AUKMIN Press Conference

  • Joint transcript release with:
  • The Hon Peter Dutton, MP, Minister for Defence, Australia
  • The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Minister for Women and Equalities, United Kingdom
  • The Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP, Secretary of State for Defence, United Kingdom

Marise Payne: Okay, let me begin, ladies and gentlemen, by welcoming everyone here to AUKMIN 2022 in the spectacularly beautiful city of Sydney at the spectacularly beautiful venue of Admiralty House. And let me also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we're meeting and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and also acknowledge and thank Uncle Alan for his welcome here to the four of us this morning to Cammeraygal land.

I also want to acknowledge and thank their Excellencies the Governor-General and Mrs Hurley who have allowed us to meet here at Admiralty House, surrounded by, in my opinion as a Sydneysider, one of the world's most beautiful views.

It was our absolute pleasure to host the 11th AUKMIN with our very good friends from the United Kingdom, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. It's fitting that our first 2+2 ministerial meeting in person in Australia since Covid began has been with such close and longstanding partners.

It's also been invaluable coming at a time when we all face numerous strategic challenges, whether that is the rising assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific or whether it is Russian aggression on the Ukraine border. At the same time, as governments we are also managing the ongoing Covid pandemic. Here in the Pacific, we're responding to unforeseen disasters such as the volcanic eruption and tsunami that has devastated Tonga, whom Australia is supporting, in cooperation with others, including the United Kingdom.

And I do want to take a moment here to acknowledge the Tongan Government's efforts in the face of this catastrophic event and the devastation that it has caused and also the work of our many partners providing support, including particularly New Zealand and France through the invaluable FRANZ partnership of France, Australia and New Zealand. Always strong in the face of humanitarian adversity in the Pacific.

We have agreed today that the way we meet such an array of challenges is by working more closely together – even more closely together. As liberal democracies, we are natural partners in countering the influence of malign authoritarianism, in standing up for human rights, in maintaining the international rules-based order.

Certainly, our values accommodate working with different political systems – for all of whom, though, the sovereignty of their own country is fundamental. But they don't allow for unbridled assertiveness or aggression by authoritarian states who would deny others that sovereignty or their own strategic choices. That's not something that can be tolerated by democracies looking to maintain an international system that is open and stable and prosperous.

By standing clearly on our values, our interests and sovereignty, we can give confidence to others, which is a matter Australia considers to be very important and something we have discussed today. We've talked about how we achieve this practically. In particular, we can support the resilience of those countries in fields in which they might be vulnerable to malign influence or coercion, areas such as cyber security and critical technology, infrastructure, trade, economics and defence.

Secretary Truss and I share a strong appreciation for the importance of supporting the development of infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific that is sustainable and climate-adapted, that drives economic growth and achieves genuine development goals. Yesterday, we signed an infrastructure investment MOU and a cyber and technology partnership - perfect examples of how we are cementing that practical cooperation.

We have today also discussed at length dangerous disinformation and how we can work more closely together in countering the narratives of authoritarian actors who seek to undermine our efforts to promote openness and stability.

And, finally, I think it's important to emphasise the inclusiveness of our approach. The UK and Australia have a vital relationship. We're forming new structures of cooperation through arrangements such as AUKUS with the United States. All of these promote peace and contribute to the resilience of nations in the Indo-Pacific. But there is strong value in flexibility – the Quad grouping between Australia, India, Japan and the United States, for example, aligns well with UK priorities in the Indo-Pacific.

We have both recently deepened our relationship respectively with ASEAN. We've both made clear that there is scope for AUKUS to work in alignment with other countries in some of the key technology and national security fields of artificial intelligence, quantum and cyber.

Today's discussions have gone a long way towards deepening our practical action together. Our own sovereignty, security, our prosperity rely on this now and into the future. I particularly want to thank the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary for travelling to Australia. You are always welcome.

I want to thank Minister Dutton for co-hosting the AUKMIN with me here in Sydney. It has been two days of excellent cooperation and planning, and I certainly look forward to doing even more together. Thank you. Secretary Truss.

Liz Truss: Well, thank you very much, Marise and Peter, for hosting us. We have no better friends than Australia, and it has been an incredibly productive day of talks. We are modernising our partnership for a new age. The reality is that threats are rising across the world. Russia is threatening Ukraine, amassing troops on the border. Iran is striving for a nuclear weapon, and China is using its economic muscle against Australia and other allies like Lithuania.

What we have shown today is that we are completely united in our response. We're standing shoulder to shoulder in defence of freedom and democracy, and we're determined to face down these growing threats. Today we've agreed to work even more closely in our response together with our friends and allies around the world focusing on three key areas.

First of all, strengthening our economic security. We're deepening economic ties to strengthen our supply chains and reduce strategic dependence. Our new trade agreement will completely remove tariffs between our two nations, and it will pave the way for the UK to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, reinforcing that reliability of supply. We're working together on joint infrastructure investment into the Pacific region.

Secondly, we're boosting our cooperation on technology. Technology has enabled incredible freedoms, but it is also being used to promote fear, and we can't allow the technologies of the future to be exploited for malign ends. Global tech standards must be shaped by the free world, not by authoritarian regimes. And that's why yesterday Marise and I signed a new cyber and critical technology partnership focused on tackling malign actors.

And, thirdly, we're deepening our security ties. We're proud to work together in the Five Eyes and on the Five Power defence arrangements. I'm looking forward to travelling to Adelaide tomorrow to see the Hunter Class frigates being built, our carrier strike group exercise with Australia and other partners last year. AUKUS will help make our defence and security ties even stronger by helping Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarine capability. It will also deepen our cooperation on advanced capabilities like cyber, AI and quantum. This will help protect trade routes and the wider stability of the Indo-Pacific.

Today we have been exploring how we can make even more of this great partnership to protect our people, our partners and our freedoms. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and with malign forces on manoeuvres, the UK and Australia are leading by example and making the case for freedom and democracy. Thank you.

Peter Dutton: It's been a very productive gathering. I want to say thank you very much to both of our very dear friends – to Liz and to Ben – for making the journey, in Ben's case about 24 hours here on the ground such is the demand for him to be back in the United Kingdom and to deal with issues in Europe. It's been quite remarkable, Ben, that you've been able to give us the time to be a part of AUKMIN and to be here personally. So I'm very grateful for that.

Equally, Liz, it's great to see you again and thank you very much for your engagement, your friendship with our country, which has been longstanding, enduring and only strengthened as a result of our meetings.

Marise and I have been very, very pleased, very proud to host this AUKMIN. It's a very significant achievement, particularly given the restrictions around Covid. But it signals our intent as two nations and it really demonstrates the depth of the friendship and the fact that that is able to endure during any time and through any period.

We know as a world today that we would be in a very different situation if during the 1930s and 1940s the United Kingdom hadn't stood up to malign forces and hadn't represented the values that they adhere to even to this very day. And we have a lot in common with the United Kingdom –­ a shared heritage, a shared set of values, and they must endure into the future.

The Prime Minister and I and others have spoken about this period in the Indo-Pacific being not dissimilar to the 1930s, and so it is incredibly important that countries that share values, like the United Kingdom and Australia, stand up once again. And we will work together in the Indo-Pacific and right around the world to deliver on those values, to give them meaning.

And as we demonstrated in Kabul only a few months ago, Australia was able to bring out over 4,000 people, but only because of the assistance of the United Kingdom and the United States. And the security overlay that they provided, the integration with our own Defence Force personnel on the ground resulted in a very positive, significant, tangible outcome for us.

And we're seeing at the moment in the Indo-Pacific with the greater presence of the strike carrier group, of the recent visit from the Astute and many more visits that will follow as a result of the agreement under AUKUS a strengthening and a necessary strengthening of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Australia.

And so I want to pay tribute to Prime Minister Johnson for his leadership in AUKUS and thank very much the guidance and the support provided by the secretaries in that process. AUKUS represents an enormous opportunity for us not just in relation to the acquisition of the nuclear-powered submarines, but also, as Marise rightly points out, other capabilities which will deter acts of aggression. And that's important not only for Australia and for our partners but for our dear neighbours as well.

And at the moment we're seeing one of our family members in Tonga going through a very difficult time. And the aid that's been provided by the United Kingdom, by Japan, by France, by New Zealand, by Australia again is a demonstration and an exercise of our values and our desire to help friends in good times and in bad. And the Australian Defence Force, as you know, has landed a C-17 yesterday. HMAS Adelaide departed from Brisbane at 12.30 their time this morning and is steaming toward Tonga, and we have two flights that we expect in today as well.

But they're tough conditions on the ground. The C-17s will struggle with the ash that's still in the air and we need to be very mindful of getting that assistance in place as quickly as possible. And Australia will provide that coordinating role from Amberley in particular in whatever way we can.

So there's been a lot we've been able to speak about, but underpinning this relationship is a shared heritage. It's served us and the rest of the world well in the past, and it will now and into the future. And it's why the relationship with the United Kingdom is as strong as it has ever been. We're very, very grateful that Liz and Ben have been able to make the 15,000-k journey. And I think even despite that distance we are friends that have come closer together over the course of the last 48 hours. Ben, over to you.

Ben Wallace: Thank you, Peter. And can I thank the Governor-General for hosting us all in his lovely house today. Can I thank Marise and Peter for hosting us. It's brilliant that despite Covid we can get together.

Eighty-one years ago to the day men of the Australian 6th Division and the British 7th Division captured Tobruk from the Nazis. On this day. We fought side by side then against an authoritarian and totalitarian regime, and we won not just because of the bravery of those men who died many of them for the sake of freedom but because we have an alliance and we are alliances. Our strength is through alliances, and that's why AUKMIN is such an important fool for us to stand up for the values that we believe in. The stronger we are together, the stronger our values will be protected around the world.

And it was great to have a comprehensive meeting today where we covered all the subjects that was mentioned – cyber security, misinformation, better, deeper military coordination and exercising, and a recognition that today's world, unlike 1941, is more global than ever. We are more connected, more fast, more threatened in many areas than we have been for a very long time. And we have to help each other, no matter how far away that is, because the world is smaller and more global.

Globalisation has been a reality for the economy. It's also been a realisation for threat. And with the internet comes a turbo boost that means young men in Sydney can radicalised by people from Syria. It means that nations can interrupt and corrupt our democratic and free and open societies from as far away as countries such as Russia. And, therefore, we have to work together to strengthen those alliances.

There's a phrase in English – and I'm sure it's exactly the same in Australia – which is, by your friends you will be judged. I'm proud that Australia is our closest friend. I'm proud that we work together on the same values, separated maybe by 15,000 kilometres, it might as well be next door. I think that is the strength of AUKMIN. What we've discussed today will lead even more to helping protect our way of life and hopefully will signal to all those other countries in the region that we are strong and reliable partners working together to deliver that freedom and uphold free trade and the rule of law. Thank you.

Marise Payne: And for a city without a helipad we certainly have a lot of helicopter traffic today. I understand we have four questions arranged from journalists attending this afternoon. Thank you very much for being here. I'll start with Stephen Dziedzic from the ABC.

Stephen Dziedzic: Thanks, minister. Can I ask a double-barrelled question, please, first on defence cooperation. Can I ask: have you discussed UK submarines or other assets either making more regular visits to Australia or potentially temporary basing arrangements for those assets in Australia? Any light you can shed on that about discussions today would be appreciated. And, secondly, on Ukraine, particularly to Minister Payne, can you give us a sense, please, of what assistance Australia is willing to contemplate giving to Ukraine. I know that the Ukraine Foreign Minister raised the prospect of assistance in terms of cyber intrusions by Russia. What steps is Australia contemplating on that front?

Peter Dutton: Thank you. I'm very happy to answer that. Ben might wish to add as well. Firstly, I can report to you that the discussions that are underway as part of the 18-month process with both the United Kingdom and the United States are really seamless. There's been no roadblock, no hesitation, and we've been able to work incredibly well together. So in terms of additional visits, yes, I mean that's within part of that working group discussion, but also part of the discussion that we've had here in Sydney as well. And we will see greater rotations, as we've already seen from the strike carrier group and from the nuclear sub visit out of the UK.

We will see more, not just from the UK but from the United States. We're seeing greater interest, of course, from even the Germans and other European nations. More people that understand what is happening in terms of the coercion and the bullying that's taking place within the Indo-Pacific. So there are many countries who have that interest in making sure that they have a presence and that they express their own view about freedom and the continuation of what we know in the Indo-Pacific at the moment.

In terms of basing, there's no proposal on the table to provide that additional basing. And into the future, again, just given the nature of the relationship, it could be something that we discuss at an appropriate time if it's suitable to both parties. But I think what you'll see is a greater regularity in visits, in training, in people being embedded within both services and certainly a greater cooperation in exercises and the visits by those various platforms, not just limited to submarines.

Ben Wallace: Yeah, I think as we know, it's early days yet. What is absolutely clear is that the United States, Britain and Australia are joined at the hip on delivering this program. The strategic capability that Australia wishes is a step change that will absolutely set them apart as a leader in their field in this part of the world. And I think that's really important that the UK and the US lean in as much as possible.

The first meetings took place last year with the United States, and I think nothing is off the table. You know, let's take the steps as we come. We're going to lay the foundations for training, we've got to lay the foundations for joint working, we've got to lay the foundations for understanding, you know, the design of all of this. But in the meantime, Britain will certainly make sure that the submarines when we have availability or we wish to deploy in conjunction with Australia we will do that, to come here and not just visit but also operate. These are global capable boats – not ships; I have to be careful there – boats. And in the future let's just take that one step at a time.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Peter, and thanks, Ben. In relation to the Ukraine, I had a very good conversation with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on the 19th of January, so a day and a half ago, and very clearly reaffirmed Australia's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

I indicated that Australia would be prepared to consider requests in areas in which we could assist Ukraine. And no formal requests have been made. To be clear, that is not about direct military support. That is not on the table from Australia's perspective. But we will work closely with Ukraine in the coming days and weeks in terms of challenges that they are dealing with and continue to affirm our views on their, as I said, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The second question I have is from Shaimaa Khalil from the BBC.

Shaimaa Khalil: Good afternoon. Shaimaa Khalil from the BBC. The question is to you, Foreign Secretary Truss. Foreign Secretary, you're here in Australia at a very challenging time back home, especially with the leadership crisis of Boris Johnson. Does Boris Johnson have your 100 per cent support without reservation? In your view, is his leadership tenable? Many have said his days are numbered. Your response, please. When there is next a vacancy to lead the Conservative Party, will you run?

Liz Truss: The Prime Minister has my 100 per cent support. He is doing an excellent job. Britain was one of the first countries to rollout the Covid vaccine. We've had a very successful booster program. We're now able to open up our economy again in Britain, and we've got one of the fastest growing commiserate in the G7. And the reason that we're here in Australia is working with our very close partners to advance freedom and democracy around the world and to protect our country. I want to Prime Minister to continue as long as possible in his job. He is doing a fantastic job.

Shaimaa Khalil: The leadership?

Liz Truss: There is no leadership election.

Shaimaa Khalil: Sorry, may I have a follow-up question – I apologise. You mentioned the Covid efforts of the UK and how successful they were, and now the economy has been able to open up because of the efforts by the government. But it is the same government and it is the same leadership that have had Covid-19 lockdown busting parties. What would you say to that, given the anger and the fury among the public and within the party as well, Foreign Secretary.

Liz Truss: The Prime Minister apologised and was clear that mistakes were made. But [indistinct], he is working to open up the economy and deliver for people across Britain. And that's what's important. What people care about is, you know, the fact that employment rates are higher now than they were before the pandemic started, the fact that we have a highly successful vaccination and booster program and that we are seeing growth across the economy. That is what's important and that's what people are focused on.

Marise Payne: Peter Hartcher from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Peter Hartcher: Thank you, Minister. Peter Hartcher from the Sydney Morning Herald. Current policies are failing to deter China and Russia self-evidently from their expansion and progression. I wonder for the Australian ministers first, please, realistically, what does Australia expect Britain in the face of an imminent war in Europe to contribute to the Indo-Pacific that will deter increased deterrence pressure against a super power known as China?

And for your British counterparts, I'd like to ask you conversely, all the talk about AUKUS is delivering benefits to the Indo-Pacific and defence and security in the Indo-Pacific. But what would you like to see reciprocally? We've just heard Minister Payne say that Australia is not offering direct military support to Ukraine, that that is not an option. Would you like to see Australia offering any concrete support to European security as the obverse of UK commitment to AUKUS?

Ben Wallace: What I'd say is security is a partnership; it's not a competition, it's not a transactional relationship. You know, when you go home to your wife or husband you don't sit down and have a transactional discussion every day. Our relationship with Australia and security and defence is fundamentally not about what can we get in exchange; it's about how can we strengthen what we all stand for and help each other. It's capacity building, it's alliances, it's messaging, it's better coordination. But none of us are sitting here around the table playing, you know, swapsies or anything like that. We're just getting on with it.

Liz Truss: I would make point that we are facing global challenges with multiple aggressors. We're are seeing increased economic coercion from China. We're seeing increased aggression from Russia. We're seeing Iran in danger of attaining nuclear capability, and we need to work with all of our friends and partners around the world. And Australia is an absolutely crucial ally and friend.

Whether it's in trade – and I believe trade and investment are very, very important between allies to build up capability and reduce strategic dependence EPBS on countries like China – or whether it's on defence everybody support which we're achieving through the AUKUS agreement as well as through other arrangements we have, for example, the Five Powers agreement with Malaysia and Singapore. This is the contribution Australia as made. And I think, as I said in my opening remarks, Australia is making a huge contribution to that battle for ideas that is taking place on a global level.

Marise Payne: I think I'd start by saying, in agreement with both Ben and Liz, that we all have different roles to play in the contests and the competition, strategic competition, that we see playing out. But there is no question that Australia or, in fact, I would go so far as to include the United Kingdom, would ever stop standing up for the values and the interests that we regard as most important for the global rules-based order that has served us so well for so many decades. And that includes in a range of ways.

It certainly includes in clearly signalling to authoritarian states what is regarded as unacceptable, what is regarded as beyond the realms of acceptable behaviour in the international environment, authoritarian aggression and assertiveness that engages in coercion, that engages in intimidation in a range of ways, and they don't all manifest physically – we know that is completely unacceptable. And Australia and the United Kingdom will continue to stand up for those values and those interests.

In terms of the United Kingdom in the Indo-Pacific, I can say from six years of experience in national security portfolios in Australia that I have seen an exponential and continued upward trajectory of UK engagement in this region. In fact, in November the secretary and I found ourselves shadowing each other around Southeast Asia – me in Indonesia and Malaysia and Cambodia and Vietnam; the secretary I think in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, literally visiting counterparts, engaging on the key issues of concern to the region.

We welcome the UK's engagement with ASEAN. We welcome our own advancement as a comprehensive strategic partner of ASEAN, the first comprehensive strategic partner of ASEAN. These are complementary activities and complementary engagement that really reflect the closeness and the affinity of the Australia-UK relationship and how it is playing out in the Indo-Pacific in particular.

Peter Dutton: Peter, the only thing that I'd add is that the United Kingdom has, as I said before, a proud history and heritage of standing up for good against bad. And if you look at what is happening between China and Lithuania at the moment or China and Thailand, between China and India, between China and Australia, other countries where there's been economic coercion or activities otherwise, it takes, I think, many countries to come together to call out that behaviour. And I think the principle of sunlight or sunshine and exposing the conduct and being frank about where red lines are and where conduct is unacceptable is the only way in which we can address such behaviour.

Nobody, as I've said repeatedly, nobody in our country, in our region across the world wants to see conflict of any nature. The Chinese government has been very clear about their intent with Taiwan, and they've been on a course of conduct with other countries, as I say, including Lithuania. It's all well documented. And it's more freely spoken about, and it should be, because they have the questions to answer and they should answer them.

And I think there's nothing strange at all – in fact, I think it's to be applauded – that the United Kingdom has fought for and continues to fight for freedom in the Indo-Pacific. That's their history. It will continue to be their future. And by bringing together countries like minded with shared values and with an ability to stand up and credibly be heard across the world, I think that is exactly what needs to happen. And we're doing that with great friends, and that's been reinforced over the last day and a half.

Marise Payne: And finally a question from Kenny Heatley at Sky.

Kenny Heatley: Foreign Secretary Liz, thank you so much for taking my question. Are you aware of any instances of blackmail within your own government from MPs who may be supporting a vote of no confidence against Boris Johnson and comments about recent revelations?

Liz Truss: Well, as you'll appreciate, I've spent the last 48 hours here in Australia talking about the important issues of how we tackle aggressive behaviour from Russia, how we deal with Chinese economic coercion, how we strengthen our ties in areas like defence, in areas like technology and in areas like the economy. And I've already commented on the situation in the United Kingdom, which is we are recovering very rapidly from Covid. We are opening up the economy and, you know, I do not have any information about what's happening on the subject you raise.

Marise Payne: Thank you, Liz, and thank you, Ben, so much for coming to Australia and for a very successful AUKMIN.


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