Television Interview - ABC News Breakfast

24 May 2023
Prime Minister
Australia-India relations; Prime Minister Modi's visit to Australia; Russian invasion of Ukraine; China trade; Death of Rolf Harris

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: We can bring in the Prime Minister from Kirribilli House. PM, good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. Good to be with you.

ROWLAND: We were just joking, is cricket on the agenda or is that a no-no today?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’s always a discussion about cricket when Australians and Indians gather. And I did get the experience of being at day one of the fourth test for a brief time with Prime Minister Modi. It was quite an experience in the world's biggest stadium there at Ahmedabad in March. And Australians and Indians, of course, are very passionate about their cricket, but it’s part of the way that we build our friendship between our two nations.

ROWLAND: Gee, that was quite the spectacle last night, wasn’t it, the rally, it proceeded the talks today. So what is going to be on the agenda when you sit down with Mr Modi in this more formal sense?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, building our economic relationship. We want to upgrade the Economic Cooperation Agreement between Australia and India, we’re hoping to conclude that by the end of the year. And today we’ll be talking about specific areas where we can cooperate on areas like green hydrogen, in particular, will be on the agenda, but also the education relationship between our two countries. Deakin University will open as the first foreign university in India, in Gujarat, very soon, and after that, Wollongong University are also going to establish what will be the second foreign university in India later on. We have a very important relationship, we know that India will grow to be the third largest economy in the world in coming years. It’s already the most populous nation in the world, and the cooperation that we have across defence and security, across the economy, across society and culture and education is a real opportunity for Australia and India to both benefit from increased cooperation and mutually beneficial arrangements.

ROWLAND: Prime Minister, there’s a small protest happening outside as we go to air at Kirribilli House, there was a protest outside the rally last night. It’s clear not every member of the Indian-Australian community is entirely happy Mr Modi is here. He’s accused of repressing his political opponents, he’s accused of repressing the media, he’s accused of discriminating against Muslims. Does any of that trouble you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well India is, of course, the world's largest democracy. Here in Australia, of course, people have a right to express their views in a peaceful way, and people, we all have different views about people in politics. Australia, of course, always stands up for human rights, wherever it occurs anywhere in the world.

ROWLAND: Will you be raising those issues with Mr Modi then?

PRIME MINISTER: One of the things that I do is engage with people on a one-on-one basis. I do that consistently. What I don't do is leak text messages with other world leaders. I have a respectful relationship with Prime Minister Modi and with other leaders.

ROWLAND: Australia has been at the forefront of condemning outright Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine. Does it trouble you that Narendra Modi refuses to criticise Russia over the invasion?

PRIME MINISTER: India is responsible for its own international relations and I respect that. We have very different histories, of course. India has been a leader of the non-aligned movement for such a long period of time. But India is a great supporter of peace and security and stability in our region. India participated in not just the G7 meeting that was held on the weekend but, of course, the Quad Leaders meeting is very important in building up that support for security, stability, peace and prosperity in our region and the world. And at the G20 meeting that will be hosted in India later this year, I’m sure, hopefully it will be resolved by then and Russia will recognise its mistake and withdraw before then. If not, I expect that there’ll be a similar statement to which there was at the G20 last year to which India participated.

ROWLAND: Prime Minister, the reason I ask is, in not condemning the invasion, India clearly is not respecting international, the rule of law. So if, hypothetically, China was to invade Taiwan, are you concerned about where India would fall in that dispute?

PRIME MINISTER: You’ve just drawn a very long bow there Michael, with respect. The truth is that India itself has been concerned about border skirmishes with China which have occurred on its border, and India is a nation that does respect national sovereignty and national borders.

ROWLAND: But it, again, refuses to criticise what Russia has done in invading, in breaching those borders by going into Ukraine?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, go and look at the G20 statement from last year, Michael, with respect, that India was a party to that. And India as the incoming chair of the G20 will play a very important role and the...

ROWLAND: Okay. I’m sorry, Prime Minister, please go on.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I’m fine Michael, it’s fine. I’ve made my point I think.

ROWLAND: There’s a couple of other issues, I know our time is short, I want to move to them. Staying in the international sphere, you are likely to go to China at some stage this year, accepting that country's formal invitation to you. Would you like to see all remaining trade sanctions against Australia lifted before you hop on a plane to Beijing?

PRIME MINISTER: What I don't do, either side, in terms of, is engage in a debate through the media about these issues. What I say very clearly though, is that impediments to economic trade between Australia and China should be removed. It’s in Australia's interests to export to China and it's in China's interests to receive our wonderful products. We’ve already seen significant change occur with the opening up of trade with China. There is more to do in areas like barley, wine and some other products as well, and we want to see any impediments removed because that is in the interests of both of our countries.

ROWLAND: Finally, Prime Minister, Rolf Harris is dead at the age of 93. Do you have anything to say about him?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, my thoughts are with victims who, for today, not just victims of Rolf Harris, but for others as well. It will be a day in which traumatic experiences could be revisited and my thoughts are with them, and I hope that they, if they need support, reach out and get it today. That’s who my thoughts are with today.

ROWLAND: Prime Minister, really appreciate your time this morning from Kirribilli House. Thanks for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.