United Nations Doorstop

Transcript
21 Sep 2016
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Well good morning. Australia continues to play a very constructive part in the work of the UN. You’ve seen the discussions that have been had at the immigration summit, both the one held by the UN and of course President Obama’s, and the recognition of the great work that Australia does in the cause of humanity, with our humanitarian programme, our refugee programme. We’ve also seen or will be seeing later today, the work that we do on one of the most vital elements in the United Nations’ work which is water, the availability of water and clean water. I’ll be participating in the high level panel on water. Australia of course has remarkable experience in the management of water resources and our expertise and experience is sought by many countries including those participating here this week.

Tonight I’ll be delivering my address to the General Assembly, as you know, focussing on the theme of the week which of course is migration. This unregulated migration is posing – in the words of a number of the leaders I’ve spoken to in the course of this week – an almost existential threat to their countries. It is critically important that we address it and as you know, we’ve set out our approach, which has at the foundation, secure borders. Ensuring that the public know that their government controls the borders, and that then gives you the confidence, the public confidence, the public trust, to then be able to have a very generous humanitarian programme, which we have. To be able to provide the aid to support refugees closer to their original country and of course you’ve seen the additional funds we’ve provided there. That approach, which as we’ve said, is compassionate, is principled, is pragmatic, is one that enables us to do the work that we do. You’ve seen the praise that Australia has had from the President of the United States and the recognition from other countries for the great work that we’re doing.

I’ll also be talking about the importance of maintaining open societies. President Obama summed it up very well when he said that countries that seek to build a wall around themselves, imprison only themselves. There is a rising tide of protectionism. It was very much a concern at the G20 and it’s an issue here – you see this right around the world. All of the leaders I’ve spoken to have expressed their concern about that as well. So openness, free trade, strong border policies, compassionate humanitarian programmes, a focus on some of the most fundamental development goals, particularly the management of water, addressing the challenge of climate change, these are some of the themes that we’re addressing this week. It’s a great credit, I believe, to Australia’s diplomats and my ministerial colleagues, for the way in which we are cooperating and working with the United Nations.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you made what seems a fairly simple observation: “You don’t have humanitarian crises and you don’t have wars.” What is it that you want the other leaders to do that they’re not doing now or the United Nations to do, that it’s not doing now?

PRIME MINISTER:

The critical challenge at the moment is achieving a settlement in Syria. That’s not the only conflict in the world I hasten to add, but it is the most immediate and the one that is producing the most suffering and of course driving so many people from their homes. The discussions and the meetings are going on, Australia calls on all the parties to establish and comply with the ceasefire and Julie Bishop as you know has been here meeting with her counterparts, endeavouring to reach that agreement - not just reach the agreement, but then ensure that it’s delivered on the ground.

JOURNALIST:

You’re off to Washington tomorrow and amongst other things you’ll be talking about the TPP.

PRIME MINISTER:

The TPP yeah.

JOURNALIST:

What realistically, based on the conversations you’ve had so far, what chance do you expect that Congress will let it actually pass this thing in the lame duck period? 

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not the congressional bookmaker. But I’d have to say that speaking to the President – and the President and I have discussed this several times in the course of this week, among other things – speaking to Jack Lew, the administration is optimistic that it can be passed during the lame duck, but there are obviously plenty of sceptics.

But it’s a very important step. You’ve seen Mike Bloomberg’s strong advocacy for it, it’s an important step in terms of maintaining America’s – it’s a demonstration of America’s commitment to free trade, open markets and the rule of law, especially in our region.

JOURNALIST:

So is the President optimistic?

PRIME MINISTER:

The President is, yes absolutely. The President is optimistic that it can be passed during the lame duck period.

JOURNALIST:

John Kerry has called for this morning for planes to be grounded in Syria to allow aid to be delivered. He has also said that the future of Syria is hanging by a thread. He’s had a spray at Russia, saying they’re not helping maintain the ceasefire, could you talk to that? Also second question because I might not get it in, could you give us more detail on the Costa Rica deal that was announced yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER:

Firstly dealing with the second one, which as you know, as with a number of the announcements we’ve made this week relating to refugees, we’ve agreed to take in – within our total refugee programme, this is not increasing it beyond the bounds that we’ve already announced – we’ve agreed to take in refugees as part of a multilateral cooperative effort, from Central America.

JOURNALIST:

And I mean can you talk a bit more about that? Because it’s quite interesting that Australia’s made a deal with the United States, with the IOM, with the UNHCR to take people from Central America and it kind of goes to Barack Obama’s attitude of concrete actions to provide resettlement options for actual people, doesn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

We seek to work with other countries. We are seeking always to provide resettlement options wherever we can. But as you know, as you’ll see in my speech, as I’ll be pointing out tonight, the reality is though, that even though we take a very substantial number of refugees, heading up to 18,750 over the next few years – note yesterday that President Obama, the figure that he said America is going to go up to is 110,000 and remember we’re a nation of 24 million people - so when we say we have the third most substantial refugee programme in terms of providing people with a home, a final settlement, that is very substantial. Australia is a very generous humanitarian nation in the way in which we treat and receive refugees. So we’ve got every reason to be proud of that. But the only reason we can do it, the foundation that enables us to do it, is because we have strong borders.

JOURNALIST:

Will we expect to see more of that kind of, if not bilateral, multilateral deal-making on resettlement?

PRIME MINISTER:

The more cooperation there is the better but just remember this; there are 65 million people on the move, okay? That’s the equivalent to the population of the United Kingdom, as Theresa May said. So the humanitarian programme that we have or the United States have, or Canada has – and the US, Canada and ourselves are the three largest – they are not going to address 65 million places. The fact is that what we need is stability and settlement in the regions from which the refugees are coming, Syria and the Middle East. Also economic opportunities, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where you’re seeing so many economic refugees seeking to come to Europe and of course thousands of them losing their lives at sea in the Mediterranean as they try to get to a better prospect in Europe. Achieving economic opportunities, peace, stability, all of which are consistent with the other, those in the places of origin of these refugees, is the vital priority.

JOURNALIST:

Just on Syria, sorry guys, on the no-fly zone, just a simple answer, would you support John Kerry’s no-fly zone?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are working very closely with the United States. Of course we support any and every measure that is going to bring a period of peace and stability, or at least a ceasefire in Syria, that will enable aid to get through to Aleppo and other places where it is needed. Of course we support that. The challenge there of course is that the warring parties are so intractably opposed. I’ve spoken to many leaders in recent weeks about the Syrian situation and there is not a lot of optimism, I regret to say. A political solution remains elusive. Everybody acknowledges that there isn’t a military solution, that while we are certainly in a position to continue to roll back Daesh - and we are doing that and we’re having success there, especially of course in Iraq as well - nonetheless overall, there are many parties in this conflict.

Achieving that political reconciliation is very challenging and just a little while ago been speaking to the Prime Minister of Lebanon about it. I’ve been seeking to hear, learn, as much from the countries in the region and it is going to require really a major step by the Russians to bring together, come together, with the United States. This conflict in Syria cannot continue to develop into, in effect, a proxy war. There has got to be a recognition that this continued conflict is serving absolutely nobody’s interest and doing untold harm and loss of life and injury to millions.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister on that, just double barrel on the Syrian, do we share American suspicion that the Russians were involved in the airstrike on the humanitarian convoy and secondly have we received any independent verification of the alleged killing of 60 to 80 Syrian government soldiers?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t add anything to either of those matters that I haven’t said before.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any doubt on the second?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t add anything more to what I’ve said before on that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister the Central American deal, can you advise us, does that have any material impact at all on the Government’s ability to find homes for the people on Nauru and Manus?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not linked to any other resettlement discussions. But clearly we are always working to find resettlement options for refugees and as you know Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop have worked tirelessly to find resettlement options and indeed have found resettlement options, for people in Manus and Nauru. 

JOURNALIST:

So just to be clear, it’s not a swap? Will America take people from Nauru and Manus, just to be clear?

PRIME MINISTER:

The announcement today is not connected to any other arrangements.

JOURNALIST:

Many Australians would ask what is the difference morally between people languishing on Manus Island for example and those in Costa Rica? Why are people in Costa Rica more deserving of resettlement in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have to recognise that in Australia, we don’t theorise about people smuggling. Just review the facts; we had under the Howard government, a very effective border protection policy. The boats had stopped, there was no people smuggling. The Labor Party was elected, Kevin Rudd decided to change it. I debated him day after day, some of you remember it. Kevin Rudd was saying: “the only thing that matters is the push factors”. The rate of refugee arrival, asylum seeker arrival, unauthorised arrival, people smugglers - call it what you will, Kevin Rudd said it’s only the situation in the Middle East or Africa that causes this and Australia’s domestic policy is irrelevant. I said again and again as Leader of the Opposition: “No, you are wrong, it is Australia’s domestic policy which will decide how many people come to Australia. That is the determining factor”. Now Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister, he made that decision, his government - of which Bill Shorten was part, I might add – the Labor Party have that on their conscience. They made that decision.

It defied reality. It defied common sense. They pressed ahead with it and 50,000 people arrived, twelve hundred at least drowned at sea, $11 billion of expense. It was the biggest policy failure in the history of the Commonwealth - tragic so many people died. That was the Labor Party’s legacy, and you ask about the people on Manus and Nauru – Kevin Rudd put them there. The Labor Party put them there. We have been dealing with Labor’s legacy, their legacy of shame on refugees and border protection.

Our Government has closed 17 detention centres. There are no more children in detention. When the Labor Party lost office in 2013 there were several thousand. This is what we’ve had to deal with. Now we do not have to theorise about it. This is not a matter for academic speculation, we know exactly what works and what doesn’t work.  Kevin Rudd demonstrated that. He let Australia down by abandoning a policy that worked, in defiance of common sense and the results were tragic.

So we know what works, our policy is right. It is principled, it is pragmatic, it stops people smugglers, it stops people drowning at sea and it finds homes in Australia for thousands of refugees. But the message we send to the people smugglers has to be very clear; if you seek to come to Australia by boat, with a people smuggler, you won’t succeed full stop. That’s the only thing that works. The only message that works with these criminals is the very blunt one. The product you want to sell is no longer available to you. That’s what we’ve done, that’s why our policy works.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister not often I suppose you get to escape the Canberra political bubble. You’ve been here at the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, Barack Obama, two veterans of the chamber spoke very passionately yesterday about tone and tolerance. They singled out nations that banned the burqa, France, nations that had called for a ban on Muslim migration including Barack Obama’s own nation, I mean you just referred there to asylum seekers as “them”. I mean how important is the tone of the Australian debate,  have you had a chance to reflect on that and what’s happening back in Australia where politicians are calling for very similar policies to what were singled out on the floor here yesterday. 

PRIME MINISTER:

Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world. There is no question about that.

JOURNALIST:

But we have a leading politician who has the support of 50 per cent of Australians calling for a ban on Muslim migration.

PRIME MINISTER:

Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world and the foundation of that is mutual respect.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister very quickly, I understand you met the President last night, can I just ask what the circumstances were and what was discussed?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve had several discussions with the President in the course of the last few days. I had a discussion last night and also in the course of the day. We’ve had quite a few discussions over the last few weeks including of course the G20 and the East Asia Summit. We canvassed the TPP, plainly and he expressed his optimism that it can be passed during the lame duck. We’ve also discussed several times including yesterday, the developing, and I regret to say, worsening situation in Syria. We’ve also obviously discussed the big theme of the week, migration.

I might add on a more personal note, the President who is of course coming to the end of his term, expressed, not for the first time, his enthusiasm for making an early visit to Australia after he ceases to be the President of the United States. Naturally I assured him that he would be very, very warmly welcomed.

JOURNALIST:

On Syria, did you express your concerns about it becoming a proxy between Russia and the United States?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is a very real concern that the conflict in Syria is contained, and that the conflict in Syria is settled. As I said earlier, we focus naturally on the number of refugees we can bring to Australia, or indeed as President Obama said yesterday, to the United States. But these are a very small percentage of the 65 million people that are on the move around the world, either as refugees outside their countries or internally displaced.  Now the key thing is the restoration of peace and that has got to be the focus. Syria is of immense complexity and it's vital for the major players to reach resolution.

Look I don’t want to go into a lengthy commentary on it, it is complex but I have to say, casting my mind back to a year ago when I met with a number of the same leaders, talking about the prospects of settlement in Syria, I’d have to say at the moment the prospects seem bleaker. But often it is, as they say, darkest before the dawn so there is hopefully a possibility of breakthrough there. All I can  say to you is that Australia is resolutely committed to working with the coalition against Daesh and our armed  services, our fighting men and women, our personnel  there are doing a magnificent job in that coalition effort. As far as the political settlement is concerned, that is going to require all parties, the parties warring with each other within Syria, but also the major players  outside of Syria – that includes Russia, the United States, obviously the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia – it’s going to require everybody to come together and compel a settlement to push the parties closer together. Because the consequences of this war only get worse and worse and worse.

Thank you very much. 

[Ends]