Press conference with His Excellency Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of the Federal Republic of Germany

03 Nov 2017
Prime Minister


Good evening.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome President Steinmeier, his wife Elke Buedenbender to Australia as a guest of the Australian Government, on his first visit to Australia and indeed the fact, Mr President, that Australia as one of your first overseas visits, is a really concrete demonstration of the growing importance of our partnership.

Germany and Australia are united not just by shared liberal democratic values, but also a thriving economic partnership.

Two way trade in goods and services exceeded $20 billion dollars last year. We have over 700 German subsidiaries in Australia, who are employing 88,000 people, with a turnover annually of $63 billion.

For Australians, this means jobs and opportunities, great investment and great partnership.

But the strength of our relationship is based on so much more than our economic cooperation. We both staunchly believe in free trade and open markets. Our strong legal and regulatory systems underpin our attractiveness and reliability as economic partners and we both believe in protecting and strengthening an international order that supports our democracy, prosperity and security.    

Now in July I met with Chancellor Merkel at the G20 Summit where we discussed the progress in strengthening our economic, strategic and cultural ties.

The Australian-German Advisory Group Co-Chaired by Minister Bohmer and Minister Cormann, Mathias Cormann from Australia, has proved groundbreaking as a forum of dialogue and new ideas.

I know that we are here about to attend a conference under the auspices of the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce , and Mathias, I remember very well your attending a function at our house in Sydney when Lucy was the President of the chamber; Mathias Mr President, met one of his lifetime idols, Wolfgang Schäuble.


Who was magnificent in his addressing us. So you’ve all done a great job of bringing us closer together.

But there’s a lot of potential to do more. The meeting today reflects our position as the gateway to ever-growing market opportunities in Asia. New and emerging markets are opening to foreign investment and trade, and with a network of free trade agreements, we can facilitate an increasing integration of German and European businesses into those markets.

Establishing a free trade agreement between Australia and the European Union would significantly strengthen those economic ties. I’m very pleased that we have concluded with the EU, a scoping study exercise for a future free trade agreement.

Now that would bring benefits to all EU members in the form of new investment, jobs and opportunities for innovation and we look forward to starting the negotiations in the very near future.

I also see great potential for our relationship in the areas of science, innovation and research. Germany has a deserved reputation for being a global leader in technological innovation. Australians are early adopters of technology, always willing to try new ideas and with the talent to see them through.

So the liberal international order has delivered unprecedented peace and prosperity for seven decades.

We’ve been discussing this in our meeting just a moment ago. The rapid changes in the global environment, we now need to play a more active role in protecting and shaping our future.

We cannot take for granted the rules-based order that has benefitted all countries. We need to work more closely than ever with trusted partners like Germany, to protect and promote our interests and our prosperity, such as addressing North Korea’s reckless actions, that threaten the very peace and stability which has been the backbone of our shared prosperity and the foundation of which we have seen such extraordinary economic growth in our region. So I’m pleased Australia and Germany stand united as liberal democracies and staunch defenders of the rule of law. I look forward to hosting Germany’s Foreign Minister and Defence Minister at the 2+2 Meetings in 2018 and we welcome a stronger German voice in the region.

Tomorrow President Steinmeier and I will open the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference. It will be the largest bilateral business event ever to take place between Australia and Germany. It brings together hundreds of representatives from industry and government, to discuss the new and promising opportunities for trade and investment. It represents the shared vision, the shared values and shared opportunities to make us close and valued partner.

Today, those values more important than ever, I want to thank President Steinmeier and his wife Elke for their visit and I look forward to stronger and deeper Australian and German cooperation in the years ahead.


Mr Prime Minister allow me to begin by expressing my gratitude to you and your wife Lucy for the very friendly reception that has greeted us. Thank you for the program that you have prepared for us. I thank you also for the talks, the bilaterals we have just had.

We are looking forward to the program in Perth and later in other parts of the country.

Now top be quite fair, the first visit of Germans to this part of the world goes back 175 years. That was the time when the first Germans came here seeking a future for themselves. But also helping build this country of Australia. Even though much has happened since, and I don’t really want to go back 175 years, I’ve been able to witness with my own eyes this afternoon that the German community in Australia exists and more than that, it not only exists in Australia but it is also very active; in engaging, in ensuring that young Australians today also keep learning the German language. So as I said, I don’t intend to go back all the way to the 175 years to the time the first Germans came here to Australia, but I would nevertheless remind us all  of the fact the last visit by a German President took place 16 years ago. As you rightly pointed out, world architecture has changed dramatically since and this is why I thought that it was high time for me to come and pay a visit. This is my first visit to Australia I hasten to add, we have made sure we are covering a good part of the country. We’re travelling from the West to the east with staying in Perth today, continuing in Perth tomorrow and then taking it from there to Sydney.

I thank you for the time that you have made available for us Prime Minister and for the very fruitful exchange that we have had.

The distance between Australia and Germany may be enormous and I think all of us who have travelled here have felt that in a very personal way. But nevertheless it’s also important to make the point that the sympathy that my country and the people in my country feel for your country is enormous. Hundreds of thousands of young Germans travel to your country every year, enjoying the benefits of the Work and Travel Program. Thousands of German tourists enjoy your beautiful landscape and are happy to come here. Close ties have been developing in the fields of science and culture and I also want to mention the ever-increasingly close economic ties that are becoming a vital network. You referred to that earlier in our bilateral exchange.

But Prime Minister, politicians don’t have to meet simply for the purpose of patting each other’s shoulders assuring each other of the fact that everything is well. Really what we ought to be doing is, we meet because we are aware of the fact that the potential that exists between both our two countries is anything but fully exploited.

This is why I am so grateful that we both of us will have the opportunity not only to open the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference tomorrow, we will address the audience there, but I am especially pleased that we have been able to bring together not 100, but I’ve been told as many as 1,000 Australian and German entrepreneurs, who are willing to engage, who are willing to discuss matters, seeking ways and means in which we can further develop the ever more closely woven network between both our countries in future.

Of course more of the entrepreneurs of both of us, but also the entrepreneurs of both countries are going to look into these relations ever more closely integrating economies of both our countries and further developing cooperation in fields like regional trade, but also international trade. Areas like Industry 4.0, digitization and its impact, cyber-security – we touched upon that earlier just briefly – also, emerging energy markets, agriculture, urban mobility. All these are topics on the agenda at the APRC. These are topics that will be discussed by businesspeople from Australia with businesspeople from Germany. We are seeking to intensify the cooperation quite rightly, as I indicated earlier, as you rightly pointed out and we referred to that earlier, the international architecture, the architecture of the world has undergone enormous transformation. Thus we also need to talk about issues like the influence of rising powers, former important powers, new superior powers, global powers that are on the rise again. We need to talk about insecurity with regard to the trade policy pursued by a country like the United States of America. But the influence that all of this is going to have on this region, but not only on this region, it’s also going to influence the part of the world I come from, Europe and Germany.

These are things that I believe need to be discussed. I made that point earlier in our bilateral exchange but as I see it and as I assess the situation, being here in the region right now, there is no alternative but to ensure – and I think that is the answer to the question really – ensure that Europe is more present here and also, German entrepreneurs are more present here.

These are all very good and very convincing reasons ladies and gentlemen that friendly countries, democratic countries like our countries, seek to further develop their ties, to make them even more closely interwoven. Not only in the sphere of business and the economy, but also in the other areas we touched upon, education, culture and also when it comes to attending to maintaining the international order. The Prime Minister referred to it and I referred to it in our bilateral exchange and that means we need to be aware of the fact that a rules-based order needs our attention. To work to maintain a rules-based order is something that is a very convincing reason, I believe, to work together with a country like Australia.

I for one am very happy and grateful for the partnership that our people have between our two countries and I thank you for that.


Now I think we have some questions, the first is from the ABC?


Yes Prime Minister, Bill Shorten has proposed a process of universal disclosure to the Parliament I think, regarding citizenship. Do you support that, or maybe an audit by a Parliamentary Committee.


Well I saw Mr Shorten’s statement. It was characteristically confused. Every Member of Parliament has a continuous obligation to comply with the constitution. So that obligation is there and it always has been there and It always will be. If Mr Shorten or any other Member of the House believes that there are, that there is a Member who is not eligible to sit in the House, then of course they can move to refer the matter to the High Court. The High Court is the only body in our constitution that is able to determine the eligibility of somebody to sit in the Parliament.

Do you have a question for President Steinmeier? You probably don’t need to translate that.



There are a lot of topics that you both talked about that are common ground and shared between Germany and Australia. But where do you see differences, like climate change, immigration or anything else?


To begin with, I don’t really think it’s a bad thing, or a disadvantage to have two countries like our seem to agree on so many different points or issues. Now, we didn’t talk about climate policy in greater detail, today, but we’re all aware of the fact that COP23 is about to begin. I myself will have the opportunity to be present, it will be under the auspices of Fiji, but Germany will act as a host, assisting Fiji. We all know, as I said, it’s about to begin, I will be there, it will start in a couple of weeks.

Now right now, people are struggling very hard to make sure that all the hard work that was done in order to bring about the Paris Agreement is preserved and that COP23 is not going to erode what has been achieved so far.

I think we have to make sure that we all work hard now to fully implement what was agreed and we need to work very responsibly agreements that we reached in Paris. I expect that Australia is going to be willing and ready to assist us.


Well thank you and can I just add to the President’s remarks that Australia will not only be present, but we have provided a considerable support and assistance to Fiji to enable it to host the COP, although located of course in Germany as the President observed.

But yes, I think it might take more time than we have to find issues of which we disagree Mr President.


There must be something. But I have to say that overwhelmingly we are of the same mind, on so many issues because we share the same values.


Prime Minister on the citizenship issue. There’s criticism that you’re not showing enough leadership on it. What will it take before you react to this growing constitutional crisis to get proactive?


Well I gave a speech today in which I made it very clear that we stand for the rule of law. We stand for the Constitution. Every Member and Senator has an obligation to comply with the Constitution. The only institution that is able to determine the eligibility of somebody to sit in the Parliament, is the High Court, as I just said to your colleague a moment ago. If any Member or Senator believes they are not in compliance with the Constitution then they should have their matter referred to the High Court, as a number of others have done. Equally if any Member or Senator believes one of their colleagues is not in compliance with the Constitution then rather that trading in innuendo as we see so much of in the media – you know, this is not a country of witch-hunts. This is not a country of witch-hunts. We are governed by the rule of law. If any Member or Senator believes that one of their colleagues is not sitting in the Parliament constitutionally, then they should stand up, make their case and seek to move, secure support for a motion to refer the matter to the High Court.

I mean, that is the only body that can determine these issues, the only body. That’s a fact, that’s the law.


[Speaks in German]


The question was asked by the gentleman from Deutsche Welle. He addressed himself to the President asking, making the following comment. He said: “Mr President, in your statement you’ve been referring to the fact that the ties, the links between Australian and Germany have to become better”. The President intervened to point out that he had said: “Can become better, can improve.” The gentleman continued to say: “Don’t you think that people from Germany and Germany in general ought to look more towards Australia as a consequence of the fact that there is a heightened degree of insecurity with regards to developments in the United States of America and whether the President would kindly expand on that.

The President responded saying: “I do not really know whether there is a ‘need’ for an expansion with regard to what was said in a country like Australia. I think there is knowledge and awareness of the insecurity as is the case in the European Union in Europe. Of course we are asking ourselves in what way the present situation is going to affect the future of countries that are close partners of the United States of America.

Of course we are asking ourselves as regards to future trade policy to be pursued by the United States of America, in what way that is going to have an effect on the trade policy and the situation in countries that are close trading partners of the United States of America. You know that the European Union has therefore very much engaged and is doing so under enormous time pressure, in negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with Australia. As far as we are concerned, we are doing everything in our power, not only to make that a success, but also to see a speedy conclusion. But irrespective of that and irrespective of the discussion that we’ve had here in Australia, I’d also like to make the point that before I came to Australia, I was in Singapore. In Singapore too, we heard from people that we talked to that the whole region is awaiting with heightened tension, the upcoming visit by the American President to the region, hoping for new signals or indication of a recommitted engagement of the United Sates to the region.


Well thank you all very much and Mr President, thank you.