Transcript - Press Conference

09 Jul 2022
Prime Minister

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: The tragic death of former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is devastating news. On behalf of the Australian Government and people, we offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to Mrs Abe and Mr Abe's many family and friends and to the people of Japan. It is hard to believe we're talking about Shinzo Abe in the past tense. I've had a little while to process the information, but like I think many people around the world, I'm still in shock at this news. I think it's fair to say that everyone will be, but no one more than our friends in Japan today.

Japan has lost a true patriot and a true leader, and Australia has lost a true friend. The friendship that Mr Abe offered Australia was warm in sentiment and profound in consequence. During his time as Prime Minister, no one was more committed to furthering relations between our two nations. He visited Australia no less than five times as the Prime Minister of Japan.

Mr Abe was instrumental in delivering several historic developments between Japan and Australia. Among them was the ratification of the Japan Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, which created new opportunities for Australian businesses in Japan. He was a tireless champion for the comprehensive and progressive agreement for the Trans Pacific Partnership, which has brought huge benefits to Australia. He elevated our bilateral relationship to a special strategic partnership. Under his longstanding advocacy for closer links between our two nations, we have also increased defence cooperation, including through the recently signed reciprocal access agreement.

Mr Abe understood instinctively the values that Australia and Japan share of democracy and human rights, and the shared interests we have in bolstering the global rules-based order. His vision transcended political cycles. It was eight years ago, yesterday, the eighth of July 2014, that he addressed both Houses of the Australian Parliament, a historic address. He spoke frankly about the horrors of the Second World War, and conveyed with the greatest sincerity condolences towards the many who lost their lives. Four years later, in 2018, he was the first Japanese leader to visit Darwin and to lay a memorial wreath while he was there.

Mr Abe was a great statesman who made a difference. His vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific has had a profound effect on regional and global security, and in forming the Quad. President Biden, Prime Minister Modi and myself have issued a joint statement as Quad leaders in recognition of Mr Abe's role in the formation and the strength of the Quad in our region. Mr Abe represented certainty in a changing world.

Our friendship with Japan is one of the central elements of Australia's international relations. Mr Abe, it has to be said, embodied the warmth, the respect and I believe the joy at the heart of our friendship. Mr Abe was not destined to be Prime Minister in easy times. But even as the world shifted beneath our feet, Mr Abe faced all of the challenges with a strength of character and an unbending resolve. He did not flinch, he did not weaken. And that's the cruel paradox of the tragedy that unfolded yesterday, that someone of such courage, with such strength of character, could be taken away with an act of extreme cowardice. It's not the first time we've seen this grim equation play out, and I fear that it might not be the last.

But I want to say this to our friends in Japan, as I've conveyed in speaking to the Ambassador this morning, in their time of shock and grief, the precious democracy that you have built is stronger than this. The values that we share and that hold our societies together, are stronger than this. A hand that is raised in violence can never overpower what so many hands have built in peace. Likewise, this low act of cruelty will not overshadow a life that was lived with such high purpose.

To Mr Abe's family and to his loving wife, I extend the sincerest condolences of the Australian people, along with the warmth and their enduring gratitude. While the people of Japan deal with this profound loss, they know this: Mr Abe's life was one of consequence. He made a difference. He changed things for the better, not just in Japan, but in our region in particular, but also around the world. And that is by any measure a life truly well lived.

To the broader Japanese family, your Australian friends share in your sorrow, and we share in your grief. We stand with you in this time of sadness.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what will Australia do to mourn his passing, and will you go to the funeral?


PRIME MINISTER: The arrangements for Mr Abe's funeral will not be discussed until after the elections which are being held tomorrow, is my understanding. But already, I've spoken to the head of my department, Glyn Davis, about appropriate action we will be having, as protocol suggests, our flags all flying at half-mast on the day of the funeral. I've spoken as well with Premiers overnight and again this morning and throughout Australia, there will be tributes made to Mr Abe and also with respect for the people of Japan. There will be a range of measures taken and I thank the Premiers for their cooperation in this. Tomorrow, there will be lighting on the Sydney Opera House, our most totemic symbol of Australia, in recognition of Japan and our friendship with Japan and I spoke with Premier Perrottet. I have spoken as well with Premier Andrews this morning, there will be lighting of the iconic buildings in Melbourne and Victoria this evening. And indeed in Adelaide, the Adelaide Oval, Parliament House and the Torrens Footbridge will all be lit up in red and white, the Japanese colours. And other state Premiers and Chief Ministers are also making arrangements. I will certainly be inviting as well former Prime Ministers to attend any funeral. Mr Abe was very close, particularly to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and I know he gave a very touching tribute. And I've been in touch by text message with Tony last night and we're seeking those discussions, but I'll make further announcements when they are appropriate. But the relationship between Australia and Japan is one that has developed, of course, since the Second World War, as one of friendship. It's a close relationship in terms of business and the economy. They're an important trading partner. They're important friends of Australia. We welcome tourism and that people to people engagement. And, of course, just two days after the election, I travelled to Tokyo. I have also conveyed to the Ambassador that I will have discussions directly with Prime Minister Kishida, who I was also of course able to meet with as part of the NATO Summit. So I've developed very early on in my Prime Ministership, a close relationship with the Prime Minister. And to him, I've expressed through the Ambassador, our sincere condolences as well, and I will have a one on one discussion with him as soon as is appropriate.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you satisfied with how the Foreign Minister's meeting went with her counterpart?


PRIME MINISTER: I've said before that with the relationship with China, we should cooperate where we can, but we'll stand up for Australian values where we must. It is a good thing that the Foreign Ministers of Australia and China have met and had a discussion. That's how you develop relations between mature countries. Dialogue is always a good thing. Of course, this is just a first step. And I note that our Foreign Minister raised the issues of concern, including the ongoing treatment of Cheng Li, and Dr Yang, and others. As well as the sanctions that remain in place, disadvantaging Australian economic interests.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the G20 as well, the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had a message directly for you, PM, he said something along the lines of 'you need to do your homework before standing up for Ukraine', what do you say to him?


PRIME MINISTER: I've got a message for him, which is I will always stand up for sovereign nations, for the international rule of law, for the UN Charter, and what he needs to do is examine how the behaviour of Russia, with this brutal invasion, with its illegal war on a sovereign nation, fits with Russia's status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister's meeting with Wang Yi was the highest level such meeting in three years or so, do you think the relationship with China has turned a corner?


PRIME MINISTER: Well we'll wait and see I think. Our Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has described it as a first step. We have, of course seen our Defence Ministers have a meeting, we've now seen our Foreign Ministers have a meeting. It's a good thing that dialogue occurs. When I was the Infrastructure Minister of Australia, I had meetings with my counterpart, and as well with senior members in China, both in China and here in Australia. Of course, in recent times, China's position has changed. As I said, we have a clear position, which is that we will cooperate wherever we can and develop good relations wherever we can, but we will stand up for Australia's interests when we must.


JOURNALIST: On the assassination of Shinzo Abe, you said you fear it may not be the last we see of violence of this kind. Do you fear that it will change the way you go about politics in Australia and the way we go about engaging with the public?


PRIME MINISTER: Look, we have arrangements in place in Australia that certainly give me confidence. And I have absolute confidence in the people who look after myself and others in high office. But as someone who went to Ukraine recently, with not just the close personal protection of the AFP but with members of our Special Forces, they do an incredible job. But they take a risk as well. And I was very clear in undertaking that visit, that there were some risks involved quite clearly. But we need to in this country go about our business. I think that is a very good thing in Australia that you I can go out and walk the dog, not by myself, but with some protection these days. That's a good thing. And we need to make sure that part of our democracy is being able to go around. We've just had an election campaign where Mr Morrison and myself, and the candidates around Australia, met Australians from all walks of life. That's a good thing. We need to make sure that in cherishing our democracy, we're not put off from engaging. We take advice appropriately, and I do that, but you have seen political assassinations before. Tragically, this is a former Prime Minister, who has been cut down in a country that has very little gun crime. Japan has a culture that is very peaceful. That will cause I think, even a greater shock in Japan than if this had occurred in other countries where gun violence is perhaps more common. This is a tragedy. It is an attack on our democracy. We need to cherish that democracy, and part of cherishing that democracy is allowing for that interaction that we have in this great country of Australia, whereby people in senior positions are able to walk down the street, attend events, whether in a professional or in a personal capacity, and feel that they are safe from this sort of senseless violence, this crime, this act of terrorism that we've seen tragically unfold in Japan.


JOURNALIST: Just on COVID, the AHPPC put out an updated statement yesterday morning warning that we're entering a new wave, that we're likely to see an increase in hospitalisations and deaths, as well as disruptions to workplaces, similar to what we saw in January. This is the health advice that you said that you will follow. So will you bring back any restrictions or mandates, both masks and vaccines? Or would you ask the States to do so?


PRIME MINISTER: Well we haven't been given advice suggesting any mandates, and of course, they were done by State and Territory Governments. What we are doing, though, is bringing forward from Monday access to vaccines. It's recommended that those above the age of 50 do get their additional booster shot, I intend myself to get this additional booster shot. People if they're eligible should do it. It minimises the impact and people should follow that health advice. For people of the age of 30 and above as well, they're eligible. People in my view, should take the very strong advice, which is that vaccinations save lives. And people should of course take whatever precautions they can as well. The pandemic isn't over. So where people wish to wear masks, take precautions, wash hands, all of those measures, socially distance are common sense and people have got used to doing it, and people should listen to that advice, which is about not just looking after an individual's health, it's about looking after the health of your family and all those who you come into contact with. Thanks very much.