Press Conference with the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

  • Transcript, E&OE


Good afternoon. Australia is expelling two Russiandiplomats. We're acting together with 23 other nations around the world inresponse to the shocking chemical warfare attack in Salisbury in the UnitedKingdom on the 4th of March.

This was the first act of chemical warfare in Europe sincethe Second World War. It was a calculated attempt to carry out anassassination. It was a disgraceful assault on the sovereignty of the UnitedKingdom and on the rule of law. We utterly condemn it.

As the UK authorities have made clear since, this was afundamental breach of international law prohibiting the use of chemicalweapons. Russia has an obligation under the Chemical Weapons Convention and theUnited Nations Charter, the fact that Russia is a member of the United NationsSecurity Council - the body tasked with ensuring global security - makes thisbreach of international law especially dangerous and shocking.

It reflects a pattern of recklessness and aggression by theRussian Government, including the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of easternUkraine, the downing of MH 17, cyber-attacks and efforts to manipulate westernnations' elections.

This latest incident demanded a response and has received aconcerted international response from the United Kingdom's allies and partnersaround the world. To do nothing would only encourage further efforts toundermine the international rules-based order upon which our security and ourprosperity rely.

As I said when introducing the new foreign interferencelegislation into the House of Representatives last year, Russia is threateningthe democratic world, right around the world. There are credible reports thatRussia was actively undermining the integrity of the Brexit referendum. Lastyear's presidential elections in France, Catalonia's unauthorised referendum inSpain and in the United States, one of the oldest and certainly the mostformidable democracy in the world, debate is raging about whether Russianintelligence operations may have tipped the presidential election.

The Foreign Minister and I want to stress that Australia hasno dispute with the Russian people. Indeed today, we offer our condolences forthe devastating fire that has killed scores of people in a shopping centre inthe Siberian city of Kemerovo.

This is about the actions of the Russian Government. Andit's about our national security interests which we will always defend.

We cannot and will not stand by and watch when thesovereignty of our allies and partners is threatened. That's why we've takenthis strong action today. It reflects our values as a nation; respecting therule of law, adhering to international conventions and the rules-based order andupholding our own sovereignty, as well as supporting the sovereignty of ourallies and partners. This type of activity is one of the key reasons why we'veprioritised laws to disrupt and prosecute foreign interference and covertbehaviour.

We call on the Parliament to pass these laws once they arethrough the current committee process.

The brazen attack, the criminal attack in the UnitedKingdom, in Salisbury on the 4th of March, was an attack on all ofus, it was an attack on the sovereignty of every nation that respects the ruleof law and that is why we are taking this action today, with another 23 nationsaround the world. We are defying this recklessness, this lawlessness of Russiaand expressing our solidarity with the United Kingdom and other nations thatshare those values, that we will not tolerate this type of reckless underminingof international law, this reckless assault on the sovereignty of nations.


Thankyou, Prime Minister. Earlier this morning, the Russian Ambassador wasinformed that I had declared two Russian officials persona non gratapursuant to the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relationsand that they had seven days to leave Australia.

We donot take such decisions lightly. In fact, the last time diplomatswere expelled from this country was in 2012 when two Syrian diplomatswere expelled because of the use by the Assad regime of chemicalweapons and in this instance, we share the outrage of the Britishgovernment and other allies and partners over the deployment of amilitary grade nerve agent in an attempted assassination inSalisbury, in the United Kingdom.

Weshould not forget that the manner in which this nerve agent was deployedput at risk possibly hundreds of other lives. We see this as a directchallenge, a direct attack on the international rules based system,and Australia is a staunch defender of the International rules basedsystem. We are also a member of the Organisation for the ProhibitionAgainst Chemical Weapons and we chair the Australia Group, which is agrouping of nations determined to control the export of chemical weapons.With that background, Australia could not tolerate this act on thepart of the Russians in the United Kingdom.

As thePrime Minister points out, Russia is in a unique position to upholdglobal peace and security. As a permanent member of theSecurity Council, Russia has a unique responsibility to defendand strengthen and uphold the international rules basedorder, yet there has been a pattern of conduct over recent times thatshows Russia is in direct defiance of that very rules based order,with political assassinations, cyber-attacks, the illegal annexation of Crimea, invasions of other countries' territory,Georgia, Ukraine, its disruptive role in the investigation into thedowning of MH17, when it should be assisting the investigations.

I haveremained in constant communication with Foreign Secretary BorisJohnson in relation to the investigation and the ongoing actions thatmay well be taken in response to this matter.

We willcontinue to support our friends and allies, particularly GreatBritain in relation to this illegal, reckless, and atrocious attemptto use chemical weapons in Europe - the first attempt sincethe Second World War, as the Prime Minister has indicated.


Prime Minister you've outlined a whole series of allegationsand incidents of poor behaviour, unlawful acts by Russia. Is the expulsion oftwo spies a sufficiently strong reaction given the seriousness of those thingsyou've outlined?


The reaction, the response, obviously has been carefullycalibrated Mark, the force of it comes from the large number of countries thatare undertaking the expulsion of Russian diplomats. It is a very strong,concerted response and it's one that sends a clear and unequivocal message tothe Russians.


Just in terms of the response Prime Minister, what responseare you expecting now from Russia? They have threatened a response, what do youexpect?


Well, I think we expect that they will expel a number of ourdiplomats as well, that is what they will do. That is the response that theywill make. I'll ask Julie to describe the Vienna Conventions, but broadlyspeaking, countries have the right to declare a diplomat persona non grata if they choose to do so, and this will be the response.

But the fundamental point is, we are sending a clear andconcerted message of 23 nations supporting the United Kingdom. That'scritically important.


Giventhe fact that the Russians expelled 23 British diplomats in response tothe British expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, it is my expectation thatRussia will likewise expel a commensurate number of diplomats fromeach of the countries that have taken action overnight.

Also,our conversation with the Russian Ambassador would lead us to believe thatRussia intends to expel Australian diplomats from our embassy in Moscow.We anticipate this and are taking contingency actions in relation toit, in other words we are planning for this to occur and ourexpectation is that pursuant to the Vienna Convention, they will expelAustralian diplomats. They are under no legal obligation to givereasons as to why.




Well, I can't comment on that.


Were they based in Canberra and has there been anyinvestigation about whether they have attempted to infiltrate the politicalprocess here or had contact with politicians?


It may disappoint you, but it won't surprise you to say thatI won't be going into any further detail into the two undeclared intelligenceofficers, diplomats, that are being expelled.


PM, are there any further sanctions being considered againstRussia and should the Socceroos boycott, and other countries boycott, the WorldCup in Russia later this year?


Well, I will ask the Foreign Minister to talk about theexisting sanctions that we have. But we will continue to engage with the UK andour other partners and allies around the world in terms of the response. But itwill be one that is concerted because that is where its force comes from. Ipick up the point that Mark Kenny made earlier, asking "is this enough"? Theforce comes of the fact that so many nations are taking the same action, so it'sthat solidarity that sends that very strong message to Moscow.


Inrelation to sanctions, Australia has already a range ofautonomous sanctions against Russia, in particular those that wereimposed in the aftermath of the illegal annexation of Crimea, andthose sanctions have been reviewed and updated over time. Wehave sanctions against a number of individuals and a number ofRussian entities.

Theimpact of sanctions, of course, is strongest when it is donecollectively, and so we will continue to liaise with the Foreign Officeand other allies and partners on this issue as to whetherfurther action will be taken in response to the deployment of a chemicalnerve agent in Salisbury.


Is non-attendance at the World Cup one of those possibleoutcomes?


Thereare a whole range of options of further action that could be taken. TheWorld Cup is one of the further actions that could be taken in relation tothis matter.


When did the Government actually find out that these twopeople were undeclared information officers, was that before or after the UKattack?


These are intelligence matters and we will not be going intothat kind of detail.


This sort of stuff is reminiscent of the Cold War andcredible commenters are talking about a Cold War 2.0. Are those sorts ofobservations justified?


Well, you're the commentators, I think you can commentate onfellow commentators.




Well look, this is a very different environment to the ColdWar. There are obviously some similarities, but without getting into adiscussion - which I'd love to engage in at some point with you all, but itwould take too long to talk about the history of the Cold War and subsequentdevelopments - I think it's just important, rather than getting sentimentalabout John le Carrénovels andbygone eras, let's just focus on the very hard facts here.

We have a government which has used a chemical weapon on thesoil of another nation, in an attempt to assassinate individuals in that othercountry, the UK.

This is a shocking crime. It is a shocking infringement onthe sovereignty of the United Kingdom. It is a shocking breach of the rule oflaw and the use of a chemical weapon illegally, contrary to international law,and for the first time, as we have both said, in Europe since the Second WorldWar, this cried out for a concerted response.

So I think, I don't dispute the interesting history andbackground and historical analogues. But let's just focus on what happened inSalisbury on the 4th of March, a shocking crime called out for a concertedglobal response. Australia is playing its part in that strong response today.

I'll just take one more question I think.


In regards to Liddell power station, would you like to seethe lifespan of that power station extended and would you like to hear morefrom the Chinese interests who have contacted your office about that?


Well, as you know, the Liddellpower station does not belong to the Australian Government, it belongs to AGL.There are a number of people that have expressed interest – I don't know ifit's much further than that – including Australian parties - in acquiringLiddell from AGL. But that's a discussion that they have to have with AGL.

From our point of view, ourconcern is to ensure that we have affordable, reliable energy. Labor's policieshave resulted - most notably in South Australia where thankfully there's nowbeen a change of government - in unaffordable and unreliable power in thatstate. We don't want that to happen anywhere else, so that's why the EnergyMinister asked the Australian Energy Market Operator, AEMO, to examine whetherthere would be a gap in dispatchable power, in reliable power, consequent uponLiddell closing. That report has come in, it's been published. It shows therewill be a gap of around 850 megawatts, absent of other actions being taken.

Now, one of the actions that will result in that gap beingfilled is the adoption of the National Energy Guarantee - this is AEMO'sjudgement - because it prioritises dispatchable power. So the important thingis that we are able to keep the lights on and that we're able to afford to keepthe lights on.

That is what the National Energy Guarantee delivers.

The truth is, as you know, with Labor you pay more.

You pay more for energy, we've seen that.

Look at the action we had to take to make up for Labor'sfailures on gas, strong action which has resulted in wholesale price of gascoming down, from getting up to $16 a gigajoule and close to $20, coming backdown to around $8, around the export price. Now that's action that I took andmy government has taken, strong action to make up for failures of Labor policyin the past.

We need energy policies that are driven by engineering andeconomics. Affordability and reliability; that's what the National EnergyGuarantee will deliver. Again, you don't have to take my word for it, orJulie's or Josh Frydenberg's, that's what the Energy Security Board's analysis presents. Independent analysis showing it will bring down wholesalepower costs while maintaining dispatchability. That's the critical objective.


Are you happy with the response of Cricket Australia PrimeMinister?


Well, the answer is the decision of the captain's to standdown was correct. They're conducting an investigation. Look, I did speak toDavid Peever on the day, as you know, about it. I conveyed my views veryclearly to him and he was very appreciative of that advice. They now have tomake sure that this great national game, this great international game that issynonymous with fair play is once again a game that is played by champions thateverybody can look up to.

I mean, this has been a shocking affront to Australia. Howmany of us as children, how many of us as fathers and mothers, have had childrenwho have looked up to the Australian team, have looked up to their idols, totheir role models?

This cheating is a disgrace. We all know that, it is aterrible disgrace. Cricket Australia is dealing with it, they have toinvestigate it and they have to continue to act decisively and emphatically.

Where do we want to get to? I'll tell you where we want toget to; we want to get to the point where we can all say once again - notrhetorically, but heartfelt and with sincerity - that cricket is a fair game,cricket is a game that is synonymous with a fair go and fair play. That's whathas to happen.

I want to add one other point and I've said this to DavidPeever, I won't go onto everything I've said to him but I will say this: Ithink there has to be the strongest action taken against this practice ofsledging. It has got right out of control, it should have no place in, on acricket field.


Doesn't it happen in Parliament?


I want to be very clear about this; the game of cricketshould be one that once again is held up as a role model. I think that some ofthe sledging, some of the shocking conduct that we've seen, is also part of theprocess of review and reflection that's going to be undertaken.

So thank you all very much.


Prime Minister, just on company tax?



Alright, this is always the problem, we get to the end ofthe press conference and there's one more question. Company tax?


Well, your negotiations with Senators Hinch and Storer, howare they going?


Well they are progressing and as you know we don't run acommentary on negotiations with the crossbench. I just want to be very clearabout this though; what we are seeking to do is to put Australian companies inthe position where they can invest and employ. Where they will be able to growand make more investment, create more jobs and better paid jobs.

Now Bill Shorten has said that if the company tax reformsare passed, he will repeal them if he becomes Prime Minister. So what he'ssaying is that he wants to go to the election on the platform of fewer jobs andless well-paid jobs.

It shows you cannot trust anything Bill Shorten says. Thisis a man who stood up at the dispatch box in the House of Representatives onlya few years ago when Labor was last in government and said: "Lower company taxresults in more investment, higher productivity, more jobs and higher wages".

You know what? He was right, he was absolutely right. Now ofcourse, it doesn't suit him to say that and he's done a backflip. He is tryingto do a backflip on pensions, on his pensioner tax. Grabbing the frankingdividends from pensioners.

He says now, he says "Oh the pensioners won't be hurt". Thisis a man who two weeks ago said that it was carefully considered, they were allmillionaires, yes, there were some pensioners, but you know, accused me ofusing pensioners as a human shield.

He treated those self-funded retirees - pensioners andindependent self-funders retirees not on the pension alike - treated them withcontempt. Now he's trying to do a backflip.

Well he hasn't landed on his feet, because pensioners willstill be caught. After the 28th of March, pensioners will be caughtagain by his proposal. So he hasn't even done his homework properly.

He's done a backflip but he hasn't landed on his feet. Hehas landed once again with his hand in the pockets of hard-working Australianswho have saved all their lives and are entitled to support and respect.

Bill Shorten cannot be trusted with your money.

He cannot be trusted with your savings.

Pensioners, self-funded retirees, Australians who arelooking for work, Australians who want to get a job, businesses who want to getahead, want to invest, they cannot trust Bill Shorten because he says one thingone day and another thing the next.

He cannot be trusted. All of those backflips demonstratejust one thing; he cannot be trusted to put Australians, Australian jobs,Australian business, Australian savings, first.

Thank you very much.

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