and should continue to call upon Vladimir Putin to back off. If Russia were to withdraw, then we would see not just an improvement in the global economy, but importantly as well, it should be clear to Mr Putin that this action has led to the isolation of Russia from countries that respect the rule of law and United Nations processes, but it's also causing considerable damage to the Russian economy. And of course, the most basic fact is that it's causing a loss of life and trauma and distress. We've seen Russian citizens leave Russia rather than be recruited in as military without proper training. And this has not gone the way that Russia thought it would. It was a massive miscalculation. But the credit for that goes really to the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people who stood up against a much more powerful foe and said that they'll defend their national sovereignty.

LANE: Back to domestic issues, the Medibank hackers appear to have dumped more personal data on the dark web today. How satisfied are you that Medibank has done enough to help customers with the theft and publication of their highly personal information?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is incredibly distressing for all those, not just whose data has been released, but those who potentially are concerned about it. And we are working very closely with state and territory governments as well as with Medibank Private. There was a meeting yesterday that agreed to establish a one-stop shop, and I'd encourage anyone concerned about the protection of their data to call 132331. And that is a one-stop shop where people can get advice from the Government as well as from Medibank Private. The other thing I would do is to urge all Australians, including media outlets, do not access this data, let alone publish it. Because we need to provide a disincentive for this sort of criminal, disgusting behaviour that is reprehensible. And we will get to the bottom of where this has come from and we will hold whoever is responsible for this to account.

LANE: How bad could this get?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we know it's already incredibly distressing. The fact that information was published going to very personal health details of Australian citizens is disgusting, and something that is I think, just totally reprehensible. And it's causing a great deal of distress in the community. The Government acknowledges this and we're doing all we can to limit the impact of this and to provide that support to people who are going through this distressing time.

LANE: There are eight sitting days left at Parliament this year, the Government has three major issues it wants sorted this year, a decision on how you'll need to put downward pressure on coal and gas prices, the industrial relations changes and the integrity commission through Parliament. Will you get all three done this year, or will you have to prioritise and put something on hold for next year?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are certainly hopeful of doing that and more. My Government is a government with a big agenda. We sought a mandate in May to change the way that the country operated and Australians voted for change. We've already established legislation on cheaper childcare, cheaper medicines, we've changed our climate change targets, we have implemented Domestic and Family Violence Leave. We have the Respect at Work legislation as well went through the House this week and the industrial relations legislation went through. We need to lift wages, we also need to deal with the challenges which are there in energy. And of course, we need to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission. I'm very pleased that the cross-Parliament bipartisan committee adopted a unanimous report just yesterday, tabled in the Parliament, and that's a very positive step.

LANE: On power prices, a new temporary tax on gas and thermal coal seems to be an option open to the Government. How prepared are you for a huge pushback from the sector?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we know is that we can't just sit back and watch while energy prices go through the roof for households and for businesses. And that could undermine the manufacturing sector, it's already placing extraordinary pressure on it. We are trying to work through these issues. We want to work in a cooperative way. But we need to acknowledge that there are extraordinary profits being made at the same time as the customers are really doing it tough.

LANE: So that sounds like a temporary new tax might be the go?

PRIME MINISTER: No, well we're working through issues. Our preference is not that, but we're working through the issues constructively. We're working that through with departments, we're working that through as well with states and territories. We need to acknowledge that in half of the states, we're literally talking about state-owned assets involved here. So the states and territories will need to be engaged here, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland. But we also are working through constructively with the sector, and we're hopeful of getting an outcome. We've said that our timeline is the end of this year, and that remains the timeline.

LANE: Prime Minister, thanks for joining AM this morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Sabra.