Television Interview - SKY Sunday Agenda

18 Sep 2022
London, United Kingdom
Prime Minister
Passing of Queen Elizabeth II; Australians attending Queen’s funeral; meeting with King Charles III; meeting with new UK Prime Minister; National Memorial Service; relationships in the Pacific.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Prime Minister, it has been such an incredible show of respect and mourning there in the UK. Now that you've seen it firsthand, how would you describe it?

PRIME MINISTER ANTHONY ALBANESE: It's an extraordinary circumstance, Kieran. The people of the United Kingdom expressing their extreme grief if at the loss of their Queen, who has reigned for 70 years. Last night, when I arrived from London, we were able to visit Green Park, here there’s floral tributes in the thousands. There are British citizens, young and old, coming to pay tribute, to leave a note paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth. It was quite an extraordinary scene and very moving.

GILBERT: Have you been surprised at how strong the tributes have been for the Queen and her legacy from Australia too?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe, Kieran, no matter what your worldview, you have to take a step back and think that this is a remarkable life well lived. A life lived in the service of others, served in the interests of the people of the UK, but also the Commonwealth and the world. The Queen was Australia's first monarch to visit Australia. She visited Australia some 16 times. She had a great affection for Australians, something that she outlined when she opened the Sydney Opera House. She also, of course, opened our new Parliament House. She was someone who had that affection and Australia had an affection back to Her Majesty and I think that's been on display. It is quite remarkable that someone served the life that she did over seven long decades. A life of dignity, a life of grace and one that Australians have recognised since Her Majesty's passing just over a week ago.

GILBERT: Prime Minister, something else you mentioned in that address at Australia House is this quote from Her Majesty in 2000 at the Sydney Opera House, where she said: “Since I first stepped ashore here, I felt part of the rugged, honest, creative land. I've shared in the joys and sorrows, the challenges and the changes that have shaped this country's history.” It does appear that there was a genuine affection for Australia there.

PRIME MINISTER: There was clearly, Kieran. Her first visit was almost two months long and she visited dozens of cities and towns right around our vast continent. It was the first of her 16 visits. During that period she met, of course, prominent Australians, but she also met everyday Australians. She exhibited warmth, she had a great sense of humour and she developed that relationship with Australia that was so important. When you think about the passing of time, Kieran, the last seven decades has been the fastest changing period in human history. You think about technology, you think about the way that the world has changed. Indeed, her first visit to Australia being almost two months long – that was part of a six month world tour around the Commonwealth, an extraordinary time. And during that period, Queen Elizabeth was a regular visitor to our shores and she engaged with sixteen Prime Ministers, sixteen Governors-General. So this was a period of massive change in which the Queen was a constant reassuring presence.

GILBERT: And there was that iconic image of Her Majesty at the races alongside Bob Hawke. As you put it, the two connoisseurs of the turf in that moment, a study in balance: the Queen sitting serenely, Bob Hawke going off like a firecracker in a suit when his horse won.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's right. And that was Hawkey. The two of them sitting together, it is a magnificent photograph. And of course, as Hawkey said later on, because he was criticised for his exuberance at his horse winning the race next to the Queen's serenity and very stable posture, when he was with the Queen at Royal Ascot in later years and her horse won she also got very excited. She used to speak to Chris Waller, the trainer, about once a week. She also engaged with Gai and Robbie Waterhouse, who are here, as well as David Hayes. She loved her thoroughbreds, she loved her racing and it is one of the relationships that she had with Australia.

GILBERT: I think most people recognise that it is an inappropriate time to be ramping up the debate about the Republic. What do you say to those that have been critical of your approach and say now is the time to be debating that issue?

PRIME MINISTER: I have a responsibility, Kieran, to represent the nation at this time. And this is a time where Australians are expressing their grief, but they're also expressing their gratitude at the life of service for Queen Elizabeth. There, of course, has always been a debate about our constitution and those issues. It's up to people to act according to what they think is right. I think that it is very important during this period of mourning that I express the view which overwhelmingly the nation is feeling at this time, which is that this is a period of grief, but also one of giving thanks.

GILBERT: Now, Prime Minister, you've spoken of this incredible group that you've taken with you, the delegation, as you describe it, that demonstrate the best of our culture and values. I had the honour of interviewing one of those with you, Saba Abraham, and heard about her wonderful contribution to Australia. Can you share some of those experiences that you've found have particularly resonated with you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course, Ms Abraham did extraordinary work during COVID with people who were vulnerable. The extraordinary contributions, of course, of people like Dylan Alcott, who is a part of this delegation, someone who is an inspiration for Australians. He's been to London before, of course. He won the Wimbledon title three times. He is an inspiration, someone who has dealt with a difficult life by cherishing it and valuing it and asserting that people who have disabilities can participate fully in life. And it's important that he, as the Australian of the Year, is here. We have people from such a broad range: every state and territory being represented here, people from Indigenous backgrounds, people from different backgrounds that reflects our multicultural nation. But all coming together to represent Australia at this important time. And I'm very proud to have had the opportunity to be here. And it does say something about the late sovereign, Her Majesty, that these issues were put in place, this planning was put in place, a long while ago. Her Majesty had input into the service that will take place on Monday, including the nature of the representation. And that's why we have followed the protocol to the letter, including the invite to ten Australians had made a contribution to their community. And later this morning, at lunchtime at Australia House, we will be gathering for a lunch that will also include prominent Australians who are based here in the United Kingdom. This is a time for our nation to come together. It's a time for unity, and the delegation that I have led here is very much a part of that. And it's an honour for myself and the Governor-General and the Acting High Commissioner to represent Australia at this time.

GILBERT: Prime Minister, it's your first audience with the new King this weekend. What's your message to him?

PRIME MINISTER: My message firstly, of course, is that whilst Australia and the Commonwealth has lost a sovereign, he, of course, has lost his mother. So the first is a very personal one. He is going through a bereavement, a loss of his mother so soon after he lost his father. So on a personal note, it is to convey our condolences on behalf of Australia to King Charles, but all also to engage with him as our new head of state, our first meeting, and I very much look forward to that discussion. He will also host an event Sunday night at the Palace for heads of state and heads of government that have come from around the world. We've seen not just Commonwealth nations, but President Biden, of course, will be present as well. King Charles, I think, is going through an extraordinarily difficult time on a personal level and at the same time he has the new head of state, the new sovereign, has visited around the United Kingdom in the last week as well.

GILBERT: We've got the national memorial service this Thursday after your return. Have you got any further of the detail you can share with our viewers on that?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes Kieran. Melissa Doyle will be the MC for the memorial service. Anthony Callea will be performing at the service, and it will bring together each of the premiers and chief ministers, they have all confirmed their attendance, as well as the governors from their respective states, as well as leaders of the judiciary, including all of the justices of the High Court, as well as Federal Members and Senators. Myself and Peter Dutton, as Leader of the
Opposition, will both give short tributes to Queen Elizabeth. It will be an opportunity to mourn as a nation as well. There will be events taking place in states and territories hosted by local government, hosted by local communities around the nation. So it will be an important day to pay tribute to the life and service of Queen Elizabeth II.

GILBERT: It's also your first meeting this weekend with the new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss. What's your priority in that discussion?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom is, of course, a critical one. We have an important defence relationship through AUKUS. Our political system is based upon Westminster, so we have that history behind us. We also have important people-to-people links, so many of Australians have direct links back to the United Kingdom. And so it's an important relationship. Increasingly, it's an important economic relationship as well. It is important that the trade agreement be finalised and ratified between Australia and the United Kingdom. But I had a discussion with Prime Minister Trust last Friday to express Australians condolences to her. I also shared a platform with her at the NATO Summit in Madrid. So that is good that we start off having built a relationship, initially, by both of us having a platform there to talk about national security, and indeed security around the globe. We share a support and commitment to the international rule of law. And the context of that, particularly, is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also the strategic competition that we're seeing in our own region. So I'll be talking about our common interests that we share and how we can cooperate further and how we can build that relationship so it is even stronger in the future.

GILBERT: And, Prime Minister, do you see there's a positive that the UK sees itself as a Pacific power once again? And I ask you that in the context of that regional pressure that you spoke of, that our country sees right now.

PRIME MINISTER: It is important, Kieran, and the nations that have relationships in the Pacific, including the United Kingdom, but also we've seen increased engagement from the United States, as well as from France. President Macron will be here in London over the weekend as well, and that's an important relationship. It is important that Australia has provided assistance to our Pacific neighbours, the ten nations who have had those strong connections with the United Kingdom as part of the Commonwealth. Australia has assisted in bringing Pacific leaders to the Queen's funeral on Monday and that is just another way in which those common links that we have and common values that we have as democratic nations as well has been expressed. I look forward to further discussions with Prime Minister Truss building on that relationship – not just that here in Europe, where Australia has been engaged in providing assistance to Ukraine's historic and quite extraordinarily inspirational struggle against the Russian invasion, but also engagement in global affairs because we do have common interests. And, of course, the United Kingdom has been a leader as well in acting on climate change. When I spoke with former Prime Minister Johnson, he very much welcomed Australia's commitment under my government to acting on climate change and I know that Prime Minister Truss is very conscious of that as well.

GILBERT: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, I know you've got a very busy few days in London. I very much appreciate you making the time. Thanks.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Kieran.