Joint Foreign Ministers’ Press Conference, Beehive, Wellington, New Zealand

  • Joint transcript release with:
  • The Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Local Government and Associate Minister of Maori Development, New Zealand
22 April 2021

Minister Mahuta: [Welcome in te reo maori]

Thank you for coming today. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge Senator Payne and her delegation for coming here to New Zealand so quickly after the opening of the border and quarantine-free travel between our two countries. This is a really significant achievement - one that is a testament to the work we have been doing in terms of responding to COVID, but also to the closeness of our relationship and we are delighted to have you here today.

The imagery of our families being able to meet one another is something that we both cherish and this moment of having people travel home and to visit family reinforces the nature of our relationship. The moment is not lost either on the fact that we are so close to ANZAC Day and our people stood in the world wars shoulder to shoulder, in those battles because we knew that we were friends and allies and had so much in common, and that has endured to this day. And again, I would like to thank you for laying a wreath at Pukeahu [War Memorial]. To be able to recognise the contribution and service of our soldiers but also to hold them in our memories and in our hearts.

Our trans-Tasman relationship is a warm and close one. It's kind of like whanau [family] and when I consider the opportunities that we have to continue to strengthen that relationship, it remains underpinned by the some of those things that define what is unique about the way in which we work together – a single economic market; the fact that we have families who travel across the Tasman frequently and work and contribute to each other's economies; and the way in which we identify, how we reach out, on the things that really matter to each other. We have shared values; we have connections with each other. But we also share our connections into the Pacific. We have common views on regional and global issues. And again, Senator Payne, you being here today underpins just the special nature of our relationship because we are allies. I also want to highlight that we had really productive conversations and, as people would expect, close relationships enable us to have frank conversations and open conversations and that is what we treasure most about what is unique. So I'll give time to you to make opening comments and then we will answer some questions.

Minister Payne: Thank you very much Minister Mahuta. Thank you so much for hosting us, for the extremely warm and generous welcome that we have received. I have to say, it is just very special to be with you here in Wellington today. I very much appreciate the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that, through the diligence, the hard work, the focus, the drive of both of our nations, we here in Australia and New Zealand are able now to travel freely between our two countries in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.

I absolutely agree that it has been heart-warming to see some of the families reunited after such a really long time apart. That is not natural for Australia and New Zealand, it's not natural at all. So, it has been very special. I said it was very special to be in Wellington today and it is, but I just want to confirm in public, on the record that I am on a promise, for my next visit to go to Minister Mahuta's electorate with her and hopefully particularly to the Coromandel that holds a special place in my own youthful memories.

The twice-yearly Foreign Ministers Consultations, between Australia and New Zealand are always a top priority for such close friends. But I can say that these have become some of the most important that we have done because of the times that we are in. We are celebrating that milestone of opening two-way quarantine free travel and that will make a number of changes possible for us – both in the family contexts that I have commented upon, as has Minister Mahuta; also, though in terms of business and economic exchange, the things that drive us in our lives across the Tasman in so many ways.

But what the milestone I think reminds us of, is also the many challenges that we have had to work through in the COVID-19 period to get to where we are and those that still confront us. And I am very cognisant of the position in which many of our counterparts around the world, our foreign minister counterparts, still find themselves in terms of what they are dealing with respect to COVID-19. The challenges that we have faced and how we will cooperate into the future, are the ones we have been able to discuss face-to-face today. Now, we have had a number of conversations since Minister Mahuta took up her role. We have had telephone conversations, we have had some good video conferencing, but it is no substitute for being in the same room, at the same table with colleagues and officials to be able to deal with the subject matter in person and meeting in person.

Today, we have had very productive discussions together in relation to working on our safe travel arrangements, more broadly in our region – we know many of our Pacific neighbours are passionate about that – on supporting COVID-19 vaccine access in the Pacific, which will also be vital to opening up our region; and to how we can work with our partners across the region, particularly in the strengthening of sovereignty and resilience.

And it was a particular pleasure, may I say, not just as Australia's Foreign Minister but as Australia's Minister for Women to also discuss our shared priority for gender equality in our region and what we are able to do together in relation to gender equality in our region. As the closest of partners, Australia and New Zealand have taken a leading role in facilitating vaccine access to our Pacific neighbours and we have also been able to exchange thoughts on that cooperation now and into the future. We are very close friends and neighbours, Australia and New Zealand. But importantly, each of us is a proud sovereign nation with our own independently held views. That is a good thing and we would not have it any other way. But our shared values and principles and liberal democracies are so deep and enduring that our areas of agreement vastly outnumber any areas of difference. And our common values mean that we share broadly the same vision for our region – the strongest of bilateral relationships; a strong Pacific and wider Indo-Pacific region that is free, open and prosperous.

Minister Mahuta reminds us that this Sunday, we will again commemorate ANZAC Day – a deeply important day to both of our nations. And this morning, the opportunity to visit the memorial and to lay a wreath with my ministerial counterpart Zed Seselja, Australia's Minister for International Development and the Pacific, to mark our respects for both our fallen, is a timely reminder of the depth in history of that relationship, of what brings us together and has brought us together over more than a century now and what will continue to bring us together in the centuries to come.

Minister, thank you so much again for your hospitality. I think we have laid the groundwork today for a very successful leaders' meeting for our respective Prime Ministers and I look forward to working with you into the future to make sure that what we are doing in the Pacific, what we are doing in the Indo-Pacific, what we are doing together, Australia and New Zealand, is as productive as our meeting has been today. Thank you.

Minister Mahuta: Thank you Senator Payne, so we will take some questions.

New Zealand Herald: Senator Payne, would you explain why, perhaps Australia believes Five Eyes should move out of the shadows and into public diplomacy with an expanded remit to talk about China issues? And was New Zealand's unwillingness to support the expanded remit a surprise of you? How does it effect New Zealand's standing within the Five Eyes?

Minister Payne: Well I'm not sure I would agree with your categorisation of those questions, actually. So, what we see in Five Eyes, which I think is very much shared across the members, is a vital strategic alliance that is key, particularly to our security and our intelligence interests, and has been for many years now. A lot of issues with which we deal are dealt with, to use your terminology perhaps, are dealt with in the shadows but not all. And some have been able to be dealt with openly and publicly through the Five Eyes process. Because we do share, as liberal democracies, common values and approaches to so many of the international issues which have allowed us to deepen our cooperation through those alliances – through what is clearly an era of greater strategic competition, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. Now, my view is that countries will choose to address issues of concerns in whichever forum they themselves determine appropriate and consistent with their respective national interest. But our respect for each other - Australia, the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada - is enduring and continuing and one which we particularly in Australia value enormously.

SBS: Minister Mahuta, I wanted to ask, about a month ago our former Home Affairs Minister called 501 deportees “trash”. We already know this issue has caused a rift between the governments. Prime Minister Ardern herself said that it's causing a corrosive effect on the relationship. Others have called the policy deplorable. Is New Zealand willing to take a harder stance on Australia on this issue?

Minister Mahuta: We have certainly moved on beyond those particular comments and the things that needed to be said were said at the time in relation to the statements made. I can say we that we continue to raise our concerns around the issue of deportations and the impact that it has on New Zealand. We have reflected time again, through the Prime Minister and as recently in our conversation today, the level of that concern. We do believe that people who, for the most part, spend their lives in another country and relate to that country, are by and large itself self-identifying as to where they belong. But these are matters have been raised and will continue to be raised and we continue to have discussions about how we might address that.

RNZ: Kia ora to Senator Payne, would Australia like New Zealand to take a stronger line against China in some instances, for example, when disagreements occur. Or should Australia, as suggested by New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O'Connor show respect and use a little more diplomacy and be cautious with its wording?

Minister Payne: So, one thing I have learnt, in my role, in this job as Australia's Foreign Minister, is not to give advice to our countries. And certainly I can talk about the Australia-China relationship and our ongoing commitments about positive engagement with China. We acknowledge, for example, that this is a complex but comprehensive and important relationship between Australia and China that benefits both of us. And our engagement will continue to be clear-eyed, will be practical, particularly as the world emerges from COVID-19. And we pursue cooperation where it is in our interests, including for example, through the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations.

But we also have to acknowledge that China's outlook and the nature of China's external engagement, both in our region and globally, has changed in recent years. And an enduring partnership requires us to adapt to those new realities, to talk with each other. And what we have offered is clarity, and consistency and confidence. And that approach is one which serves the Coalition Government in Australia, enables us to focus on our cooperation in activities that deliver tangible outcomes for us, and for China, and which ultimately contribute to supporting the security and stability and the prosperity of our region, of our entire region.

So, we have been engaged in discussions today at length on a whole range of strategic issues. Most importantly, as I think I said in my opening remarks, we are able to have those discussions in a very positive spirit, in a very constructive spirit, and one which I look forward to continuing with Minister Mahuta.

Stuff: Senator Payne, you've torn up Victoria's Belt and Road agreement, I believe in the last 24 hours. New Zealand has, in 2017, signed its own Belt and Road memorandum. Firstly, why did you tear up the agreement in Victoria and should other players in this region including New Zealand follow suit?

Minister Payne: Again, in response into your last question, that is entirely a matter for New Zealand. Australia has instituted a system of examining foreign arrangements in our country - those arrangements particularly entered into by the states and territories with foreign entities, also entered into by local government and universities. In the first examination of those arrangements, as they have been returned to the Commonwealth Government - over 1000 arrangements were returned to us, from very many countries - my task is to determine whether or not they are consistent with Australia's foreign policy, whether they are adverse to Australia's foreign relations.

The decision that I have announced in the last day is in relation to four agreements in particular: agreements concerning Syria, Iran and China. And the determination that we have formed is that they are not consistent with Australia's approach to foreign policy and, under the legislation, will be terminated. I do expect that there will be further decisions to be made in due course and they will be informed by advice from my department on the consistency of all of those arrangements with the relevant legal test as it's set out in the legislation. There is, of course, a fundamental difference between the governance arrangements in Australia and New Zealand. And of course, we are a federation, so states and territories that enter into those agreements are now required to consult and to advise the Commonwealth as they do that. The process that I'm going through now is about reviewing those which have been made in the past and, in this case, addressing four of them in particular.

Minister Mahuta: Can I just cover the New Zealand component of the question? New Zealand and China signed a non-binding memorandum arrangement in 2017. We've not yet concluded the work programme and will still consider our approach based on that approach.

One News: Sorry Senator, thank you for answering the questions. In regard to Suhayra Aden, will you allow her and more importantly her children to return to Australia and where are you at with sorting that out with New Zealand?

Minister Payne: I think it's fair to say that Minister Mahuta and I have had a very constructive discussion about this issue and related matters today. We have a very close working relationship with our international partners, and that absolutely includes New Zealand, on management of national security issues, of which this is one aspect. And I want to say very clearly that regardless of the steps that have been taken in this case to date, both New Zealand and Australia acknowledge that it now does have a number of complexities. We are working through those issues in the spirit of our bilateral relationship, particularly in relation to children, and they are matters upon which we will continue to work together but I don't have anything to add to that at this stage.

SBS: Minister Mahuta, you expressed unease earlier in the week about using Five Eyes to pressure China. What are your concerns about talks to expand Five Eyes?

Minister Mahuta: In context, what I conveyed to journalists after the New Zealand-China speech was that the Five Eyes arrangement is about a security and intelligence framework, and it's not necessary all the time on every issue to invoke Five Eyes as your first port of call in terms of creating a coalition of support around particular issues - in the human rights space, for example. So that fundamentally was the indication I gave to journalists.
On that, can I say we do value the Five Eyes relationship. We receive significant benefits from being a part of that relationship and they are close allies and friends in terms of common values and principles. But whether or not that framework needs to be invoked every time on every issue, especially in the human rights space, is something that we have expressed further views about.

Newshub: Hi Senator, so back on the Suhayra Aden issue, when the Prime Minister spoke about Australia revoking its citizenship, that was about the angriest tweet ever seen her. So that coupled with the ongoing stoush over deportees, does Australia actually hold, sort of, New Zealand's concerns at its heart?

Minister Payne: Australia takes the concerns that New Zealand raises very seriously and I said in my response to the previous question on this matter that we both now acknowledge that the case has a number of complexities and that we will work through those issues in the spirit of this important and deep bilateral relationship - closest of bilateral relationships - particularly in relation to matters concerning children. And that is something which we have undertaken to discuss from our consultations today.

Australian Associated Press: Senator Payne, could you give us your thoughts on the missing Indonesian submarine? What Australia is willing to do to help and any specifics on the requests for help or action that you are taking at this point?

Minister Payne: Thank you. The news of the missing submarine is deeply concerning. There are over 50 submariners on the boat and the reports which we have heard overnight are clearly going to be deeply destressing to the families of those submariners, indeed to the Indonesian Navy. Australia has indicated and has been in contact with Minister Prabowo, through Defence Minister Dutton, that we will provide any assistance that we can. There is no question that submarine search and rescue is very complex. It is not a submarine that Australia operates. Our submarine class is quite different. But whatever we are able to do, we have undertaken to do. And I think those submariners and their families are very much in need of all of our thoughts and prayers.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555