Press conference

  • Joint transcript, E&OE
Location
Kirribilli, NSW
20 March 2022

PRIME MINISTER: I'm joined by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Women, and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. Australia joins the international community as we continue to condemn Russia's unprovoked, unjustified invasion of Ukraine. And we continue to call on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory, consistent with the legally binding decision of the International Court of Justice. And to engage in dialogue and diplomacy in good faith. Russia's actions are a gross violation of international law. They're a gross violation of the principles that support a rules based order that favours freedom. And as a result, are a threat to all who rely on that, including here in Australia and in our own region.

What happens in Ukraine does not just affect Europe. As we're seeing here in Australia, it affects, of course, the rules based order upon which our own region depends. But it also is obviously affecting terribly Australians here with family in Ukraine. Some 40,000 Australians of Ukrainian descent. It's having a significant impact on the world economy. So the relevance of what's occurring in Ukraine reaches well beyond its borders and its immediate surrounds. It indeed shakes the whole world. And as a result, we have joined with like minded countries around the world in condemning the actions of Russia and giving them no quarter and ensuring that we are encouraging all others to do exactly the same. To bring this situation, this terrible and awful situation under control.

Russia must pay a very high price for its brutality. It must pay that price economically. It must pay that price reputationally and in diplomatic terms as well. And it is indeed paying that price and the incredible the incredible resistance and courage that has been displayed by Ukrainian and Ukrainian people, by President Zelenskyy, the Prime Minister and his government has been extraordinary and inspirational all around the world, and Australia has played its part in providing encouragement to the people of Ukraine and to their government and the discussions that I and the Foreign Minister have had with senior members of the government, including, in my case, President Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Shmyhal. The people of Ukraine have been defiant and they've asked for more help. They have been greatly appreciated, greatly appreciative of the help that Australia has provided and the recognition of what they're facing. But in our discussions over the last couple of weeks, they've made requests for more arms, for more humanitarian support, and they've also asked us for our call to assist help power their resistance to help them to deal with the energy situation and needs in their own country.

And so that is exactly what we are going to do today. The Australian Government announces that an additional $21 million support package of defensive military assistance will be provided to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, ammunition, body armor, things of that nature, and that will be bringing our total military support now to Ukraine to some $91 million Australian dollars. We know that Russia's actions have targeted civilians, and it's disgraceful, causing carnage and devastation, unimaginable suffering and the exodus of over three million people. This is creating a humanitarian crisis, a humanitarian crisis that I have discussed with European leaders, particularly those on the border of Ukraine, and talked about what their needs are. So Australia will provide an additional $30 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to help meet the urgent needs of the Ukrainian people, taking our total humanitarian assistance to $65 million Australian dollars and the Foreign Minister will speak more to those issues in a moment.

To help Ukrainians forced to flee from Russia's war, the Australian Government will also continue to provide support to those who are coming here from Ukraine. Already, we have been able to grant 5,000 visas since I announced that we were putting Ukrainian visa applications to the top of the list. And I want to thank all of those in the Department of Home Affairs who have worked so assiduously. And I want to thank the Ukrainian community here in Australia who have worked closely with us. And I particularly want to thank Stefan Romaniw, who we've worked closely with and all of his state leaders, many of whom I've now met with personally. In order to support those 5,000 already visa'd Ukrainians to come to Australia, and they are coming across a range of different visa programs that are coming on skilled visa programs on family programs. They're coming on student visas, they're coming on tourist visas. In all of these cases, when they arrive in Australia, we will make available to them a temporary humanitarian visa. This visa will be valid for a period of three years. They will have the opportunity and be invited to apply for other longer term visas should they wish to do so. This temporary humanitarian visa will give them the opportunity to work, to study and to access Medicare.

In lockstep with our partners also, Australia will continue to impose high costs on Russia. So far, we have imposed 476 sanctions on 443 individuals and 33 entities. And today, in response to a direct request from Ukraine, Australia will donate 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal. This will help Ukraine's power generators operating and supplying electricity to the power grid at this critical time. They need that before the end of May, and we have arranged the shipping for that to take place and are working with other countries to ensure it can get to the Ukraine. So it's our coal. We dug it up. We've arranged the ship. We've put it on the ship and we're sending it there to Ukraine to help power up their resistance and to give that encouragement. We understand that it can power up to about a million homes and this is incredibly important. This was a request that was made of us, and Australia is in a position to fulfil that request. It was also made to me through the Polish Prime Minister, and we're very pleased to be able to meet that need.

In addition, though, late last week it came to our attention that there was a ship that was due to dock in Australia this week to collect a load of alumina bound for Russia. That boat is not going to Russia with our alumina. Last night we put the sanctions in place, which will prevent that from occurring. The government has imposed an immediate ban on Australian exports of alumina and aluminum ores, including bauxite, to Russia, which will limit its capacity to produce aluminum, which is a critical export for Russia. Aluminum is a global import across the auto, aerospace, packaging machinery and construction sectors. And it's a critical input into weaponry, including guns, ammunition and missiles. Our decision here should say very clearly that to all countries, all companies operating in Australia, we are watching these things very, very carefully. And it's it's vital that we ensure that we diversify away from and not be providing any support to Russia, particularly at a time when they're invading their neighbours. This significant steps demonstrates our absolute commitment to holding the Putin regime to account. And we won't cease until we're doing everything we possibly can. We are identifying new things that can be done every single day, every single day with our partners, with those around the world to put the maximum cost, put the maximum pressure on the Putin government to withdraw from Ukraine and doing everything we can to continue to support the brave and courageous resistance that we're seeing from the people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine. With that, I'll hand over to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and then the Minister for Immigration, who can speak to those individual matters. And then I'll return to some comments in relation to the election of the new Premier in South Australia. And, of course, make some remarks regarding the departing Premier.

SENATOR THE HON. MARISE PAYNE, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Thank you, Prime Minister, and to reinforce the Prime Minister's views. There is no question that the Russian war on Ukraine is extracting a catastrophic humanitarian toll. It is creating the fastest growing refugee crisis since the Second World War. Currently, we see around 6.5 million people internally displaced and a further 3.3 million having fled to neighboring countries. More than half of those are children. That actually represents about a quarter of Ukrainians forced to leave their homes. The Russian military has bombed at least one maternity hospital. More recently, a civilian shelter, a theater with families sheltering inside, and those civilian casualties continue to climb. The targeting of innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure are war crimes, and President Putin must be held to account. Many people remain trapped in areas of escalating Russian aggression, with essential services disrupted and unable to access sufficient food or water or medications. And we know that the situation in Mariupol is particularly dire. Australia is further increasing our assistance and strengthening our sanctions, as the Prime Minister has mentioned.

We are today committing an additional $30 million in humanitarian support, bringing our contribution thus far to $65 million. That will be directed in the following ways. $10 million through NGOs for education and critical protection for children, for people with disability and those at risk of gender based violence. $8 million to the United Nations Population Fund to protect displaced women and girls from gender based violence and to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services. $10 million to the World Food Program to address critical food shortages and $2 million for the Emergency Action Alliance Ukraine Appeal, which Australian NGOs and their partners will attract matched private donations to the government contribution. We are also amending the Overseas Aid Gift Deduction Scheme. That means that donations to approved aid organisations that are directly supporting Ukrainian refugees in other countries, so in Poland, in Romania, in Slovakia and in Hungary will soon be tax deductible here in Australia for contributors. And as the Prime Minister has also said, we have imposed a ban on Australia on Australian exports of alumina and aluminum ores to Russia. This will limit Russia's capacity to produce aluminum. That is a critical export for Russia. This demonstrates our commitment for holding the Putin regime to account for its actions. Australia will also support the energy security of Ukraine by donating at least 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal, and that follows a request from the government of Ukraine. As a government, we have consistently reiterated our absolute support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. We do so again today, and we call upon Russia again to end this unprovoked illegal war and to remove their forces from Ukraine.

THE HON. ALEX HAWKE MP, MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION, CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS: Well, thank you, Prime Minister, and thank you, Marise. It's obviously a privilege to add to the Prime Minister's remarks about what we're doing for Ukraine-Australian community here and people who are coming from Ukraine with four million people displaced already and potentially many more in coming weeks, we've been proud to issue visas on a very, very fast basis to 5,000 people now who are connected with Australians who have an Australian connection and want to come here. So far, we've seen about 700 of those arrived, but we now know every day we will see more people coming who are in a very bad way, who need more support and assistance.

So firstly, I want to thank the Australian Ukrainian community for what they've done in recent weeks. Many of them have given up their jobs, they've worked around the clock, they've worked through the night with the department, with the government to support these movements of these people. So from today, we announce that anyone coming here will immediately get access to our generous humanitarian support provisions, which means they will be looked after on arrival. They'll be able to access support through the community and through the government. That will mean they can be looked at for whether it's accommodation need, whether it's a trauma need. And we are now sadly seeing people who are very traumatised by the experience they've had and have gone through some very significantly difficult things. And they will also be able to then immediately be certain about making arrangements for whether it be access to Medicare or health services they need. And as the Prime Minister said when they settle in in the weeks ahead, if they choose to want to go to work and some of the people we're seeing are doctors from major cities there, they're skilled professionals, they're people who want to do something here and we they will be able to then work or study in Australia.

And so further from that, the government has also announced today that we're working with the states to work on those accommodation needs and their access to the hospital system, and they'll be able to access whether it's a hospital and they're in need or their children go to a state school where they're settled. All of those needs will be met and that won't be met from their arrival. We also say today that we are supporting the Australian Ukrainian community to the tune of $450,000 directly, and that's to recognise the fact that in coming weeks, those 5,000 people that we've announced more and more will be arriving in more and more difficult states, and the Ukrainian community will employ people to directly support those arrivals wherever they arrive in Australia. So that will work to support all of the people who again, I just thank for their generosity in giving up their time and working around the clock with the community and the government to support a very difficult and dangerous situation. Thank you, PM.

PRIME MINISTER: Can I thank, of course, all the agencies have worked to bring this package together over at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Home Affairs, of course the Department of Defence. Can I also thank the Ukrainian association, they've done a tremendous job right around the country and we're pleased to be able to provide that support. I also want to thank Whitehaven Coal Company. When we had to put this together, Minister Pitt, who's done a terrific job on this, was able to work with them to access those coal supplies and then to be able to work through to arrange the shipping at very short notice. Much of Australia's coal exports are contracted. And so this this was not a simple matter, and it was able to be resolved quite quickly.

In relation to the election of the Labor Government in South Australia. I've already been able to speak to the Premier-elect Mr Malinauskas and to convey to him my congratulations and his wife, Annabel. It is a significant victory and they are elected with a very strong mandate to move forward with the many issues that they intend to take forward. We had a very constructive discussion about the many projects that are already underway in South Australia and our keenness to cooperate and work on those, whether it's the programs or with the National Space Agency, the defense industry programs that are operating there, our manufacturing incentives and investments. And I look forward to working with him on on those many projects and welcoming them to the national cabinet, which is not scheduled to meet until June.

To my dear friend Steven Marshall, who has been an outstanding premier, I want to wish him all the very best and I want to thank him for the tremendous role that he played in turning around his own state. The entrepreneurial spirit in which he pursued that role, which has seen projects like Lot 14 and so many others bringing industry back into South Australia, bring jobs back into South Australia, seeing people move back to South Australia. These are all significant achievements and I want to thank him for his great leadership. I also want to thank him for the very positive and constructive role he played around the national cabinet table during the course of the pandemic. Steven was there from the first meeting to the one we just had the other day, and at all occasions I think he took a very, very responsible and measured approach to these issues. And I greatly appreciate his support in working through what has been one of the most difficult times for Australia over the last few years. And his contributions in South Australia, particularly. This is how we kept 40,000 people from dying in Australia. We did it together as a team and we continue to do it together as a team. And the Premier-elect will be joining that team now and I look forward to working with him to that end.

JOURNALIST: This is the first incumbent government...

PRIME MINISTER: If we could just focus on Ukraine first, that's the serious issue today. There are other serious issues like the election of the new government in South Australia, but with the Foreign Minister and the Minister for Immigration, who are here with me. If we could focus on that, I'd be grateful.

JOURNALIST: 5,000 [inaudible] so far, how high is Australia willing to go?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, 750 people, I'm advised, have already arrived of that 5,000, we'd obviously expect more to be arriving and we are prepared to meet the demand. We haven't set a limit on this. I've said we'll do what we need to do. What is interesting, though, in my discussions with European leaders and is that many of those who have become displaced, three million people have been displaced. Their intention at this time, as we understand it, is to remain in Europe, largely with the hope and expectation of being able to return to their homeland. That is what they want to do. Now, undoubtedly, there will be a call on both humanitarian visas around the world, including here in Australia, and we will play our part in that. But what we're already seeing is that there are many Ukrainians who are actually applying to come to Australia on the many under the mainstream programs, and we welcome that as well. And with the announcement we've made today, it just means that when they come, particularly if they've come on a tourist visa or something of that nature, then they're being afforded the work rights, medical support and settlement services support, particularly when you think about things like trauma counseling and accommodation, things of that nature. So we'll just keep stepping up on that. But in all the discussions I've had with European leaders, it is not yet clear what the scale of that demand is going to be. And so it's premature to start making estimates of this. What we should be doing is exactly what we're doing and saying you're welcome, please apply. And when you come, you'll get a very warm welcome and a lot of support from Australia.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible re: separated child].

THE HON. ALEX HAWKE MP, MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION, CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS: Yeah, thank you for the question. So from the beginning, we were keen to make sure there were arrangements in place to address all of the issues of transit, including vaccination, and the Border Force Commissioner has been applying exemptions since the beginning of the invasion. And the Chief Medical Officer of the Commonwealth as well has been addressing any medical concerns from the beginning, and that process has been very smooth and very effective. In so saying, there are some problems from time to time with different airlines or different posts. But I'm happy to say to you now the Commonwealth stepped in overnight and that child will be flying here in the next day. So that was an airline issue, not a policy or Commonwealth issue. In fact, we were able to work directly with the airline to make sure that child will be flying to Australia.

PRIME MINISTER: I think it's important to just keep in mind that we're dealing with a situation which is a war zone. And so not everything is always going to be as clear as you would hope it to be. And whether it's our consular support, which is being provided through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, immigration support through the Department of Home Affairs, that this will be testing all of their skills in dealing with some very unconventional situations. And as you can see from this case, they will just work the issue, work with everybody, work with the Ukrainian association here in Australia, to give people that confidence and assurance.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, 70,000 tonnes of coal today.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah.

JOURNALIST: Are you prepared to send more if that is required?

PRIME MINISTER: This meets the request that have been made of us, this will arrive there in May and we haven't had any further requests at this point. But as we are constantly liaising with Ukraine's government and and speaking with their Prime Minister and President and the Foreign Minister and other government to government level contacts, as well as our partners and as we identify needs that we think we can, we can meet. Well, we go out there and we meet them.

JOURNALIST: A lot of resources are already contracted before they are dug out of the ground. Was it difficult to [inaudible] without affecting companies [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: No contractual obligations were impacted, and that's why I'm genuinely thankful to Whitehaven for working with us and Minister Pitt. He got onto this. I got off the phone and got straight on to Minister Pitt, and then he went to work and he sourced the coal with the company, and the company did a fantastic job in freeing that up. And and I want to, I really appreciate the speed with which they acted. That's all on Ukraine?


Further questions and answers from the Prime Minister can be found at Press Conference | Prime Minister of Australia (pm.gov.au).

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