Television and radio interview - BBC news

19 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Passing of Queen Elizabeth II; Meeting With King Charles III

JAMES NAUGHTIE, HOST: Prime Minister, you've had a meeting with the King. Can you describe what your conversation was like? How did it go?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: It was very warm and friendly. It was a moment for me to offer my condolences to the King, not only, of course, on the loss of our joint Head of State, but in his case, of course, the loss of his mother coming so soon after the loss of his father. So it's a very personal bereavement that he's feeling. But I was able to offer the condolences of the people of Australia for whom the Queen was held in great affection.

NAUGHTIE: It is interesting, isn't it, how this is an intimate and yet also a very public state occasion. All the leaders of all the great countries, with a few exceptions, are in London. And you can talk about things that matter politically as well as personal things. One of the things that matters to you, of course, is the future of Australia and its constitution. You've talked in the past about revisiting the Republican question was asked just over 20 years ago. When do you think that's likely to come around?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't think now's the time to discuss those issues and I have made that clear. This is a time in which we should acknowledge the life of service of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. Those are matters that are of debate, of course, in Australia and certainly the Royal family understand that, but now's not the time to focus on that. What I have said very clearly is my priority as the incoming Prime Minister, and I said this before the election, was to commit to a referendum in this term to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution. A Constitution, of course, is the birth certificate of a nation, and it is inadequate whilst it pretends that culture and human activity in our great island continent began in 1788. It should be a source of great pride for our nation and indeed it is that we had the oldest continuous culture on earth going back some 65,000 years, and that should be recognised in our nation's birth certificate.

NAUGHTIE: And that's the priority?

PRIME MINISTER: That is absolutely the priority in this term. I have promoted a suggested question to be put forward and also a three-part constitutional change as well, and I campaigned on that. I spoke about that on the very day in which I became Prime Minister on the 21st of May, and I've continued to campaign for it. I've put forward the question since then to add some detail, and we've established a working group of First Nations people to work through the issues in the campaign.

NAUGHTIE: You're talking about how any nation, when it considers its own history, is bound to go through a process of change and re-evaluation and that process in Australia is bound to continue, isn't it? I mean, I know you don't want to talk about this this week for very obvious reasons, but that process is going to go on and everyone knows it.

PRIME MINISTER: Of course that's the case, but it's also the case that you can have different views about our constitutional system whilst having respect for Queen Elizabeth's contribution and whilst having respect for King Charles assuming the throne as our Head of State. We are one of fifteen realm countries who are represented here to attend the Queen's Funeral tomorrow. But it is also a fact that we'll continue to have that strong engagement with the UK.

NAUGHTIE: How is the Commonwealth, do you think, going to matter in the future?

PRIME MINISTER: I think the Commonwealth very much matters because what ties it together is a common history. Now that varies across the Commonwealth of course, but in our own part of the world and in the Asia Pacific there are ten Commonwealth countries. A country like Papua New Guinea chose…

NAUGHTIE: Which asked to join.

PRIME MINISTER: …they asked to join and they asked for Her Majesty to become the Queen of State when they achieved independence. And Prime Minister Marape, of course, will attend here, and they have a very close relationship with Australia.

NAUGHTIE: Do you find that those old ties, I think you've met the Canadian Prime Minister here in London, really still have quite a bit of strength and for you operating as a Prime Minister in the Southern Hemisphere, do those old channels of communication still matter?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course they do, because one of the things that ties it together is our political system, our language, our culture, our sporting history...

NAUGHTIE: Let's not go there.

PRIME MINISTER: …the games that we play. So they all tie us together. And so many Australians have heritage that they can trace back to the UK and it's those close personal bonds. The Queen herself had such a close affinity to Australia. She herself spoke about that many times, including when she did major events - opening our Sydney Opera House, opening a new Parliament House - but as well, at times of tragedy and difficulty. Australia is a land of much natural disaster and the Queen always stood with Australians at times of difficulty, and I think that historic bond which is there, developed a personal relationship with Her Majesty over 70 years. But of course, King Charles spent six months of his schooling there in Victoria and has visited many times as well.

NAUGHTIE: There's talk of him visiting quite early in his reign. Are you aware that that might be on the cards?

PRIME MINISTER: Well he would be very welcome. There will be a standing invitation for him, as there is for other members of the Royal family.

NAUGHTIE: You're talking really in a way about identity aren't you? You're talking about the identity of your own country, which of course changes as new waves of immigration come to Australia. I mean, that's been a fact of life over the last period. And what you're saying, I think, listening to you is that you kind of have a shared identity, one that has part of the old history, which ties you in different ways to other members of the Commonwealth and particularly to the UK, but one which is a fresh, very clear Australian identity, which has developed vigorously, particularly in the last 60, 70 years.

PRIME MINISTER: And we have that, we have our own identity and culture. But of course, that's a product of history. 65,000 years of history prior to the first fleet in 1788, then a history of the British presence, a lot of convict presence, of course, as well. It was a penal colony, or colonies, around Australia. But then the emergence of the Federation, that Nation of Australia emerging from those different colonies that had been established, and 1901 the Federation. And since then, particularly in the post-war period, a much more multicultural society, not dissimilar, of course, from the experience here in Great Britain as well. So that identity of a nation changes over a period of time. But what we have in common is a commitment to democracy, a commitment to the rule of law, commitment to human rights, commitment to equality, really, as well. So there is much that binds our society together. And it is a plus that our diversity is, I think, a part of our strength. And of course, the culture changes over a period of time. But there is also something unique, I think, about Australia, our vast continent with the space that we have. But there of course are differences across our continent. If you go to Sydney, it's a very different place from Mount Isa, which is very different from a place like Tennant Creek. So Australia is a vast continent, but it's one which does have those very strong ties here to the United Kingdom. I, like a lot of young Australians, in 1988, spent six months backpacking around Europe using London as a base, and that's such a common experience for Australians.

NAUGHTIE: Let me just ask you about a couple of the big issues that leaders will be discussing in the corridors, in the margins of the funeral, which has brought you here. One is China, hugely important to your country, but a source of anxiety to you because of human rights abuses which you have highlighted. How much more difficult does it make it for your government to develop the economic relationship that you want with China when you see what's happened to the Uyghurs, when you worry about what has happened in Hong Kong and you have gone public with those concerns.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Australia must always stand up for our values and we'll continue to do that, but that doesn't mean that we can't have an economic relationship with China. So what I want to see is that we will cooperate with China where we can, but we will stand up for Australian values where we must, and that is something that China needs to come to terms with. There are sanctions currently against Australian imports into China. I see that as very much a lose-lose situation. It hurts the Australian economy and Australian jobs, but it also hurts China to deprive itself of Australian wine, Australian meat, Australian barley, Australian products that are, in my opinion of course as the Australian Prime Minister, at least as good if not better than anywhere else in the world. So to me it is counterproductive. We want good relationships, but we also need to be able to and will continue to speak out for our values, democracy and the rule of law.

NAUGHTIE: One last question, and it's about climate change, which you are very concerned about. Now, the King is now out of the political arena in the sense that he has to tread carefully on political issues that are matter for government. But everyone knows his commitment on these questions. No doubt you would hope that that is a conversation despite his accession to the throne that can go on.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that is a matter, of course, for King Charles, what he comments on. And it's important that the Sovereign stay distant from party political issues. But from my perspective, what I've said, is that I'd be very comfortable with the King expressing views about the importance of climate change, and it is about the very survival of our way of life. We know that in Australia the impacts of bushfires, floods, natural disasters, are doing exactly what the science told us would happen - which is that there have always been natural disasters in Australia, but they're more frequent and they're more intense, and that's why this issue shouldn't be a partisan political issue. It should be an issue which the world needs to confront.

NAUGHTIE: And it would be quite proper, in your view, for him to continue to make it clear that it's a concern in his mind?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, if he chose to do so, then of course that would be a matter for him. But I think that should be respected if he does choose to do so.

NAUGHTIE: Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much.