Press conference at the launch of the Government's Foreign Policy White Paper

  • Transcript, E&OE


The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper – clear eyed, hard headed, Australian values, Australian sovereignty, Australia's national interest.

Happy to take your questions.


Prime Minister, does China present a risk in any form do you think or is it merely an opportunity, as you said in your speech?


This is a time in which there are risks, as I said, there are risks and opportunities. We have to hedge against the risks and we have to make sure we are able to take advantage of the opportunities.

The rise of China has been one of the most extraordinary phenomenons in human history. The scale and the pace of it are utterly without precedent.

But you can say similar things about other economies that are not of course as big as China in our region. I've mentioned a number of them and there are many mentioned in here.

The important thing is to be clearly focused, relentlessly focused on Australia's national interest and that's what the three of us are.


And how hard is it for Australia to play that role, though, between the US and China to make sure their rivalry-


Not hard at all, if you respect and understand both of those two great powers. You saw I was with President Xi and President Trump as I have been with Chinese leaders and American leaders in the past.

As I said in my remarks, they have a good understanding of each other and respect for each other and their relationship, that bilateral relationship is the single most important bilateral relationship in the world.

And it is important, again, I'm giving my speech again now, but as I said in my speech, you know, there is a lot of shared objectives, and the cooperation in respect of North Korea is a very good example of that.


PM, you have spent a lot of time with Mr Trump recently.


Yeah, I have.


Have you sought an assurance about America's commitment to the region?


America's commitment to the region is unequivocal.

You know, it shouldn't even be, you shouldn't even be in doubt.

President Trump - again, as I said in my speech - went on a very long trip, I think he was away for nearly two weeks, it was a very long presidential trip right through the region, and demonstrated that commitment.

Of course, you know, the commitment is demonstrated by much more than a presidential visit, but he wanted to underline it in the way that leaders can.


I was just going to add if I may, Prime Minister.


Yes, please.


The United States' interests and equities and investments in the Indo-Pacific are longstanding, are deep and will endure.

So, there's no question about the United States' engagement in the Indo-Pacific. It is there and it will continue, and successive Administrations may have different nuances but the overall commitment and the investment of the United States in the Indo-Pacific is deep and broad.


At the same time, the White Paper acknowledges there is a debate going on in the States at the moment about the costs and benefits of global leadership. What makes you both so confident that debate is going to break in the way that you want?


The debate is about the costs involved and the extent of the global leadership of the United States. It's about the extent of the role, not whether there will be a role and we have no doubt that the United States will continue to be committed in regional leadership and will continue its global leadership role.


Look, President Trump makes it very clear that that is his commitment.

You know, the Americans have been debating the cost of their defence spending or the extent of their defence spending from, you know, the time of George Washington. So it is not - every country debates it - but America is committed to the region and to the world, and President Trump is committed just as his predecessors have been.

But of course there are differences in policy approach as you get when governments, when you get changes of administration.


The White Paper says very little about China's Belt and Road Initiative, although it does point out that nations will use infrastructure to extend their influence. How do we approach China's Belt and Road Initiative given the pretty strong and favourable stance Labor has taken towards that initiative?


Paul, we approach infrastructure projects on their merits and investments on their merits. And there is plenty of Chinese investment in Australia. In fact, we are open to investment.

There has been massive Chinese investment in infrastructure in Australia. There are some times when, for reasons of national interest, approval is not given. But for the vast majority are approved.

Do you want to add to that?


Can I add, as well, Paul, I went to the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, the recent strategic and economic dialogue as well. I co-signed an MOU between Australia and China on cooperation for countries in relation to BRI initiatives.

The fact is there are many complementarities between initiatives we're undertaking in Australia and initiatives that China is pursuing.

The notion that it's got to be viewed through one prism frankly is a false notion.

We have terrific cooperation. We recognise the impact of each other's particular initiatives and we see great chances for collaboration and cooperation.


And we respect each other's sovereignty.


The language you're using now, Indo-Pacific, is something the President has also been using. I take you to the quadrilateral talks that are being rebooted, to put the best slant on it, the former-prime minister Paul Keating thinks that's the wrong etiquette and an effort to box in China. Can you tell us about the language you're using now, and are you going to pursue the quadrilateral?


Well, I'll just make one observation - with all due respects to Paul Keating, he is completely wrong. He's made a great contribution in politics and he continues to make a great contribution but he's looking at the relationship and the region through the perspective of 30 years ago. With great respect to him.

Nobody is talking about containment. I mean, this is, we have an enormous trade relationship with China. You know, we have a big trade surplus with China.

We could not imagine modern Australia without a million or more Australians of Chinese ancestry.

You know, it is a warm, it is a positive, it is a strong relationship, but you get back to this fact that we and we alone here in Australia determine what is in our national interest. And we will, on many occasions, be in complete agreement with other countries, large and small but there will be occasions when he say, 'in our judgement, in our national interest, we differ' and we will explain why.

People respect us for being very blunt, very frank, very straight.

In fact, very, very committed to our national interest. In fact, I have always - that is our way, it is my government's way, and it's always been my way, in particular.

In fact, many years ago, I used to spend a lot of time in China, mostly in northern China, people used to say as a compliment: 'You sound like someone from Shandong province because you are very clear, unmistakable, and very frank'.

That is the way to deal with people in respect.


In relation to the term Indo-Pacific, this is a phrase that we embraced when I became Foreign Minister in 2013. It is not just a geographic description - it reflects strategic and economic reality.

It embraces India and the nations of the Indo-Pacific, through Asia, and the nations of the Asia-Pacific.

It reflects the reality of where Australia is positioned and where our interests lie - the Indo-Pacific.

It is a phrase that Prime Minister Abe has now embraced because it reflects the geographic region of Japan.

And, indeed, Prime Minister, it is a phrase President Trump has now adopted, acknowledging that the United States is a Pacific as well as an Atlantic power.

And what it does is express our confidence in the dynamism of this region.

The Indo-Pacific is the most exciting economically dynamic region in the world and Australia is exquisitely located to take the opportunities for the benefit of our nation.


We'll just take a couple more - please.


Just on China, China has used its economic relationship with a number of countries to achieve strategic goals and you can look at Korea and the pressure they've come under.


Do you mean North Korea or South Korea?


South Korea. Is Australia in danger of coming under similar pressure? And, is that kind of a risk and how would we deal with it if there was economic pressure applied to Australia to achieve strategic goals?


We assert and maintain our national sovereignty, full stop.

We will not accept foreign interference or foreign coercion.

Australia's independence, Australia's sovereignty, our sovereignty is at the heart of everything in this document.


Prime Minister, can I ask about another nation at the heart of the Indo-Pacific – PNG? What responsibility, and what do you know of what's going on at Manus and what responsibility does Australia hold for what happens there today and in the coming days?


I will just say that the people at the Manus Regional Processing Centre, which has been closed by the PNG authorities should leave and go to the alternative accommodation that has been provided.

They should obey the law and the lawful authorities of Papua New Guinea.

There are alternative facilities that have been made available with food, water, security, medical services. They're all ready. And several hundred have already moved.

They're staying there is obviously designed - they think this is some way they can pressure the Australian Government to let them come to Australia.

Well, we will not be pressured.

I want to be very clear about this - our border security, the integrity of our borders, is maintained by my government. It is maintained by my government and we will not outsource our migration policy to people smugglers.

The people on Manus should go to the alternative places of safety with all of the facilities they need.

They should do so peacefully and they should do so in accordance with the lawful directions of Papua New Guinea, which is the country in which the centre is located.


Have they briefed you on what they're planning to do, the PNG Government?


Well, certainly, we receive advice from them from time to time, but they are operating - the PNG authorities are acting in accordance with the directions of their government in accordance with their law.

I mean, some of the people at Manus went, you know, at the RPC went to the PNG Supreme Court and appealed and they lost. They have to respect laws of PNG.

And I would say to those advocates in Australia who claim to have the best interests of the people there at heart, they should also act responsibly and tell them to move in accordance with the directions of the PNG authorities and do so peacefully.


Foreign Minister, you said you're open to a formal investigation into the Cabinet leak. What would that look like? And Prime Minister, are you to open that perhaps to try to stem the leaks coming out of Cabinet?


I would just say I don't comment on gossip or this kind of thing or let alone - I don't comment on Cabinet discussions let alone gossip about them. But I can assure you I take the security of cabinet discussions very, very seriously indeed.


Prime Minister, on the Bennelong by-election-




The Bennelong by-election – footage has emerged of John Alexander making a racist joke about a rape. Do you think that's acceptable behaviour from your MPs?


John Alexander has made, as he should have done, an unreserved apology for that, and he said in the substance of that, in that apology, he has said - John's made an unreserved apology about those remarks he made 20 years ago - and he said, and I agree with him, and I want to underline it, my agreement with him - statements like that whether they're intended as jokes or not, are completely and utterly unacceptable.

There is no place for joking about violence against women.

And I want to say once again something I have said many times to you - not all disrespect of women ends up in violence against women but that's where all violence against women begins.

So all of us need to reflect on that. John has done so on some ill-judged remarks 20 years ago. And it is a measure of the man and of the dignity of the man that he has acknowledged that those remarks were unacceptable and he's unreservedly apologised for them.

Thank you very much.

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