Press Conference at the Australia-UK Ministerial Forum

  • Transcript, E&OE

JEREMY HUNT: Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. This is my first bilateral conference that I have hosted as Foreign Secretary and I am absolutely delighted that we are doing it with Australia and it's been fantastic to meetJulie Bishop, my counterpart in Australia. President Trump would probably say this is beautiful but also wonderful to be with Marise Payne, Australian Defence Minister and also of course our own Defence Secretary. We've had some really fruitful discussions on a whole range of areas really stressing the deep bond between Australia and the United Kingdom. We talked about Brexit and had a number of discussions about future trade deals and our priority is to make sure that whatever happens next year, trade between Australia and the United Kingdom remains smooth and continues to grow. We are the second biggest investor in Australia and we are the second most important international destination for Australia's investment and we also discussed contingency planning for a no deal scenario to make sure that our trade flow runs smoothly but most of all we want to grow trade between the United Kingdom and Australia and of course our most visible symbol of that growing partnership is the fantastic signing of the BAE contract for the nine British Type 26 frigates and we are absolutely delighted with that contract and I think it's a symbol of the military cooperation and friendship from the Defence Secretary and the last thing I want to say that this is a time of great global uncertainty. There is a number of threats to the international border. A rules based system that we have been so dependent on for peace and prosperity since 1945. We had exhaustive discussions about how to deal with threats from Russian aggression in Europe, Salisbury of course but not just at home, also in places like Crimea about how to deal with countries like Iran, issues with Syria, North Korea where we are hopeful that we are going to make some real progress but need to watch it very carefully.But I think the thing that struck all of us in those discussions was that when you have a partnership with a country like Australia, one of our very oldest friends. It is one not just based on you scratch my back I'll scratch yours, the kind of transatlantic relationships that are so common in international diplomacy, it's based on partnership and values. Our shared belief in democracy, human rights, rule of law, free trade.All these things that are so important and that's why it really is one of our most special and important relationships.

JULIE BISHOP: Jeremy, thank you for the delightful, gracious and warm welcome that you as Foreign Secretary and Gavin as Defence Secretary have extended to the Australian delegation led by Marise Payne and me. We meet at a time of great global uncertainty. There is a change in the great power relations, there is an unprecedented level of volatility in some of the regions of the world. There are new threats emerging including in cyber and there is a challenge for the international laws, and the norms and conventions that have delivered relative peace and stability to regions and around the world over the last 70 years. At such a critical juncture in global affairs, we believe it is vital for like-minded nations to join together to promote peace and stability through our adherence to the rule of law, to democratic institutions, to freedoms, to free and open trade, to drive that global peace, stability and prosperity. There are few nations more like-minded than Australia and the United Kingdom. We share so much including a common world view on so many issues and it is incumbent upon us as true and trusted partners and friends to promote and advocate for those ideas and values that not only underpin our societies but have underpinned global peace and stability for 70 years or more. We particularly welcome "Global Britain" and could not be more delighted that the United Kingdom will be taking an increasing role in the Indo-Pacific and we spoke about the opportunities that would be presented by a greater British diplomatic presence in the Pacific, in particular opening news posts in Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu and we discussed many opportunities where we can work together to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is a safer more secure, more prosperous region as a result of partnerships such as ours. Today we agreed to unprecedented new levels of cooperation - militarily, in terms of our diplomatic connections, in security and intelligence, in humanitarian issues and responding to national disasters and of course we spoke about the opportunities post-Brexit for Australia and the United Kingdom to deepen even further our very strong trade and investment relationship. Both governments stand ready to agree a free trade agreement as soon as circumstances allow. It's been one of the most productive AUKMIN meetings that I have attended and I have been to a number now Foreign Secretary, and we have been very pleased by how much common ground we were able to cover today. The United Kingdom will find post-Brexit that Australia will be one of your strongest, most trusted, principled and pragmatic partners. We look forward to continuing to work with you as closely as we have done so in the past but most certainly with this new level of cooperation that we have mapped out today, the very best days of the Australia-UK relationship lies ahead.

MARISE PAYNE: Thank you very much, Jeremy and Julie. I particularly want to express my appreciation to both the new Foreign Secretary and my friend and colleague Gavin Williamson for hosting us here in Edinburgh for this 10th Australia-UK ministerial meeting and my third.It's my first visit to Scotland so I very much appreciate the warm welcome that we received here and in particular thank the Botanic Gardens for the stunning venue that we have enjoyed today. I would like to thank both of our High Commissioners, His Excellency the Hon George Brandis and Her Excellency Menna Rawlins, for their support and our teams for putting together what is a very significant programme of activities. As you would expect of two nations with such close history, with the shared values that we have and our enduring people-to-people links, today's discussion were, as my colleagues have said, very warm, frank and indeed very productive. 100 years since the end of the Great War we still see Australian and British soldiers, sailors and air force members working together to defeat terrorism, to promote security both close to home here, in our region, and more broadly. This is a unique and special relationship. We are very traditional friends but we have an increasing number of common military platforms which will provide us with further opportunities to strengthen our relationship in information sharing and increasing our interoperability in the years ahead.

There are a number of key issues which we discussed throughout the day and Gavin and I had a very valuable bilateral engagement yesterday including visits to Govan and to Faslane. The selection of BAEs Global Combat Ship, known here as the Type 26 but now known in Australia as the Hunter class, is a new chapter in what is a long UK-Australia defence relationship story. We had the chance to see the progress that was being made on the Type 26 yesterday at Govan and the transfer of skills and knowledge from that programme to Australia as we build our Hunter class will be critical to the establishment in Australia for our continuous naval ship building industry and it is an exceptional example of the close collaboration between our two nations. It will also enable us to deepen our cooperation of key operational aspects of anti-submarine warfare through the development and sharing of doctrine, of science and technology, of intelligence, training, and policy coordination.

Today we also affirmed our very strong commitment to work in partnership to promote a prosperous, open and secure Indo-Pacific. Both Australia and the UK are absolutely committed to upholding the rules-based international order. And we will continue to look for opportunities to work together in the Indo-Pacific to improve our interoperability and to improve our capability It was a great pleasure to welcome HMS Sutherland to Australia this year and to work together with HMS Sutherland in the region and we look forward to doing that more in the future. Particularly in support of security and stability internationally, we will continue to work very hard together as part of the global coalition against Daesh to secure its lasting defeat in Iraq and in Syria, and also as the NATO mission in Iraq is stood up in the coming weeks and months. We maintain what is a strong, shared commitment, and goes back many years now, to developing the capabilities and capacity of the Afghan National Defense Security Forces. And that of course reiterates our commitment to counter terrorism and cooperation in our region in Southeast Asia. We paid attention today to some of the hybrid threats that challenge us, whether it's in cyber or in foreign interference or a range of other aspects that have been the subject of discussion in both of our countries. And what is an increasingly complex international security environment, it is important that special allies and partners like Australia and the UK continue to intensify our efforts to strengthen those commitments to security and prosperity. They are absolutely fundamental to the work that we do together. Let me again thank our hosts, Gavin and Jeremy. Thank you very much for the opportunity to have such a productive AUKMIN meeting and we look forward to hosing you in Australia next year.

GAVIN WILLIAMSON: Thank you very much, our two nations share a long history of fighting for what is right. Whether that was in the trenches of WW1 to today when we have British forces and Australians in Iraq, working together in Afghanistan, as well as trading as well as doing exercises together. We have started to see a step change in our relationship. For the first time since 2013 Britain has been deploying ships to the pacific region. We have three this year. And this isn't something we want to see as a flash in the pan, but actually a commitment to the region and involvement in the region that goes forward over the coming years. We've been exploring ideas of how we build prosperity between our two nations, the investment that Australia is making in the Hunter class Type 26 isn't just about military to military relationships, but it is about building prosperity between our two countries. How we develop platforms in the future that both countries are able to benefit from economically. Sharing technology and science and working together, but how we use those common platforms in a military environment to ensure we are dealing with increasing anti-submarine threat that we are facing both in the North Atlantic and the pacific. How we learn from one another and we get greater utility from working increasingly closely. But our relationship on a military level is something that is deeper and actually the fact that we now share platforms and that we are doing exercises together, there is a real common understanding and an advantage between the RAF and the royal Australian air force, British and Australian Navy , British and Australian army. The understanding of actually how the values of both our nations stands forth needs protecting and so often in the field of conflict we have (inaudible) and that is something I know (inaudible), we are very much hoping and going to work together on deploying her majesty's ship Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific and hopefully sailing side by side with Australian vessels. And we want to make sure that everyone around the world understands that these two great nations are the greatest of allies. And as a small symbol of that friendship, the RAF have asked for one of their colours that was presented by HRH the queen to be presented to the Royal Australian Air Force as a symbol of the unity and the strength of friendship and partnership between those two air forces, but also between our two nations.

JOURNALIST: A question for the panel really, just over a week ago, Donald Trump said he wanted his NATO allies to almost double defence spending to 4% GDP for both you countries, that would be at least doubling defence expenditure, it would cost tens of millions. Do any of you think that's either a sensible idea or an achievable idea?

GAVIN WILLIAMSON: Britain and Australia have a proud history of being significant spenders in terms of defence and we're very proud of that record, and it's something that's been acknowledged not just by President Trump but by many others. We need to be looking at the threats that are in the world and we need to be ensuring we have the right capabilities to deal with those threats, that's what we're doing as part of the modernising defence programme here in the UK. I'm sure it's a similar thing in Australia.

MARISE PAYNE: I think I've answered this question from you already once this week, Nick, or if not this week then last week. The commitment that Australia made, both through our Defence White Paper and consistently since, to increase our spending to 2% of GDP by 2023/24, which we will in fact achieve an earlier than that as you know, is accompanied by a very solid programme of regeneration, particularly of the Royal Australian Navy. We are well down the track in the development of our Offshore Patrol Vessels build, Future Frigates Hunter class now about to move forward with BAE systems, and of course our Future Submarines. Those levels of capability will see Australia equipped in an unprecedented way to deal with challenges both regionally and more broadly. That's not including the development of our new Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle, which we announced earlier this year, and the development and imminent arrival of course of our new F35s. We already have our Growlers on the ground, the F/A-18Gs, and they are very much a part of our suite of 5th generation aircraft which are going to put Australia in a position to engage in the security and stability of our region, and more broadly, in a way we have not been able to in a very long time. So I'm very confident about the position that Australia is in and very proud of the commitment the Turnbull Government has made.

JULIE BISHOP: The United States makes a very valid point and we have discussed this at length over the last day and last evening that there must be more burden sharing when it comes to defending the international rules based order, when it comes to influencing the rules, the norms, and when it comes to promoting and advocating peace and stability around the world. The President has made a specific point of calling on nations to increase their defence spending, Australia and the United Kingdom have made that commitment and we will be reaching the target we have set as Marise said earlier. We join with you in calling on all nations that are committed to that international rules-based order to ensure that their defence spending and defence capability meets the requirements that those nations will need to maintain peace, stability and security.

JEREMY HUNT: I would just add that NATO has been the foundation of peace in Europe since 1945 but any alliance needs to be based on fairness in terms of contributions by all members of that alliance. He singled out Britain as one of the five NATO countries that is meeting their 2% target and was effusive in his praise of them for doing that. But in terms of other NATO countries who either have not met that 2% target or don't even have a plan to meet that target, he has a point, it is very very important in terms of America's role in the alliance that they think fair contributions are being made by everyone.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Secretary is Chequers the UK's final offer on Brexit and is a no deal scenario now more likely than not? And would that be as catastrophic as some suggest?

JEREMY HUNT: We don't want a no deal scenario, it would potential cause huge disruption to businesses on both sides of the channel. And we are working very hard to avoid that. But we also have to recognise that it is a possibility as we get closer and we have to be prepared for it. And it's very important that the Europeans we are negotiating with know we are prepared for it, that no deal is better than a bad deal. That we will only sign up for a deal that is right for Britain. And the Chequers agreement is the foundation for that because it squares two very important circles – it squares the spirit of the referendum result which is control of our money, laws and borders. But with the frictionless trade which is so important to our economic future and upon which so many jobs depend. And so it is a very serious and important attempt to break the lock-jam that we've seen in the European negotiations, and the Prime Minister is very clear today that if we're to see progress we need to see substantial change in the European position too, if we're to come to an agreement and avoid that no deal scenario.

JOURNALIST: Final offer?

JEREMY HUNT: It is our substantive offer is I think the way to phrase it, and I think it's a big gesture by the UK to make that offer and we will obviously talk about the details of that offer going forward, but it is an offer that doesn't just meet our red lines, we think when the EU studies it they will see that it meets their red lines too in terms of the basic structures of the single market. We're not asking to be a member of either the single market or customs union, so it should be the basis on which a deal can be done, but it's going to need imagination and flexibility to make sure we continue to make progress.

JOURNALIST: This is for Minister Bishop and Hunt, there seems to be some movement with Julian Assange with some discussions at diplomatic levels in recent days, and I'm wondering whether you could share with us what the talks have been and what the progress is?Also, this is a second question for Minister Bishop, could you give us an update on MH17 and the prosecutions there?

JULIE BISHOP: In relation to Julian Assange, the Australian Government has been providing consular support and will continue to do so, as is required. We understand that there are still matters where Mr Assange is subject to British legal proceedings so therefore that would be a matter for British law enforcement authorities and agencies. Our role is to provide consular support as requested and as needed.

In relation to MH17 it was a topic of discussion with our British friends, for not only did Australia lose 38 citizens and residents, but there were 10 UK citizens aboard that flight on 17th July 2014 that was shot down by a BUK missile system from the53rd brigade from Russia. We have worked very closely with the other members of the Joint Investigation Team including the Netherlands, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, and we understand that a final investigative report will be concluded, hopefully this year. That is my understanding. That will then be provided to the Dutch prosecutors as the Dutch have agreed and are in the process of conducting a domestic prosecution in the Dutch courts. Australia is ensuring that the families of the victims, the Australian families of the victims, will have the opportunity to be present. We've allocated funding in our last budget to support the prosecution's work. Australia and the Netherlands have also attributed state responsibility to Russia and we have provided Russia with notice that we want to negotiate with Russia in relation to its role in the bringing down of MH17 which killed 298 passengers and crew, and we are in the process of determining how those negotiations with Russia will proceed. I said the other day that no one should underestimate the determination of the Australian Government to hold those responsible for the bringing down of a civilian aircraft to account, and we have given that commitment to the families of the victims, and we will ensure that we pursue every avenue available to us, to achieve that. I particularly want to thank the United Kingdom for their strong support throughout. Since 2014 the UK has been steadfast in its support for the action we are taking and the actions we are still to take.

JEREMY HUNT: I wanted to start by saying the UK stands full square behind Australia and the Netherlands in their quest for justice for this horrific murder of 298 wholly innocent people. And we strongly believe the perpetrators must be held to account. We believe it's vital that it happens and we give every support to our Australian friends in making it happen and we think it's very, very important to send a strong message: this kind of thing cannot happen with impunity.

With respect to Mr Assange, I will just say this. He is free to walk through the doors of the Ecuadorian Embassy any time he wishes. This is a country that respects rule of law, you are innocent until proven guilty. Serious charges have been laid against him, and we want him to face justice for those charges, but we are a country with due process and any time he wants to he can walk down the streets of Knightsbridge and the British police will have a warm welcome for him.

JOURNALIST: As a former chief whip, do you believe that Julian Smith should resign because of his breach of the pairing protocols in the House of Commons, and if not why not?

GAVIN WILLIAMSON: No. I don't. I haven't got any of the details of what happened, but what the Government is absolutely committed to doing is delivering for the British people which is given in terms of the referendum and that is what this Government will deliver on as we exit the European Union.

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