Television interview - Sky News Afternoon Agenda

07 Jul 2022
Prime Minister
International travel; floods in Greater Sydney region; NATO; G20; Ukraine; Russia; international relationships; world leaders

ANDREA CROTHERS, HOST: Prime Minister, thanks for joining me.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good to be on the program.

CROTHERS: Back home, straight into a flood disaster. You were on the ground in Sydney yesterday and confronted by a frustrated resident. How did that feel?

ALBANESE: People are frustrated. People in the Richmond-Hawkesbury have been through four floods in 18 months. And prior to that, they were affected by the bushfires. People are incredibly frustrated. It's a really tough time. And myself and Dominic Perrottet were there to listen to peoples’ concerns.

CROTHERS: Now, I know Angus Taylor has criticised your international travel. The Premier has obviously defended you with that. But can you see how some people might be frustrated? Or was there any particular time you thought, ‘Maybe I should come home a bit earlier?’

PRIME MINISTER: No, as you know, you were on the trip. No journalists on the trip raised that before I headed into Ukraine. And I did that on Saturday at lunchtime. At that time, there weren't the disaster that evolved in the day after and during the beginning of this week and is still unfolding. I went into Ukraine with an electronic blackout. We didn't have phones, we didn't have the Internet. I did that out of duty to Australia. Australia has been the largest non-NATO contributor. I find it astonishing that some in the Opposition have drawn a parallel between a holiday in Hawaii, where it was known the bushfire crisis was unfolding, and the circumstances of my going to Ukraine to a war zone where we flew from Paris into Poland and then had a drive and then a twelve-hour train ride overnight and was on the ground during Sunday and then another twelve-hour train ride out to Poland and then a car ride and then four plane trips home. I got home as soon as I could. And I was on the ground yesterday morning with the New South Wales Premier. The truth is that I just find it extraordinary and beyond contempt that people like Angus Taylor have been prepared to make the comments that they did. They should really think again before they make that sort of assertion, particularly in the context of what is happening on their own side of politics.

CROTHERS: So, when were you first aware that there was an emergency alert in place?

PRIME MINISTER: When I arrived back in in Poland and I spoke to the Premier from Poland. It was clear then that it was worse than was ever anticipated in the previous week.

CROTHERS: The SES, though, put out its emergency alert for ten communities in the Hawkesbury area some four to five hours before you headed off to Paris. They were door knocking, asking those who had been flood affected previously if they may wish to consider evacuating again. Were you aware of that at all?

PRIME MINISTER: I was getting national security briefings about going into a war zone. And that was the focus that was going on that day. And people weren't in the same dire circumstances at that time.

CROTHERS: Do you see how some people might think, though, that when your focus is on international issues, it comes at the expense of domestic issues?

PRIME MINISTER: No. People who are of goodwill and with a bit of common sense, let's be clear here, there are two leaders of political parties in Australia. I haven't been on leave. I haven't had a day off. I've been working very hard. And not a single journalist, and a whole lot of the press gallery were there with us, no one formally or informally raised any issues of what was happening or potentially might happen back in Australia before I departed.

CROTHERS: So, next week, the Pacific Islands Forum. That will be your fourth trip in the two months since taking office. Is this something Australians should expect? That this year will be the year of international trips with the new PM?

PRIME MINISTER: No. Look, it's just the timing. And I didn't choose to have the election on May 21, just prior to the Quad Leaders’ meeting. What people have to answer, in Peter Dutton and his team, I guess, and when Peter Dutton returns from Leave, he can comment on what trips I shouldn't have taken. Was I right to go to the Quad Leaders’ Summit? I believe, yes. Was I right to go to meet with President Widodo? I believe clearly, yes. And I was right to go to the NATO Summit and then consequentially to go to France to repair the relationship with France. The Former Government budgeted $5.5 billion for the fallout from the submarines contracts and deals that were put in place. My Government came out of that process with $2.1 billion less expenditure than was budgeted for by the former Government and has begun to repair the relationship with France. And, of course, visiting Ukraine was something that was encouraged by people across the political spectrum. This is something that is in our national interest and indeed in the interests of the international community that values peace and security. And the Pacific Island Forum, we saw what happened earlier this year when the former Government dropped the ball. And we are in a period of strategic competition. It's important that we engage with our Pacific Island neighbours.

CROTHERS: On your recent trip, talk about being catapulted into a gathering of world leaders. Was there anyone you were most looking forward to seeing in the flesh?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I was looking forward to a range of the leaders who I had the opportunity to meet.

CROTHERS: Anyone surprise you?

PRIME MINISTER: They were all pretty engaging. Prime Minister Sanchez, our host in Spain.

CROTHERS: I am told he left a few people gushing.

PRIME MINISTER: He was very warm. He has a very similar political outlook. He has a real vision for Spain in terms of new industries and the opportunity that comes from embracing renewables. We have important relations with Spain. It's the first bilateral meeting that we've had. Spanish companies have a big presence in infrastructure and transport and energy here in Australia. In France, the opportunity to talk to the OECD was important. And we met with MEDEF, the peak body of French businesses, as well about investment in Australia and about increasing those economic relationships. Importantly as well, we've put the trade agreement with Europe back on track. It had stalled. There are two things we needed to do. One is we needed to repair the relationship with France. But also, we needed to join the world effort on climate change. And so, I had meetings with the leaders of not just Spain and France, but the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, as well as having another meeting with President Biden. These are all very important relationships.

CROTHERS: On Ukraine, you've said that Australia is with them for the long haul. What exactly does that mean? Should the President be expecting that aid from Australia will continue to flow until the war ends?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll deliver on the commitments that we've made. The former Government made, with bipartisan support, a range of commitments, some of which hasn't been delivered yet. It takes time to get Bushmasters from Australia into Ukraine, but they're important for Ukraine's defence. And I'm confident that the commitments that we made will also enjoy bipartisan support. You have to think through what are the consequences for the rules-based order around the world, for the UN Charter, for the sovereign nations to be able to exist free of the brutal activity that we've seen from Russia. If Ukraine doesn't prevail in the current conflict, if Russia doesn't withdraw from its brutal invasion, the consequences are dire if that does not occur. So, the world has to be determined to see this through.

CROTHERS: So, with all that in mind, then should Ukraine be expecting that Australia will meet its request for a steady flow of aid?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Australia has made the commitments. We'll consider future commitments down the track. But we've made our commitments already. Most of those commitments were made by the former Government, to their credit. And we supported them.

CROTHERS: If Vladimir Putin attends the G20 Summit in person, how will you treat him?

PRIME MINISTER: With the contempt that he deserves. I think that if he does attend the G20 Summit, which I doubt whether he will, in my view, then the world needs to send a very clear message about how we regard him and his behaviour towards undermining the rules-based order, undermining the UN Charter, being responsible for the war crimes that are being committed in Ukraine.

CROTHERS: So, what does that look like?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let's not pre-empt it. What it will be is I will be acting in partnership with our allies. I've had discussions at the NATO Summit with them about what that would look like. And we'll take appropriate measures at that time.

CROTHERS: So, are you polite? Do you snub? Do you confront him?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it certainly won't be polite.

CROTHERS: Will you shirt-front him, in the words of another former Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm this Prime Minister, not a former one. And that didn't result in much, frankly. And that's one of the things that I want my Prime Ministership to represent as well, is less rhetoric and more action.

CROTHERS: This is a man who has murdered thousands of people.

PRIME MINISTER: Indeed. We showed action by my visit to Ukraine and my meeting with President Zelenskyy.

CROTHERS: You won’t be breaking bread with him, though?

PRIME MINISTER: No, not at all. And I will act in partnership with other G20 leaders. One of the things I said to President Widodo as well, when I accepted his invitation that I would attend, is that I'd work with him to make sure that the G20 was a success. It is important for Indonesia that it is a success, but it's important for the world as we're emerging from the global pandemic, with a war in Europe, with increased strategic competition in our region, that the G20 is a success.

CROTHERS: Thanks for your time, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.