Transcript - Doorstop Interview - Washington

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21 Sep 2019
Washington D.C.
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon everyone. And it's been great to be here with Ambassador Hockey and Melissa. At what's been a very convivial event here, at the residence and to see so many from so many different walks of life here in Washington and across the United States and Joe Hockey has done an extraordinary job here as our ambassador and he's built some incredible relationships and that's provided wonderful opportunities for Australia. And you've seen those on display particularly over the last 48 hours. Last night was a tremendous event for Australia because what it said was how much the United States deeply respects Australia and how much it deeply respects the relationship that we have and the work that we do together to advance our respective national interests. We're about jobs. We're about the security of our region. And these are things we spent a lot of time talking about over the last few days. And it sets us up for those discussions in the future as we're setting up new opportunities whether it's the space investment which I discussed this morning and we announced, or the work that we're doing on Critical Minerals. It's the work that we're doing in the Southwest Pacific and setting up more integrated opportunities for us to work together there, and in supporting the development of those Southwest Pacific nations. It's about aligning our views on where we're heading in Indo-China. And in the Indo-Pacific. These are important parts of the world in which we live. And so there's been great opportunities in the last 48 hours to do all of that as well as having good discussions whether it was the with the Defence Secretary or the Secretary of State. And aligning and calibrating our positions in Afghanistan and other places. So this has been a good opportunity. But last night I really want to thank President Trump and Mrs. Trump again for the incredible hosting that they had of Jenny and I and the entire Australian team who were there last night. It showed a level of detail and care which is greatly appreciated. And this was at the initiation of the United States it was at the initiation of the President and Mrs. Trump to go out of their way to say just how much they value this relationship and that's good news for Australia, because every time we go out beyond our own shores it's for one reason and that's to advance our national interests. The issues at home are never far from our minds and they have our constant attention. But advancing those issues at home means advancing Australian's interests whether it's here in the United States or elsewhere where those interests are paramount. And we'll continue to do that. So I want to thank in particular Joe Hockey for the great job he's done here. And we look forward to the next hundred years. We've just gone through 100 years of mateship here in the United States and we we've laid the foundation for another hundred years and moving on some of these new frontier technologies and other issues that will define our relationship into the future. So it's been a it's been quite an amazing last 48 hours I think for Australia. What it was really about though, was about the nature of the relationship and how that can really deliver for Australia.

JOURNALIST: Mr Morrison, President Trump in the Oval Office yesterday said the stand-off with China over trade could go on until next year's election, may not be resolved which is over a year away, do you have to recalibrate your thinking in terms of the budget the domestic economy if that's going to be the reality?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we as you know, we look we'll look at that in MYEFO, we will look at it in next year's budget. They're the normal time frames. And we had a discussion about that yesterday and I've obviously urged that the sooner we can get to an outcome on that- but as I said in the press conference yesterday with the President, it's got to be a sustainable outcome, it's got to be a durable outcome, it's going to deal with the real issues that are there in their relationship. And I'm quite confident that's what the President is seeking to achieve. So I don't think there's any delay there. It's just it's a there's a lot of issues to deal with and we'll continue to encourage them to get to an outcome.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on Iran, obviously that was an issue yesterday in the Oval Office and afterwards, the U.S. media reports suggest that Trump will use the opportunity of the UN meeting this week to try and build a military coalition with other leaders, just so we're clear, what is Australia's position, are we in such a coalition or are we not in such a coalition?

PRIME MINISTER: We're part of the International Maritime construct. And that's where our involvement is and there's been no discussion about anything else.

JOURNALIST: Does the tenor of your discussions with Mr. Trump yesterday on Iran and also his public statements yesterday give you confidence that Australia's contribution that you just mentioned is what the US wants it to be?

PRIME MINISTER: There was no discussion about anything else. There was an appreciation of our involvement in that particular operation which was I remind everyone is about freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz. That's what that is about. The other matters that are being pursued by the United States are matters that they're pursuing. And I made it very clear when we announced our involvement in that arrangement that it was very much about that freedom of navigation issue and that's what it is about and that's appreciated. And when I met with Secretary Esper yesterday afternoon we had a further discussion about those arrangements and how they're working with some other partners as well. And I welcome that. So I think that's all.

JOURNALIST: Did you feel a little bit awkward yesterday when the President said that China is a threat to the world and will you be seeking to travel to China because you did say in your response to how you feel about China that you see China as a partner and a friend. So will you be seeking to travel to China in the next year?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we we we meet each year. We particularly do it around the margins of the various summits that's taking place. I mean last year I met with the Premier Li Keqiang in Singapore as part of the East Asia Summit, those summits are coming up again through the course of this year. I mean we've had senior level meetings at the Foreign Affairs level, Trade level, Defence level and these have been I think important meetings. I had the opportunity on the sidelines of the various summits, I have been able to have some discussions with President Xi so, look we do have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China and I thought I set out Australia's position fairly clearly yesterday. And that's where Australia's position is, we're very consistent about what our view is in relation to the issues where we're dealing with China. I think we've set out some very clear lines of how we're dealing with issues whether it be foreign investment or anything else and so I think we've been quite certain. And by being quite certain and consistent I think that provides the basis of ensuring that a comprehensive strategic partnership with China remains on sound footing.

JOURNALIST: Back to Iran, when did you find out about the US plan to increase those sanctions and when were you told about the Saudi troop deployment. And just finally what do you say to Australians who are worried about potentially being dragged into another conflict in the Middle East should they be concerned?

PRIME MINISTER: Well let me deal particularly with the last point you make, I made a point of commending the President yesterday on what I understand to be his natural instinct of restraint on these matters and he said that I think fairly plainly yesterday in the Oval Office I think there is an instinct towards restraint from the President and I commended him for that. And it was good to have the opportunity to confirm that again in the course of our discussions. So I think that should provide some some assurance. I mean Australia will make its decisions in our national interest. I said at the press conference yesterday that where we've worked together it's because we have shared objectives. It's not because they ask us to do this, or we ask them to do that. It's because we share objectives and where those objectives are shared then you can expect an alignment of activities and operations. And we've…

JOURNALIST: Where are they not shared?

PRIME MINISTER: We've been very clear that the construct that we're engaged in in the Straits of Hormuz is very much in our interest and that's why we're participating. And there are no other areas where we have any discussions of other operations. So we will, I think people need to be careful about getting ahead of themselves and in running off on where these things might go I mean these matters that are dealt with I think in a very iterative way and I think that's what you're seeing. We appreciate the opportunity to be very heavily engaged. Now you wouldn't expect me to go into the private details and timing of discussions but of course Secretary Mnuchin was there in the Oval Office. I know the Secretary quite well from my times as a Treasurer. So I knew why he was there.

JOURNALIST: It was reported in the Wall Street Journal that an invitation was sought to the White House for Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston who's a friend of yours and that was not backed? Can you tell us what happened there?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't comment on gossip.

JOURNALIST: So it's not true?

JOURNALIST: Did you actually put a request in for him to…

PRIME MINISTER: I don't comment on gossip or stories about other stories.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean it's not true though?

PRIME MINISTER: It means it's gossip.


PRIME MINISTER: It means it's gossip.

JOURNALIST: But not true?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve answered the question.  

JOURNALIST: True or not true?

JOURNALIST: You said that you urged President Trump to settle the trade war with China. Would you also urge China to do the same, and do you see the APEC meeting in Santiago as a last chance saloon for a chance for a settlement?

PRIME MINISTER: Well no I don't see it as that I have been consistent in advocating to both China and the United States, as have many others in our region, to come together and ensure that they can resolve the issues that they have before them but it has to be done in a sustainable way, it has to be done which genuinely deals with the issues that are before both countries. And so we would hope that they would take every opportunity whether it's at that meeting or any other meeting that they have the opportunity to bring together and I got a clear sense from the President yesterday that this is something that he continues to pursue but you need both parties are the table to do that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister. Massive amounts of announcements and details that have come out of your trip here, it's something that some people back home feel is probably not the best thing to pursue, do you feel vindicated that your decision to create a) space agency and b) go into partnership with America on the moon mission has well been vindicated?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, 20,000 jobs and a $12 billion dollar industry by 2030. That's why we're in, That's why we're in it. And it has a great alignment I think with our other cooperation with the United States in other areas so, and that's some of the discussions I've had around here this afternoon. I think it seen very much as Australia understanding about where this is heading and positioning ourselves well to be part of what is going to be a very important and valuable supply chain into the future. And the same can be said for the work that we're doing on Critical Minerals and rare earths, that's incredibly important. Frontier technologies, quantum computing, all of this, this is, AI, these are areas where Australia is highly respected. And we want to ensure that we're very much part of those supply chains in the future.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, was there any discussion about steel tariffs. Did you get an extension of the commitment that Donald Trump made a year ago about Australia being exempt from those tariffs and was there any commitment from you that you would put the hard word on not flooding the market from some of those Australian companies?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the President actually addressed that yesterday in terms of the fact that it was discussed and then with that arrangements in [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: There's been an extension essentially?

PRIME MINISTER: We're in good shape.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister just on China again, yesterday the President said that you had very strong views on China, now at risk of over interpreting Donald Trump, he was very suggestive of that that perhaps you share his views on China?

PRIME MINISTER: I think you're…

JOURNALIST: Thus the question, what do you agree when it comes from China and more importantly where do you disagree?

PRIME MINISTER: Well what's important is what Australia's view is. And I set that out in the Oval Office yesterday. And we've always been very consistent about that. I mean you need to, I think, understand that Australia's economic relationship with China is different to the United States economic relationship with China. We have a surplus, they have a deficit, and they have a very different economic experience of their relationship. For Australia it has been an important source of trade growth and economic growth. And there's no doubt about that it has been an absolute boon for Australia and that's why I have always made it clear that we have always welcomed China's economic growth and will continue to, this is why we have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with them. At the same time we've been very clear about a whole range of other issues whether it comes to intellectual property, technology transfer, or how foreign investment operates. And none of that is of any surprise. We've been very transparent and very clear. But most importantly we've been incredibly consistent. So what matters is what, from Australia's point of view, is what our view is, and and so we'll continue to put that very plainly and clearly and that's what I did yesterday.

JOURNALIST: Was he was betraying…

JOURNALIST: …come up at all in your discussions with Donald Trump given some of the protests around the world?

PRIME MINISTER: That wasn't a matter we discussed yesterday.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister meeting on the sidelines of summits with the Chinese is very different to going to visit them in their country. So why you say if you will go and visit China within a year or not?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you have to be invited to go.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to be invited?

PRIME MINISTER: Well of course we would go if there was an invitation to attend. But it's not something that is overly vexing us because we have this partnership. We continue to work closely with China. And we continue to work closely with our partners throughout the Indo-Pacific but also of course with our great ally here in the United States. So it is not an issue that's troubling me at all.

JOURNALIST: Any discussion around documents being declassified relating to Alexander Downer and a certain meeting in London? Did that come up at all?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm not going to into private conversations but what we were discussing yesterday were issues about our strategic relationship from trade. The frontier technologies, our defence relationships, these were not issues that were there for discussion.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister did you seek an assurance from Mr. Trump in terms of the trade war not to sell out Australian agricultural contracts and so forth as part of any deal with China. I think you made a similar representation at Osaka. You know so they don't do a deal with say, agriculture from the Chinese?

PRIME MINISTER: We've always been consistent about this and we've always wanted people to be trading consistently by the rules. I mean Australia has now 70 per cent of our trade now covered by those agreements. I mean for example when the President was able to conclude an arrangement with Shinzo Abe, when we were at G7, I mean that was an arrangement which was done that was consistent also with Australia's interests. So this is the point about what's been happening here for the last 24-48 hours, we're partners, we're friends, we're allies, we work together, we talk to each other, and why? Why does that matter to Australia. Because it means jobs, it means Australia's regional security, it means that we're creating jobs for the future through the economic partnership and then, the United States is our single largest investor in Australia. Australia's single largest investment is in the United States. I mean this is the big deal, and Australian jobs hang off it. Australia's both security and economic future has been and will continue to be very closely tied to the relationship we have here in the United States and so to see the relationship in such great shape, and to see it appreciated in the way, I mean, yes there was, it was a very pleasant evening. It was a marvellous evening. And that was all great. But what it means for Australians, what it really means to Australians back at home is this relationship with the United States which has been so important to our prosperity and our security for the last hundred years has never been in better shape. And it's set up for the next hundred years and that's good news for Australia. And that's why we're here. That's why we're always here and wherever we are it's there to promote Australia's national interest to keep Australians safe and to keep our economy strong.