Joint press conference with Boris Johnson, UK Foreign Secretary and Michael Fallon, UK Secretary of State for Defence
BORIS JOHNSON: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for coming along today. We have just concluded a terrific AUKMIN discussion and I think it was quite amazing, just thinking of the conversations over the last couple of days, the closeness of our countries, with the extraordinary shared interests we have and the way we are trying to keep work together even more intensively. We had a discussion about the European Union and relations with the European Union, as you might expect, and a very productive meeting that was, too, and we discussed whether Australia was able to do a free trade deal. In fact, we did one a few weeks ago anyway when I was in Washington, I seem to recall. I am very confident that we will be able at least to sketch out and pencil in the essentials of a very progressive deal that will be good for Australia, good for the UK, good for Europe and good for the world. We are very grateful, too, by the way, may I say, for the help that Australia is giving us in sharing some expertise that you have in trade negotiations.
Obviously, we also discussed a wide range of security issues, the challenges the world faces, and of course the challenge to the international rules based order that is posed by North Korea, Russia and China. Number one, we were gravely concerned by reports of a nuclear device being tested by North Korea. This is a flagrant violation of Security Council Resolutions and it threatens the stability and security of that region. Julie and I spoke to Japanese Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, this morning, and we are going to be working together for a robust international response.
We also discussed the situation in the South China Sea. Stability in this region is of global concern and we encourage all parties to resolve their disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law. In this regard, we took note of the final and legally binding award on 12 July under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Clearly we have a very close security relationship, demonstrated in the continuous exchange of expertise between our two countries, and we discussed work we are doing together across the world in tackling violent extremism, working together in Afghanistan, Australia and the United Kingdom shoulder-to-shoulder across the globe. We are going to work together in the run up to the Commonwealth Games and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018. We want collectively to put the Commonwealth back in the role that collectively we think it should enjoy; the primacy at the forefront of world affairs.
Altogether, I am not exaggerating if I say - Michael, Julie and Marise - that almost glutinous harmony has prevailed between the UK and Australia over the last couple of days. It was genuinely very, very encouraging conversations. At the risk of pomposity, our two countries represent values, freedom, democracy and attachment to civil society and belief in equalities that are not necessarily universally accepted, and perhaps are more contested in parts of the world than they were even 20 years ago. It is more vital than ever before, I think, that Australia and the United Kingdom work together to promote those values, not just for their own sake, important though they are, but I think also for the security and prosperity of the world. Thank you very much to our Australian friends. Julie, over to you.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, Boris and Michael. Marise and I were delighted by your warm welcome and your hospitality during this Eighth AUKMIN, the Australia UK ministerial dialogue. It is fair to say that there are few countries with a relationship as close as ours. Our meeting reaffirmed our commitment to the bilateral relationship, based as it is on our shared values of a liberal democratic heritage, our commitment to freedoms, to the rule of law, and to the rules based international order.
In a post Brexit world, we see many opportunities for us to develop an even closer relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom and we see many opportunities to likewise work with the European Union to ensure that that remains a strong entity also committed to similar values.
We talked about our cooperation in a range of multilateral fora and we talked about the opportunities for the Commonwealth given that Britain will host CHOGM in 2018, and Australia will host the Commonwealth Games, another opportunity for likeminded countries committed to democracy and democratic institutions to be a force for good in the world.
We spoke about the challenges in the Middle East where both our countries have committed significant resources, both in a military sense and in response to the humanitarian crisis that we see continuing to evolve in Syria. We are concerned to find a political solution in Syria, at the same time as concentrating our collective efforts to defeat Daesh, this appalling terrorist organisation, which, as it loses ground and impact in the Middle East, nevertheless can inspire, guide and direct terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world. We noted again the brutality of the attacks on some of the great cities of Europe in recent times and we will redouble our efforts to ensure that Australians and Britons are safe at home and abroad.
We also spoke about the situation in Iraq and our support for the Al-Abadi Government and the efforts that we are undertaking to train the Iraqi security forces so that they can take back territory and can keep their people safe within the borders of that country.
In terms of Afghanistan, we reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring that Afghanistan does not become again a haven for terrorists and our commitment to nation-building. We spoke about Russia, our concerns about Russian intervention in Ukraine, the lack of progress on the Minsk II agreement and the necessity for a ceasefire to hold.
We appreciate the United Kingdom's support for our efforts on holding the perpetrators of the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 to account. Australia is part of the joint investigation team that will shortly deliver a report on the causes of that atrocity that occurred in July of 2014. In the interests of providing closure for the families and providing justice for them, we will certainly be looking at options for holding the perpetrators to account, and I know that we can count on the United Kingdom for support in that regard.
We spoke about our region in some detail and talked about some of the challenges. We spoke at length about the South China Sea and the impact of the arbitral tribunal hearing of last July, and although Australia is not a claimant state we have interests in ensuring that the South China Sea remains a region of stability. About two thirds of our trade passes through the South China Sea, so we urge again for all parties to negotiate their differences peacefully, to deescalate tensions and to respect the rights of nations to exercise rights of navigation and overflight in international waters and skies.
We jointly condemned the most recent nuclear test of North Korea and, as Boris said, we spoke to our counterpart Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, this morning, and reassured him that Australia and the United Kingdom joins with the international community in condemning this recent provocation, and that we will take every opportunity in coming weeks, including during the UN General Assembly Leaders' Week in September, to take action to ensure that North Korea receives the message loud and clear that it is in flagrant breach of UN Security Council Resolutions and the international laws and norms.
We spoke at some length about the efforts, both joint and with others, on countering violent extremism and counterterrorism activities, because of course in our part of the world, in South East Asia, we are also seeing the return of foreign fighters, and a proliferation of extremist activity, and we will continue to work closely to counter terrorism and to deradicalise those who would otherwise subscribe to this poisonous ideology.
We also at the conclusion of our meeting discussed how we can better use our respective resources in a consular sense, in crisis cooperation where dual nationals are involved, and how we can expand our respective diplomatic footprints by working together so that our presence around the globe can be as effective and efficient as possible.
I am delighted by the openness, the honesty and the frankness of the discussions, charmed by the warmth of the welcome that we have had and very much looking forward to hosting the ninth AUKMIN, with the same AUKMINeers, in Australia in 2017.
BORIS JOHNSON: Thank you very much, Julie. Michael.
MICHAEL FALLON: It has been an honour for us to welcome Julie and Marise here in London today. We are just a few yards away from where the Chelsea Flower Show this year was held, where the Australian designer, Phillip Johnson, rolled out his red carpet of poppies, reminding us of the hundredth anniversary of the Somme and of the extraordinary courage of our Australian allies in that conflict. Five Australian Victoria Crosses were won in that campaign alone, out of 64 in total in the First World War, and that helped turn the tide to victory.
Our meeting today was not about the past; it was about the present. We reviewed the strength of our ongoing military relationship. We are both assisting Afghanistan's fledgling democracy, training the next generation of Afghan leaders at the National Army Officer Academy. We are both playing a pivotal role as part of the counter-Daesh coalition, fighting the evil of our era. Since the start of this year our RAF planes have been targeting terrorists day and night, operating at a sustained tempo in a single theatre of conflict that we have not seen for a quarter of a century, and have recently passed the milestone of 1,000 precision strikes. Thanks to our efforts, and Australian efforts, the terrorists are now on the run, losing some 40% of the territory they once held. Today, we reviewed further plans to hasten the demise of that death cult, in particular progress in preparing for the liberation of Mosul, and in due course of Raqqa.
Second, we have reviewed the opportunities for future defence cooperation, opened up by our Strategic Review and the Australian White Paper. We are both going to be flying the same maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8s. We are both using F-35s and we have agreed today to look at how we can collaborate in developing both those two.
We have also agreed to work on easier access for Australia as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner, with easier access for Australia into NATO exercises and we will be cooperating further on innovation with an initiative I will be launching later next week.
I would highlight today our agreement to strengthen the 5Is community in which we, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand belong. In addition to our long standing intelligence cooperation, we will be strengthening our work on cyber capabilities, on space and on international capacity building.
Finally, at a time when the international rules based system is under increasing pressure, we have reaffirmed Britain's commitment to leveraging our global influence for global good: in Asia Pacific where we will be sending our Typhoons to the Bersama Lima exercise as part of the Five Power Defence Agreement later this year; in the Antarctic where HMS Protector became the first British vessel to operate in waters south of Australia for 80 years; and in Africa where we are fighting extremism in Somalia and building a much needed hospital in South Sudan.
This week we showed our determination to keep making a global difference by hosting one of the biggest gatherings of Defence Ministers ever seen in the United Kingdom at which nations, including Australia, signed a communiquÃ© to make United Nations peacekeeping fit for the 21st century.
MARISE PAYNE: Thank you very much to Michael and to Boris and to Julie. It is a great pleasure to be here at the Royal Hospital Chelsea and, most particularly, to have had the honour of meeting some of the charming and extremely bright Chelsea Pensioners who reside here, resplendent in much redder jackets than mine, and certainly very proud of their contribution and their history of this extraordinary Christopher Wren designed venue in which we have had the opportunity to meet today. I acknowledge them and I thank them for their service.
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in yesterday's peacekeeping conference, #betterpeacekeeping, here in London. Michael is quite right; it brought together an extremely large number of Defence Ministers and senior military representatives from around the world to reaffirm pledges given at the 2015 conference and to make new pledges as well. The importance of that engagement cannot be overestimated when you contemplate the number of men and woman that those of us who are Ministers and Secretaries for Defence have deployed around the world in difficult circumstances. Ensuring that we as Governments deliver the best possible environment for them in which to work is an extremely important undertaking. Michael, I congratulate you on convening that conference and thank you for the opportunity to participate, in particular in regard to women and peacekeeping.
All of my colleagues here today have acknowledged the depth and the history of the relationship and nowhere is that better exemplified than in the depth and history of our defence and military relationship. What is important to note, I believe, out of yesterday and today is that is ever growing; it is certainly not static. It is a very dynamic and very engaged relationship and Michael's reference to the two reviews, the Australian Defence White Paper and the SDSR here from Britain indicate the high degrees of commonalty of thought and of purpose; our mutual commitment to the rules based order as the maxim, as the mantra by which we go about our business is extremely important.
Another aspect of both of those papers which we noted and agreed to pursue in further detail is the international engagement to which we are both committed. Both of those papers defined as a core business of defence for the first time in a very significant way our respective international engagements. There is a lot complementarity in that. We are in many of the same places, with the pursuit of the same sorts of interests that all of my colleagues have outlined today. I think that will give us an extraordinary opportunity to do more, in a greater geographic spread, and to make a greater difference. As Secretary Fallon referred, we are also determined to utilise the changes we are both making in significant capability acquisition to maximise those capability development outcomes. And through sharing of the best science and technology, the best skills that we both have in our defence forces, we will certainly be able to do that.
I wanted to emphasise also out of this discussion that this has been a very valuable opportunity for us to build on the work we are already doing as part of the counter Daesh Ministers' Group, which has had a very significant focus since earlier this year, particularly on where campaigns in Iraq and Syria are going. In our work together to defeat Daesh on the ground in Iraq and Syria, to defeat its metastases wherever they occur around the world, to protect our own nations, and counter the efforts of Daesh to get a foothold in our own countries, in whatever incarnation or manifestation it comes, that co operation, that coalition is imperative to combined strength of effort and to combined impact as well.
The actions which have been led by the United Kingdom, and matched by a couple of other nations as well, but led particularly by the United Kingdom in addressing the social media and online aspects of that fight are particularly important. This is a very contemporary struggle and we bring to it a very contemporary approach, and we have been able to reinforce that today.
Finally our NATO engagement, which for us is, essentially, manifested currently in our mutual presence in Afghanistan. Both Secretary Fallon and I have had recent opportunities to visit Kabul to meet with both the military and political leadership. It is no secret that the ongoing security and stability of Afghanistan is equally important to us as it is to the people and the Government of Afghanistan, or we would not be making the long term commitment that we are. The closeness of our relationship and the importance of working together in that regard cannot be overstated, and I very much appreciate the opportunity to exchange those views with Secretary Fallon and Secretary Johnson, and look forward to the opportunity to continue that work, as we will, in the coming months and years.
BORIS JOHNSON: Thank you very much, Marise. Can we go first of all to Sky News.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Secretaries both first. As you have touched upon, and I think you have all touched upon, this morning North Korea carried out a nuclear test, its largest to date. his is despite increasingly tough sanctions being put on the country which do not seem to be working. Is now, in your opinion, the time to talk to North Korea and, if that is not the right course of action, then perhaps you could outline what you think is a more effective course of action given that sanctions have not thus far worked. Defence Secretary, you said that you and your counterparts spoke about what more you could do in the counter Daesh mission. Could you perhaps expand on what you agreed on?
BORIS JOHNSON: Let me go first on North Korea, if I can. As you know, there have been five such tests since 2006 or so. This is a chronic problem. It is intensifying and we have now seen, I think, a couple just in the last year which suggests, worryingly, that perhaps the technology that the North Koreans have access to is improving. We have to think about how to calibrate our response and what the right response should be. At the moment to get to your point we are still looking at Security Council Resolutions and the strongest possible condemnation, but I think it will be no secret to you or to the world if I say that there is only one country in the world that really has an influence on North Korea, and that is of course China, so we very much hope that the Chinese will use their good offices to get over to the North Koreans that this cannot go on, this is unacceptable and that these detonations must cease.
JULIE BISHOP: I concur with Boris's assessment of this; that it is a deeply troubling trend. This is now the fifth nuclear test that North Korea has undertaken and it poses not just a regional threat but a global threat and undermines once more the rules based international order because of the flagrant disregard of UN Security Council Resolutions, particularly Resolution 2270, which was unanimous and imposed a very tough sanctions regime. There is more that can be done in that regard and I am sure that the United States, China, Russia, the UK, the Security Council generally, and the broader community and that would include Australia will consider all options to send a very powerful message to North Korea that its conduct it provocative and utterly unacceptable. We also believe that China has a particular role to play given its proximity to North Korea, the fact that North Korea depends on China. There are some livelihood exemptions to the sanctions that may well need to be considered, and we look forward to this discussion intensifying next week, when I understand that South Korea, Japan and others will be talking with the United States, but also the following week when the world's leaders and Foreign Ministers gather in New York for the General Assembly Leaders' Week. So it is an issue that we take very seriously and we again urge North Korea to consider the plight of the long suffering North Koreans who, while the regime is spending time, effort and resources on developing nuclear weapons, the people of North Korea are in a dire state and deserve far better treatment than they are receiving from their own regime.
MICHAEL FALLON: There was a question on progress on the Daesh, and I have confirmed today the thousandth RAF strike since the campaign began and the start of the deployment of the additional 250 British troops who are engaged in training in Iraq. What we have reviewed today is the progress of the campaign, where we want to see the military progress that is clearly being made up the Tigris matched by stronger political progress, closer working between Baghdad and Erbil, and the reforms that are necessary to ensure security for the population of Mosul the day after it is finally liberated. We continue to urge more progress on those reforms on the Al-Abadi Government. We also reviewed today the status of those fighting for Daesh and what needs to be done to bring those who have committed some of the worst atrocities to bring them to justice after Mosul and Raqqa have fallen and what we will be doing in our respective countries to prosecute those of our own nationals who have gone to join that fight.
MARISE PAYNE: That reinforces the Australian position. We recently announced a decision to amend our training capacity near Taji just outside Baghdad to expand that from simply military training to include law enforcement agencies. That is in strong recognition of the fact that as further ground is taken there needs to be a capacity to maintain security and stability behind those lines as they move, as Michael said, up the Tigris. That is a significant change for us; also giving our military presence there greater flexibility in the locations in which they are able to train. I think - and I was in Baghdad three and a half/four weeks ago - that has been very positively received and also received with great enthusiasm by the men and women that Australia have deployed there. They are finding this to be a very productive and a very important task which they are undertaking, and one can only imagine the frustration that would occur if you were part of a strong training force, only to see things regress or fall back after ground had been taken. I think that law enforcement engagement is very important. That goes a long way to the day after, as Michael has put it, and in this instance particularly in relation to Mosul.
JOURNALIST: This question is for two Defence Ministers. Given that you have expanded the role of the military in various places and spoken about the problems in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, I am just wondering are you looking at increasing numbers on the ground in any way or means, whether it is peacekeeping force or going in afterwards, the day after, up the Tigris. A quick one to Ms Bishop, how will you hold the MH17 perpetrators to account?
MARISE PAYNE: I think the important aspect of what we are doing in three different articulations: the Building Partner Capacity Group has 400 or so Australian and New Zealand troops combined in it at Taji; an 80 person strong special operations task group in Baghdad, which is working very closely with the elite Iraqi special forces, particularly in the pivotal work that they are doing in making this progress; and also our task group, which is a considerable commitment of Australian troops. I have continually reinforced that within our international discussions on this issue.
One thing we have been able to do is achieve a degree of responsiveness, if you like, as new challenges have been identified to us. I think that is an ideal and appropriate way for Australia to address the different and changing needs. In terms of where that takes us into the future, I think the international coalition and the Iraqi Government and let us not forget we are there at the invitation of the Iraqi Government will be in the process of determining those sorts of needs and we will participate as and when appropriate in that and endeavour to see what contributions we can make.
JULIE BISHOP: In relation to MH17, the task force set up by Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine will be completing its final report into the causes of downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17, we hope, this year. There are a number of options available should the report identify the perpetrators. We would have hoped to have been able to build on the unanimous Security Council Resolution in July 2014, whereby the investigation was set up in the first place. However, Russia has subsequently indicated a willingness to use its veto to prevent the Security Council from having a unanimous position on this. We will not be deterred by Russia's use of the veto. There are a number of mechanisms available, internationally and domestically, to pursue perpetrators of such an incident, and until we receive the report we are continuing to discuss this with our joint investigation team colleagues.
Nearly 300, 298, people were killed in that incident, including a number of Britons and about 38 Australians or Australian residents, so we will not rest until we have pursued every option available to us to ensure that the families and loved ones of those who died receive justice. There are a number of options under current consideration.
BORIS JOHNSON: Just on that, let me say that Britain also, as one of the grieving nations, is right with you there, Julie, and if we can settle on a jurisdiction we will push very hard for that trial to take place.
JOURNALIST: You spent most of the referendum campaign singing the praises of an Australian style points system on immigration, yet the Prime Minister has come out over the weekend and said that this will not work in this country. Do you agree with the Prime Minister that this will not work and have your Australian colleagues given you any advice on this?
BORIS JOHNSON: You will not be surprised to know that immigration did come up this morning and over lunch and it is a subject of keen interest to our Australian friends because they want to be able to come here as freely as they can, and people with talent from Australia, in my view, should be able to come here. The crucial utensil that needs to be applied is of course control. You may remember that we had a campaign in which the slogan was
SPEAKER: "Take back control"!
BORIS JOHNSON: Thank you. There you go. That was a successful campaign. Take back control that was the ambition and that is what we are going to do.
JULIE BISHOP: It sounds like a three word slogan.
JOURNALIST: Just on that, you were, as you said, a long time campaigner for a better deal for Australians who want to live and work in the UK. You have said in the past how much you enjoy having Australians in London and their good work ethic. To what extent will you continue now that you are a senior Government Minister to push for that? Is there an opportunity for it to work both ways and for Britons to move to Australia more easily. Ms Bishop, is it a topic that will be discussed when discussions are had in Canberra about a free trade agreement with Britain?
JULIE BISHOP: Perhaps having already verballed you this morning at a press conference, I can continue! Yes of course, as such close likeminded countries, we want this relationship to endure, and that means a greater understanding, particularly among our young people, about the strength of this relationship, and being able to live or work or spend time or study in each other's countries is something to which we would aspire. Of course we understand issues of control. We understand that both countries insist on an orderly migration system and that is what we will seek to achieve. Should we be in a position to conclude a free trade agreement after Brexit, then obviously this can be the subject of a free trade agreement. It is something that we were able to achieve with the United States and I certainly look forward to an increasing number of business visas, student visas and work visas between Australia and the UK. We have significant equities here. Australia is a significant investor in London in particular.
BORIS JOHNSON: It is, absolutely.
JULIE BISHOP: And the UK is a significant investor in Australia, so we have an interest in ensuring that this relationship endures, and that is one way that it will do so. I am sure that our High Commissioner will continue to beat a path to the door of the Home Secretary in that regard.
BORIS JOHNSON: Just to answer your point, yes, of course I will continue to campaign for that. I think that obviously we will have to see what - We cannot do anything until we have completed our negotiations with the European Union, until we have come out of the EU Treaties, which of course affect our control of free movement, so we will have to sort that out first. To my mind, I think it will be a fantastic thing if we had a more sensible system. You will remember I am going to wind up in a minute; let me complete this point the difficulties we had in recruiting paramedics. We needed Australian paramedics urgently because when somebody is lying on the road in London having been run over by a car, or whatever, you need swift comprehension of English and we could not get them fast enough. This is something where I think we can make progress and I am confident that we will. If there are any other questions
JULIE BISHOP: Put them in writing.
BORIS JOHNSON: Put the questions in writing. Thank you very much. We will answer them. Thank you very much everybody. Thank you for coming along.
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