Doorstop - Australian Consulate-General, New York

  • Joint press conference with:
  • Senator Patrick Dodson, Special Envoy for Reconciliation and Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart
Subjects: National Day Mourning; downing MH17; Russia-Ukraine conflict; First Nations foreign policy; Declaration Indigenous People's Rights; debt load poorer countries; Greater Sunrise project; Chinese military escalation; UN Secretary-General's address

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thank you very much for being here. Before I begin on the topics of the day here in New York, can I just acknowledge that back home in Australia, Australians are waking up to a national day of mourning to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth. Obviously, I won't be able to attend the National Service, but I do want to again acknowledge Her Majesty's extraordinary life and her reign. Her selfless service and her commitment to duty were truly admirable.

In terms of what we've been doing here today, Pat and I, Senator Dodson and I have just had a very constructive discussion with partners including the Foreign Ministers of Canada and New Zealand about the experiences of nations seeking to ensure a stronger participation of Indigenous voices in decision making, including in foreign policy. As you know, the Labor Government believes how Australia engages with the world should reflect the full reality of modern Australia. Drawing on our history and our diversity enables greater possibilities of alignment with others. We know we're at an early stage in this journey and we want to listen and learn so it was really inspiring to speak with friends and listen to friends from around the world and discuss how we can build cooperation.

Today if I may, before I throw to Senator Dodson, just give you a little bit of a flavour of a couple of things we've been doing today. Most importantly was meeting with fellow partners in the joint investigation team on the downing of MH17 and they are obviously the Netherlands, Belgium and Malaysia and Ukraine. I want to acknowledge the work of my predecessor, Julie Bishop, in the work she did over many years to seek to bring transparency to this tragedy. We shall never forget those who were lost. Some 298 people on a civilian flight in civilian airspace, downed by military missile. Amongst those, 38 people who called Australia home, including six children. So we remember them and we continue to fight for justice. So I commend the tireless work of the respective investigative agencies, including the Australian Federal Police, whose efforts have been so important to enabling us to hold those responsible to account. The verdict in the Dutch prosecution of the four individuals allegedly responsible is due or are due in November. And that will be a very important step in our collective efforts to hold those who are responsible to account. This will be a difficult but very important milestone for the families and loved ones. In addition, Australia and the Netherlands are committed to the pursuit of accountability through our dispute against Russia in the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

I also today, doesn't seem like today, but it was still today, this morning chaired a meeting of the Friends of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and I welcome the hosting of that by Japanese Prime Minister Kishida and the presence of many other counterparts. We discussed the vital contribution of the Test Ban Treaty to international peace and security and the urgency of achieving its entry into force. That was underlined overnight, because overnight we saw Mr Putin making threats to use all means at his disposal. These threats are unthinkable and they are irresponsible. His claims of defending Russia's territorial integrity are untrue. No sham referendum will make them true. Russia alone is responsible for this illegal and immoral war, and peace must first lie with Russia withdrawing from Ukrainian territory. I now hand over to Senator Dodson, and then I'm happy to take further questions.

Senator Patrick Dodson: Thank you, Foreign Minister. Today I participated in the roundtable on how First Nations people's rights, interests and contributions can be made more effectively, not only in their foreign affairs policies, but how we are progressing those rights and interests at home in Australia. It was great to hear from other nation states as to how they are working with First Nations peoples to deliver things that only ten years ago would have been unthinkable in terms of the participation and having a voice not only in the domestic issues, but in the foreign affairs arrangements. So it was pleasing to note that our commitment to voice, treaty and truth in Australia was well received. Obviously, we've got work to do in that space. But knowing that we have a vision and that we have a process and that we are committed to pursuing it I think heartened the other nations that we're in part of the discussion. We are learning from other countries on how they're responding to the Declaration of Indigenous People's Rights. And we're also learning of the operations I suppose at the Sámi Parliament and the role that people there have played for a long time. So a great occasion, everyone's committed to working further in this space as we go back to, when we go back to Australia, obviously we got work to do, but everyone is interested and committed to sustaining this particular dialogue and advancing these very important factors. Thank you.

Foreign Minister: And I really want to publicly again thank Senator Dodson for his contribution this week and beyond to our country and also to our engagement with other nations. I'm happy to take questions.

Journalist: Foreign Minister, what sort of additional assistance can Australia provide Ukraine in the face of Russia's recent aggression? For example will we send over foreign resources, Bushmasters [indistinct]. And second to that, will we reopen the Embassy [indistinct].

Foreign Minister: In relation to the second. We're working through the security and logistics issues associated with that possibility, which are considerable. And if and when I'm in a position to indicate how the government will approach that, I'll do that. In relation to the further assistance. As I said to Minister Kuleba, who I also met with today briefly as well, we are in contact with our Ukrainian colleagues. We understand the extraordinarily difficult circumstances they face, the war in which they have been forced to engage. We will continue to work with partners to support Ukraine, and we will continue to consider the requests that are being made.

Journalist: Specifically on that request for more Bushmasters can you give us any idea of when a decision might be made?

Foreign Minister: I'm not in a position to respond today, but I can say to you we've made substantial contributions and we will continue to do what, all we can to support those brave men and women who are fighting for their freedom.

Journalist: The West has had pretty good intelligence, particularly at the start of the invasion about Russia's strategy and tactics. Do you have a sense of how real the nuclear threat is now? I know it's been made before, but obviously we should be taking it seriously. But do you have a sense of how real that risk might be?

Foreign Minister: Well, I don't think that we should be giving Mr Putin what he wants in our responses. And I simply again say it is both unthinkable and irresponsible for those threats to be made. And I was at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty discussions today and was reminded all the nations there from different continents, different perspectives, all united in saying: "we want a world which is free of this threat", poignant in the face of the words overnight of a man who's demonstrated his irresponsibility.

Journalist: Can you tell us anything more about that meeting with Dmytro Kuleba today? Was that another scheduled meeting, or any further detail?

Foreign Minister: No, this is in the context of the joint investigation. So this is in the context of our shared interest in pursuing justice because, of course, what was demonstrated was the missile came from, appeared to have come from - well, came from Ukrainian territory and appeared to have been as a consequence of Russian involvement.

Journalist: Will Australia now consider banning Russian tourists as a possible sanction and will the Russian Ambassador be sent home?

Foreign Minister: In relation to the latter, those matters remain under consideration. In relation to the former, Acting Prime Minister I think he was, Mr Marles has already responded, our focus is on those responsible for the aggression, not on the Russian people.

Journalist: In the speech today the President outlined -

Foreign Minister: Which president?

Journalist: Sorry, the US President.

Foreign Minister: Thank you. President Zelenskyy also spoke just recently.

Journalist: So he's just outlining how he's asking for for countries around the world to reconsider the debt load for poor countries. Is that something you're hearing on the ground? Any complaints about the debt load? And I've just got a follow up question to that as well.

Foreign Minister: That's always worrying when you flag a follow up before you've asked the primary. Well, it's not just something I've heard here. This is something I've heard in the region. And, in fact, you might recall in Timor-Leste, this was something I specifically went to in the press conference there and in other statements that we believe Australia looks to the UN Charter, the multilateral system, the system of norms and rules to protect sovereignty.

That is why we take the position we take in relation to Ukraine. And that is why we make the point that sovereignty also goes to your economic resilience. And so, therefore, debt levels which are unsustainable or lenders which do not have the sovereignty of the nation, don't have the same intentions around the sovereignty of the nation to which they're lending, that is a risk to sovereignty. And I've said that publicly, that remains my view, and I was very pleased to see the President make those comments as well.

Journalist: So, is there anything Australia can do in that? And maybe I'll bring the context in your meeting with Timor-Leste?

Foreign Minister: Yes, I thought that might be the follow up.

Journalist: I mean, in that regard, are you offering anything or considering anything in regards to the stall of the Greater Sunrise project?

Foreign Minister: Look, I have said publicly that we need to look to getting that project unstuck. The Australian Government is not a party, obviously to the joint venture. Ultimately what we need to have is a situation where the joint venture partners make a decision to proceed with the project and we are happy to work with them in ways that we are able to do that because that's in the interest of Timor-Leste. The point I made is that debt arrangements do need to be considered by governments. They need to consider whether or not those arrangements further and strengthen their sovereignty or erode it.

Journalist: The US President [indistinct] Russia’s actions today but in his speech he also called out China for what he said was a, "unprecedented nuclear build up without any transparency". How concerned are you about China’s build up of its nuclear arsenal? And if, indeed, you are meeting with your Chinese counterpart [indistinct]?

Foreign Minister: Well, what you would anticipate is I will make sure that if the meeting does proceed, I will be consistent in what I say inside the room as I say outside. We are concerned with the military escalation in the region, just as we were concerned over the response that we saw around the time of East Asia Summit in terms of the ballistic missiles landing in Japan's EEZ. So of course we will always be a party that seeks to call for de-escalation. We want peace and stability in our region. That's Australia's interest and I believe it's the interest of the countries of the region.

Journalist: What will your priorities be in that meeting if it does go ahead?

Foreign Minister: Why don't we talk about that after it's done? But Australia's interests are a constant. I made that clear and our approach to that meeting will reflect that.

Journalist: I think there have been a hope that the PM might have joined you with the US for this trip. Is there any update on when he might visit it? Has a White House invitation been forthcoming as of yet?

Foreign Minister: Well, he's obviously had the opportunity to already meet with President Biden within maybe not hours, but with a very short period after being sworn in at the QUAD and will be seeing him or would have seen him I assume that the funeral for the Queen. The Prime Minister has been obviously in London. He is back for the National Memorial Service today, the Day of Mourning. And will also be in Japan to attend the memorial service for former Prime Minister Abe. They're appropriate. There's obviously a lot of demands on his time.

Journalist: Minister, could I just follow up on that issue before? What reception are you getting when you talk about that issue, when you do say, "look, be careful who you take on debt from". Is it a positive reception? Is it one that's sort of accepting at this point? Are they a little bit-

Foreign Minister: Well, I like to be transparent about our interests, but obviously I'm not going to go into details of all these conversations, but I'd make the point. I think it is important to respectfully discuss the issue of sovereignty and why financial and economic sustainability are an aspect of sovereignty and Australia can do what we cannot not only, for example, our development assistance or any financing arrangements we engage in, but ensuring the countries of our region particularly, have the tools to assess that.

Journalist: And do you think it's, just in regards to the assistance that Australia's giving to the Ukraine. Do you think it's justified that Australia's giving more assistance to the Ukraine than France, in dollar terms?

Foreign Minister: Look, we all have an interest in a world in which the UN Charter and territorial integrity is respected. This is the point I've made over and over again at the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting, for example. The world came together to try and assure that itself, that we would not have a repeat of World War II. And it's fundamental to that. It's the principle that the territorial integrity of a nation is not abrogated by another. And that is what is happening. And we care about that here, just as people in Europe care about what is happening in Ukraine and care about Russia's - and reject Russia's illegal and immoral invasion.

Journalist: Yesterday the UN Secretary-General's pretty dire assessment of the state of affairs in his opening address where he said "the world is in peril and paralysed, and that nations are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction”. Do you agree and what do you see as the Australian [indistinct]?

Foreign Minister: We have a lot of challenges. We do. And it was a powerful speech, particularly his first opening lines. But it's not a new message. It's the same message I've heard at the Pacific Island Forum, it's the same message we've discussed at the East Asia Summit, it's the same message that we hear consistently. We have multiple challenges, COVID, climate and competition. I think the key thing to remember, the key thing to remember is all of these challenges have to be met together. The path to security lies through multilateralism and a system of rules and norms, which is why I'm here this week. And why we're doing the work, we're doing. Thank you very much.

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