Press conference, Blue Mountains

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-Aotearoa New Zealand Foreign Minister Consultations.

Marise Payne: Good afternoon everyone. And thank you to those who are lucky enough to be with us here in what are now, again, very beautiful Blue Mountains, although the weather, the rain was very welcome and thank you for those who've come online to join us.

Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet this afternoon and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging, and particularly acknowledge the elders of the Dharug and the Gundungurra clans who provided us with such a warm welcome to the area yesterday afternoon, particularly the aunties who I must say exemplify an extra ordinary relationship with their communities.

I also want to welcome my friend, Minister Nanaia Mahuta, on the first leg of what is a very significant visit across multiple continents for her in the coming weeks. And to all of our Aotearoa New Zealand friends:  Nau mai Haere Mai, welcome.

It is fair to say that Covid has put a bit of a break on international meetings. So it was an important moment back in April when the Australian delegation was able to go to Wellington to hold our in‑person foreign minister consultations there. And it's very good to be able to welcome the New Zealand delegation in this week to build on that very productive discussion and to hold that here today in the Blue Mountains.

Both Nanaia and I are very conscious of the impact that Covid‑19 has particularly had on our respective tourism industries. For the leaders meeting to have been held in Queenstown in New Zealand and for these foreign minister consultations to be held in the Blue Mountains is indicative of our commitment to ensuring that those industries, and the many workers impacted by Covid‑19 know that we have them in our hearts and understand the challenges that they've been through over so many months.

Certainly also as such close friends with important shared history, history in peace and history in conflict and the strongest of bonds between our two nations, it was also very moving to jointly lay wreaths at the Springwood War Memorial in the mid mountains on our way here yesterday for Remembrance Day.

Prime Minister Ardern has said we are indispensable partners and allies. And that is absolutely right. We are each working together with great focus to support and partner with our Pacific family on our Covid‑19 recovery and on broader developments. Australia has our Pacific Step‑Up, New Zealand has through their Partnering for Resilience development, equally significant commitment on these matters.

We've discussed these today and also on furthering our cooperation between our two‑policy approaches today. We have each tailored of our development programs to respond to the Pacific's own priorities, particularly through the provision of vaccines and in economic support. We are working to ensure that at the forefront of our regional recovery is the promotion of women's leadership and on gender equality.

Australia greatly values our close cooperation with New Zealand, including on security issues, on the economic front and on people‑to‑people engagement. We share the most fundamental vision of an open and resilient Indo‑Pacific and inclusive region of sovereign, resilient and prosperous states.

We have discussed the role of AUKUS today, the complementary role that it will play, to the extensive network and partnerships that Australia has in our region. We have discussed our shared principles on open‑rules based economies and trade, and the need to reject and resist all forms of coercion, including economic coercion.

We're very pleased to be working with New Zealand also to support the resilience of our Pacific partners to climate change, and in their addressing of climate change.

Australia, as you know, has announced we are further increasing our international climate finance commitment to $2 billion, at least $700 million of that will go to the Pacific in that commitment.

It is very good to have you here tonight, Nanaia. Thank you very much for coming to Australia, for coming to the beautiful Blue Mountains. We've made very good progress today in what have been very comprehensive discussions. Laid some important foundations for our next leaders' meeting in 2022 and I wish you all the very best for your onwards travels.

Nanaia Mahuta: [Maori language] Thank you very much for the warm welcome and I also want to acknowledge the indigenous peoples of these lands and the elders past and present, for the warm welcome that they afforded me here to the Blue Mountains and the magnificent venue for our meeting.

I recall when you came over to New Zealand. We were the first visit that you made after the borders were opened and that really signals the strength of the relationship between New Zealand [Maori language] and Australia.

The other thing I recall is that in that conversation we have identified a number of the emerging challenges in relation to Covid‑19, and those challenges still exist. We're both responding to vaccination rollouts, the ability to consider a deepening of when borders will open and, importantly, how our support for the Pacific starts to help to respond to some of the challenges in the region.

That was a significant part of our conversation. And introducing them affords us to have a very in‑depth look and sharing of information and insights around, not only our bilateral relationship but also the Pacific and the wider Indo‑Pacific. And I think you'll all agree that has been a fruitful opportunity here today.

When I consider Australia's been our most important relationship, I too reflect on the way in which cooperation has continued through these very difficult and challenging times at responding to a global pandemic, and also the challenges that we're responding to across the border region.

And I only need to point to the response to Afghanistan and the way in which our defence forces worked closely on the ground to respond to a very dire situation, to support and save lives at a very critical time. But also the way in which our governments and agencies worked as well, again strengthening the nature of the trans‑Tasman relationship.

We spoke about a number of things which we've already commented on. And what I know is that we share a common interest around the strength of regional architecture such as the Pacific Islands Forum and the role and function that that plays to demonstrate leadership for stability, peace and prosperity. Much of which ‑ we understand how important it is that we we play our part. Similarly the way in which the centrality of ASEAN to the Indo‑Pacific can continue to reinforce the leadership undertaken in the region for peace and prosperity.

Let me move to some of the broader topics of which we spent sometime talking about, and there was resilience in terms of economic recovery, responding to Covid-19 and climate change. The COP26 conference is just in its final stages and New Zealand too have made some very strong statements about our level of emission, setting our MDCs, making a commitment to reduce emissions and also the commitment of [inaudible] climate finance, which ‑ the majority of which will go to the Pacific.

On this front it is important that we through these difficult times not only respond to Covid‑19 and economic recovery, but we do not resile from the challenge of climate change and the way it impacts upon our region.

Reconnecting to the world is a significant challenge for many of us who see the opening of borders as a critical pathway to ensure economic recovery. And being here in the Blue Mountains I am reminded of just how important it is that tourism as an industry is a part of that rebuilding our economic opportunity.

I am pleased you brought me here. The sun is shining and we will get to see this magnificent place.

Being close as we are has also enabled us to have some very difficult conversations. And so, like the Prime Minister has raised previously with your Prime Minister, and as officials we've continued to raise the issue of Australia's deportation policy and continue to advocate for a pathway to citizenship for those many New Zealanders who now choose Australia as home and contribute to the very fabric of Australian society.

Having those difficult conversations we are very aware we can present perhaps incremental and progressive pathways of what our future could look like in order to address those issues. We'll continue to advocate very strongly for Kiwis living here in Australia and see as part of our advocacy through the diplomat channels as a way in helping to be able to achieve that.

However, our commonalities are much more significant than our differences. That is the thing that I really want to say very clearly to you here today, that I've certainly enjoyed this very brief but awesome visit with the generous hospitality that you've provided to me. [Maori language]

Marise Payne: Thank you. Thank you very much, Minister Mahuta. We have a number of questions contributed. I'm the one with the microphone, so Minister Mahuta, I'll call on the questions. And the first one that I have on my list is Phil Coorey from the Australian Financial Review.

Phil Coorey: Thank you, Ministers. Look, to you, Senator Payne, perhaps Minister Mahuta you may have a view, with regard to China we're expecting a virtual meeting with President Xi and Biden on the sidelines of the APEC in New Zealand. And we've seen in the last day the climate accord agreed to by Beijing and Washington.

I wonder, Senator Payne, how do you see Australia fitting into this reproach, as it has been described?  Do you think it will facilitate a path to Australia to reconnect with Beijing or will it ‑ or could it mean us isolated? And Minister Mahuta, do you have any observations on the import or otherwise of these developments?

Marise Payne: Thanks, Phil. And let me start by commending and thanking New Zealand for your leadership of APEC through what has then been a very difficult year in the context of Covid‑19. We've seen the challenges that APEC has dealt with in the last couple of years and to hold the series of meetings and have the level of engagement that you have is enormously valuable to the strength of APEC as an institution. And hopefully we will in 2022 and onward be able to come back to in‑person meetings, because as Minister Mahuta said we know what a significant different that makes.

I have seen the reports, of course, in relation to the US and China engagement on climate. And I think anyone would look at the world's two biggest emitters working together to reduce emissions, in the short term we need to see those words translate into action, but we know that the US Special Presidential Envoy, John Kerry, himself has noted that, notwithstanding an agreement like that, there are indeed many differences in the context of the US-China relationship. But it is important to identify opportunities to co‑operate where possible.

And in fact at our AUSMIN meeting in September, Australia and the United States discussed that strategic competition with China at a number of levels and how that requires us to respond, how it requires us to increase our resilience, but we are very committed to working with all international partners. In the first instance in making COP26 a success, but more broadly we definitely have said consistently we want a constructive relationship with China.

That has been the consistent observation of mine, of the Prime Minister and of other Cabinet colleagues, in which we are able to co‑operate in those areas where it is possible to do so. But of course Australia will always protect our sovereignty, our national interests, our security and that is what Australians expect of their government.

But it doesn't mean that there are not constructive areas for engagement with China, with the great work that the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations is doing here in Australia. The grants programs that are productively engaging in a number of areas are a very good testament to how we are able to do that and we'll continue to do so.

Then it is also though important to know, to acknowledge that with strength, power, with growth comes responsibility, and the countries of the region see that and acknowledge that themselves, overwhelmingly of course the Indo‑Pacific. And that means that other states have the right to advance and protect their own interests. They are equally valid rights of those countries.

We want to make sure that we all are acting to achieve an Indo‑Pacific that is free, that is open, that is inclusive, that respects the rights of sovereign nations and that is prosperous. And we certainly encourage all contributions to that end.

Thanks, Phil.

Nanaia Mahuta: In New Zealand we welcome the US-China commitment to climate change because what that means for our region is that those countries that are most vulnerable, are most impacted, and that is the Pacific. So the way in which, again the US and China, have signalled that they will do more in the climate change space will make a material difference to the number one priority issue of Pacific nations, which is the growing impact of climate change, sea level rise, the impact on fisheries and resources.

And so we see a fundamental blink to the benefits to the broader region, and within that, obviously the instruments that help to create action in this area may well be utilised to the benefit of the Pacific outcomes. For example, how climate change might inform adaptation and resilience projects funded across the region.

Marise Payne: Thank you. The next question I have is from Andrew McFarlane at TVNZ.

Andrew McFarlane: Can I ask both of you for your reaction to the news that Kiribati, the Cabinet there has agreed to ditch the marine reserve. Delist it as a world heritage site and what are your concerns are there over the security of that area, especially with China? 

Nanaia Mahuta: Look, I'm aware of those reports that have just come out as recently as this morning. The big issue for the whole of the Pacific is in fact the impact of sea level rise and how they will affect countries like Kiribati. So it will important to ensure that we maintain a high‑level focus on the broader interests across the Pacific including Kiribati, on not only protecting their biodiversity and marine reserves [inaudible] alive to the real challenges that they are facing.

Andrew McFarlane: Sorry to be a bit more specific. But this is also they've come more closely aligned with Taiwan recently – regarding China recently has instead of Taiwan. Surely this could see more kind of a door open to China in this area.

Nanaia Mahuta: Again going back to the first question that was asked, both the US and China have signalled that they want to do more in so far as climate change. The way that that impacts on the Pacific, has been alert to the impact of sea level rise on the Pacific. Kiribati is one of those specific islands. I am aware of the reports, but won't speak to the specific issue, except to say that if the developing nations want to impact positively for the Pacific towards Pacific outcomes then being alert to the impact of sea level rise on the marine biodiversity are some of the issues that have to been factored into the considerations.

Marise Payne: Thank you for the question. I have become also aware of the reports. I don't have a great deal of detail on those. Seeking further information from our embassy in Kiribati. But from Australia's perspective in terms of our engagement on fisheries matters, particularly across the region, I think we have a very strong story to tell, whether that is our support for the Forum Fisheries Agency or our support for the Pacific community which monitors fishing fleets.

Kiribati's fishing sector receives support through both of those organisations. We are also gifting a Guardian‑Class patrol boat to Kiribati as part of Pacific Maritime Security Program, which is about protecting its EEZ as well and through that the Pacific Maritime Security Program also make a very strong contribution to monitoring surveillance through the funding of an aerial surveillance program that is administered by the Forum Fisheries Agency in terms of addressing those challenges particularly at IUU in the Pacific, which we know are a real economic threat to nations. And the context of economic recovery from Covid‑19, that's a very, very important contribution.

On the broader issue I would say that Australia and New Zealand are absolutely part of the Pacific family. It's where we live. We're embedded in Pacific architecture, whether it is, as I said, the SPC, the Pacific Islands Forum, the Forum Fisheries Agency. And we engage deeply and regularly with our Pacific family members as part of this. That is about talking regularly with them on their priorities and those issues that affect our shared interests. So we are seeking further information. And if necessary, we'll make further comment on this into the future.

Thank you. Back to the list, I think the next question is from Anna Henderson from SBS.

Anna Henderson: Thank you. This is a question primarily for Minister Mahuta. I didn't fully understand your initial reaction when you heard from the Australian Government that the climate change to the 2030 emission reduction target. That it will remain as it is ahead of COP26 and in [inaudible] that target should be increased?

Nanaia Mahuta: Well, in a more general sense, of course, we're encouraging developed nations to do all they can. But in so far as the decisions of each respective country and how they respond to the global challenge of climate challenge is a matter for them to determine.

New Zealand can be responsible for the things that we're going to do. We take those responsibilities very seriously and that's why Minister Shaw has been up there outlining our approach. But that by no means should restrict any other country in the way it responds according to its own considerations.

Anna Henderson: So is there going to be any encouragement perhaps? 

Marise Payne: That was one question, Anna. But thank you very much for a second go. Back to you I think, Andrew.

Andrew Macfarlane: Touching the AUKUS agreement, which you've already talked about, there's been some speculation and some thought that the door is still open for New Zealand to sign on to the agreement with some measures around the nuclear subs. Is that still on the table?  Is that something you're actively considering at the moment?

Marise Payne: I think we've had a really good discussion about AUKUS today and about the trilateral partnership between Australia, the UK and the US. And for the AUKUS itself it is a partnership between those three countries not with plans to expand amongst the countries.

But what underpins that, besides the science and technology partnership, particularly I think there are definite natural intersections with other cooperative relationships, that includes New Zealand. We've talked today about artificial intelligence, about quantum computing, about cyber ‑ in which we have a very strong shared interest, and an extensive relationship on cyber and critical technologies. So as this developed, I've undertaken to update the minister and for our officials to engage through that process.

We don't see AUKUS though as exclusive. It is about complementing our relationships and that includes our bilateral relationships with important partners like New Zealand.

Stephen Dziedzic next.

Stephen Dziedzic: Hi thanks, minister. If I could please ask this to both Minister Payne and to Minister Mahuta, there are early reports emerging from New Caledonia that France is going to press ahead with the current planned referendum date of December 12th, that has already drawn a furious early response pro independence by [inaudible] in New Caledonia who wanted to push back the vote until next year because of the coronavirus outbreak there.

Are you concern ‑ or is Australia ‑ or are New Zealand or Australia concerned about the prospect of the Noumea course falling apart as a result of this if there a boycott from the pro independence parties?  Would you make any representations to France about its decisions to keep the referendum in December?  And do have any concerns about what this might mean for stability within the New Caledonia?  Thank you.

Marise Payne: Thanks, Stephen. I will start very briefly. I don't have any comment to make on this matter. This matter is entirely one for France and for the New Caledonian authorities.

Nanaia Mahuta: I would add to that, it is a matter for them and their authorities. New Zealand has a proud history of self‑determination and would encourage full participation in the democratic processes to be able to influence outcomes.

Marise Payne: And back to Andrew.

Andrew McFarlane: Number 3. Minister Mahuta you touched on, expressed New Zealand's thoughts on the 501 deportation policy. You mentioned that you were thinking about a step‑by‑step plan or some phased idea about how that could be brought back. Is that a concrete plan you are talking about here or any staging?  Is there any significant movement on that policy?

Nanaia Mahuta: That was a very general statement to the range of issues we are going to bring to it. In relation to the 501 deportation plan, we have raised over a period of time, discomfort with the way in which that particular policy impacts on people being sent back to New Zealand. We've made the point a number of times before at various levels that when people, for the most part live in Australia, feel like they're contributing to Australian society as Australians and then go back to New Zealand where they don't have any connection or family support in the area. It provides a level of discomfort for us and certainly for them.

We've certainly again raised it at a ministerial level, and prime ministerial level and at an officials level that the level of discomfort that this has caused us.

Marise Payne: Andrew, we have had, as we've said, very frank discussions today and I think that's really important in a relationship like Australia's and New Zealand's. And I very much respect that we are able to do that and that our Prime Ministers have done the same and I have listened to those very carefully.

Our policy has not changed though in terms of the approach we take to those non‑citizens who commit crimes in our countries. That applies to the citizens of any country. But it is important that we are able to work together and to discuss these matters.

And further and separately, I would also say today the Australian Government has also announced that we will extend measures to further support New Zealand citizens who have been adversely impacted by Covid‑19 who were on a pathway to permanent residency in Australia. So from tomorrow those New Zealand citizens applying for the New Zealand stream of the Skilled Independent Visa will be able to claim exemption from either the 2019‑20 or the 20‑21 income year.

The Minister for Immigration has made a statement on that today. And these are extended matters which would assist eligible New Zealand citizens to meet the requirements of the New Zealand pathway, which is also something which has been a matter of discussion between both of our leaders, ministers and officials for sometime.

Ladies and gentlemen, can I thank the members of the media who participated online this afternoon. We wanted to ensure that we could have an media conference here in the Blue Mountains and I know many of you are not proximate. So it is through technology that we can make this possible. So I'm very glad we've been able to do that.

Can I also advise that we'll be issuing a joint statement as the outcomes of today's meeting between Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and our foreign minister consultations. Thank you all very much.

And again, Nanaia, safe travels and thank you very much for joining us here with her excellency the High Commissioner. Thank you.

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