Television Interview - ABC Weekend Breakfast

20 Nov 2022
Prime Minister
Meeting with President Xi; Relationship with China; Taiwan; Sean Turnell; Myanmar

MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: Prime Minister, thanks for speaking to the ABC.

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

DORAN: I want to pick up on your meeting with President Xi, which everyone is talking about clearly. You described it as a constructive discussion, the first steps to repairing the relationship between Australia and China. But what is it about that meeting, anything that he said that gives you a sense anything is going to change in this relationship, considering China doesn't really like giving ground or being told what to do?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, relations have changed by the fact that there was a meeting. There hadn't been a meeting between leaders since 2016. In the last term of the government, in Australia, there wasn't even a home exchange. So dialogue is a good thing. It was no preconditions for the dialogue. But it was a very constructive, engaging discussion with President Xi. It's one I appreciated. It clearly is in Australia's national interest, but also in China's interest to have a stabilisation of the relationship.

DORAN: But clearly, people are going to be looking for something tangible out of this meeting, maybe not immediately, but in the future, they are going to want to see some of those tensions ease. Is there anything that Xi Jinping said that gives you a sense he's open to doing more than just listen?

PRIME MINISTER: He made it clear that he wants a good relationship with Australia. And he was very positive and constructive in his discussions with me. It was a very positive meeting, I think it exceeded expectations before the meeting was held. The fact that we worked in the lead up to the meeting being held. There, of course, have been meetings between our Foreign Ministers, between our Defence Ministers. I had a discussion with Premier Li earlier prior to the meeting with President Xi, when Premier Li and I were in Cambodia. And so that dialogue is important. I've made the point that it is in Australia's interest to export our wonderful products - our meat, our barley, our seafood, our wine, our mineral resources to China. But it's in China's interest to receive those goods as well. So I'm very clear about it being in both of our countries' interests to move forward together.

DORAN: When you're talking about the relationship with China, you've mentioned that having the meeting itself is a success. China has previously used phrases such as wanting to meet Australia halfway, negotiations are always about a bit of give and take. Where does Australia feel that there's room to move in this relationship to get it back on that better footing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I have said is that we will cooperate with China where we can, we will disagree where we must, but we'll always stand up for our national interests and our values. And I did that in the meeting with President Xi. He indicated that his position, China's position, was well known on the range of the issues that were raised. But I do believe it is in China's interests to stabilise the relationship as well as in our interests. So I'm positive that we can move forward together. And that was the clear indication that President Xi gave during the meeting.

DORAN: But is it all a case of rhetoric? Just talking in nicer terms about the relationship, or not as loaded terms as perhaps your predecessor used to use?

PRIME MINISTER: No I don't think that's right. I think very clearly, Australia was standing up for Australia's interests, we'll continue to do so. The fundamental areas of disagreement, the issue of the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, the Uighurs, all of these issues are ones that have bipartisan support. There's a bipartisan support for a One China policy, with support for the status quo on Taiwan. These are issues that aren't the subject of a partisan shift between Labor and the Coalition. So they're Australia's positions going forward. That clearly is understood. It's in China's interest to understand that, that we will continue to have disagreements. We have different political systems, that should not mean that you can't have economic cooperation. That should not mean that you can't have dialogue, because out of dialogue comes understanding.

DORAN: Let's briefly touch on two more issues. Taiwan you mentioned there, yesterday, you were questioned about Taiwan wanting access to the CPTPP, you seemed to suggest it couldn't get access because it wasn't a country in and of itself, or recognised as a country in and of itself, which is not the case. Did you misspeak there?

PRIME MINISTER: What I said was that there's no change in Australia's position there. But at the moment, the accession has to be agreed unanimously. And the discussion about the details is about the United Kingdom at the moment, those discussions have been going on for a year. Now other applicants are there, but it hasn't been agreed that they will move forward into that discussion of the detailed position. So that is where we're at. I then went on to state Australia's bipartisan position on Taiwan, which also remains exactly the same. Any application should be dealt with on its merits.

DORAN: Does Taiwan become a more sensitive issue, or talking about anything to do with Taiwan now that you've got that door open to Xi Jinping?

PRIME MINISTER: No, there's been no change in our position. And there won't be.

DORAN: I want to talk about Sean Turnell. You were thrilled, I think it's safe to say. There's plenty of other adjectives that could be bandied around here, but to see his release from Myanmar. Australia has been criticised for quite some time for not imposing sanctions on the military junta and that a lot of that hesitancy seems to have been in the past around the fact that Sean Turnell was locked up in jail. Now that he's out, are sanctions on the table?

PRIME MINISTER: We'll make decisions in Australia's national interest, and we'll continue to do that. We continue to speak out against human rights abuses in Myanmar, none of that has changed. Sean Turnell's release though, is an outstanding achievement, for Penny Wong personally as the Foreign Minister, but also our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, our embassies, in Yangon, and here in Bangkok. And it was just a wonderful moment. I found it a very humbling moment being in the position as Prime Minister, to speak to this brave Australian who has been detained for 650 days. And his response was to say thank you to myself and thank you to the Government, and to thank all Australian people who had supported him. Sean Turnell is a proud Australian and every Australian should be proud of him.

DORAN: Was that last minute lobbying at the ASEAN East Asia Summit crucial to getting him out?

PRIME MINISTER: I think it was important. We advocated, and the support of ASEAN was important. The fact that I've been able to talk with the leaders of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and other nations, the Philippines, and now I've been able to thank many of those countries personally, their leaders, for the support that they gave Professor Turnell was very important. I think the consistency of the message that has been gone through. It's a great outcome for Australia, and I wish Sean Turnell all the best. It was lovely to see the photographs of himself and his wife being reunited.

DORAN: From steamy Bangkok, thank you so much for joining us. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much for having me.