Doorstop - United Nations, New York

  • Joint press conference with:
  • Senator Patrick Dodson, Special Envoy for Reconciliation and Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart
Subjects: UN General Assembly, Ambassador for First Nations people, Voice to Parliament, China and Taiwan, Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thanks very much. Well, look, it's a great honour to be here and a great honour to be here with Senator Patrick Dodson at the UN General Assembly in New York representing Australia. And I want to start by just recalling again that Australia helped create the United Nations and a strong and effective United Nations, a strong and effective system of multilateralism is core to Australia's national interest today - just as it was in those days after World War II and just as it has been in the decades since. It is in Australia's interest to have a world in which countries operate by agreed rules in relation to agreed norms. We don't want a world where disputes are resolved by power and size alone because whilst we have global interests, we're not a superpower. And we need to work with others to resolve shared problems and advance our interests. The rules that are embodied in the institution behind me today have been the foundation of the peace and prosperity we have known since the end of World War II. But let's be clear, they are under threat. They are threatened by Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine and those who enable it. They are also threatened by climate change and by those nations who do not abide their commitments to the rest of the world. So we have a lot of work to do here in New York and beyond. We have to do what we can to protect and defend the system which has enabled peace and prosperity for the period since World War II.We have to work together with other countries on those challenges we share and the benefits we share, whether they are climate change, COVID, development, human rights or many others. And we here are here to demonstrate that we, Australia, are ready, an able partner for all those who seek a world that is peaceful, prosperous and where sovereignty is respected. In terms of what I have done in the short time I've been here, we've sought to do what we said we'd do, which is to engage. Why do we want to engage? Because whilst we take the world as it is, we work to shape it for the better. And that means engagement with others. So I've met with Minister Ibu Retno, Retno Marsudi from Indonesia and also the Foreign Minister of Timor-Leste and the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, as well as another number of other meetings. As I said, I'm here today with Senator Patrick Dodson. I'm very proud to have him with me. And as you know, there are many Australians who speak about Pat as the father of reconciliation. Senator Dodson's a key part of Australian power. Let's talk about that briefly, we're a country which is home to people from hundreds of different ancestries. And what does that mean? It means we can go to almost every country in the world and say we share common ground. That's an enormously important part of who we are and of our national power. And part of who we are also is that we are home to the oldest continuing civilisation on the planet. And bringing that First Nation's heritage to our engagement with the world is part of our foreign policy. It is part of who we are. So I'm very grateful to Pat for making time to be here with us and together we'll be hosting a roundtable on an indigenous approach to foreign policy on Wednesday. And I can also tell you that today, no tomorrow, Wednesday, Australian time, I'm losing track of the time, we are going to be opening public expressions of interest from individuals to be considered for the position of Ambassador for First Nations people, an election commitment that we made as part of the government's determination to include First Nations people at the heart of our foreign policy. I'm happy to take further questions, but I might first ask if Pat would like to say a few words.

Senator Patrick Dodson: Thank you, Foreign Minister. And again, it's a huge privilege to be here, to see the challenges facing the world, the need for collaboration, cooperation. And I've had a meeting with the Department that deals with First Nations interaction with the UN. And again, the importance of a voice within these halls and in these structures parallels the work that we in Australia are doing about a voice to the Parliament and the need for First Nations voices to be heard in the way we go about reforming and resetting the relationships within our country. And Australia is on the cusp, really, of some marvellous changes that are paralleling the way in which the challenges that face the institution here also has to grapple with. But I'm privileged to have met the Lenape People, some of their peoples here today. The traditional owners of this part of the world. And to hear how they've been dispersed and fragmented over the years. Similar stories to what's happened in Australia and the need to obviously begin restoration, recognition and reparations in many situations. But also to look, as the Foreign Minister has said how First Nations can participate in trade, make their contribution and really be part of a modern global society as much as a modern Australian society. So having the privilege to be here, recognise this. We'll have further discussions around the voice, its interaction with institutions, and learn from Canada and other places about the adoption of the Declaration on Indigenous People's Rights. And, so my role here is to learn as much as we can in those fields, but also to contribute and explain what we're doing about the Statement from the Heart, Voice Treaty and truth making in Australia. Thank you.

Journalist: Foreign Minister Joe Biden as you know will be here tomorrow. He said once again this week that the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked. It's not the first time he said this. [indistinct]. What is Australia's position on this and would it help the US if the two were [indistinct]?

Foreign Minister: Well, first, in relation to the last question, I have been asked that many times and my answer will not change, which is, it isn't responsible for me to engage in hypotheticals and I don't intend to do so. Australia's position on Taiwan has not changed. We want to see peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. I have said repeatedly we do not want to see any unilateral change to the status quo. Obviously, we value our unofficial people to people and economic ties with Taiwan, and they will continue, and just as we will continue to respect our long held bipartisan position on One China policy.

Journalist: Do you accept though that the US has changed their policy stance?

Foreign Minister: Well, I can speak for Australia, I can't speak for the United States. I would note that the administration has made certain comments, but my position is to speak for Australia.

Journalist: Speaking for Australia are you concerned as Foreign Minister that the President's repeated statements on Taiwan are heightening that risk of conflict and then obviously the implications for Australia -

Foreign Minister: Sorry, our position is that we do not want to see any unilateral change to the status quo, and as I said previously, in relation to the escalation of tensions and what occurred. And I'd refer you to the statement I released at the EAS with Japan and the United States in relation to China's response. We will continue to work for peace, and it's in the interest of the region and of all countries to ensure that they do what they can to ensure that the status quo remains.

Journalist: Minister, did you say that you met with your Ukrainian counterpart today?

Foreign Minister: Yes.

Journalist: Was there a request for more Australian support, what was your response to that? And separately, can I ask what you make as these latest developments, the idea of referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine?

Foreign Minister: Well, first, can I say that war in Europe has cast a shadow over this meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations and we ought not be so taken up by the events of the day that we don't understand and mark what a historic, in a very bad way. What a historic backdrop this is, a dreadful historic backdrop, particularly given that one of the reasons this institution and the rules that in which it is embedded with set up is because the world did not want to repeat the horror of what we saw, what the humanity saw in World War II. I had a very good meeting with Minister Kuleba. I expressed to him again the solidarity of the Australian people with the people of Ukraine. I expressed to him again our admiration for their courage and their sacrifice in the face of the illegal, abhorrent invasion by Mr Putin and the Russian troops. Obviously, there is always more we could do and the government will continue to look at ways we can support the people of Ukraine. I would make the point that we have already made a very substantial contribution both in humanitarian assistance and military assistance. Did I cover everything, is there one last bit?

Journalist: I also wanted to ask what you make of this news about potential referenda in these [indistinct] areas

Foreign Minister: What I would say is we would be led by the views of the government and the people of Ukraine. They are the invaded nation and they have had to stand firm in the face of Russian aggression.

Journalist: Minister will you meet with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi while he's here, what will you discuss? And just with regard to Ukraine as you said that's casting a shadow over [indistinct]. What would you say to some of the countries in the Global South who are concerned that it's taking attention away from other issues which are not discussed –

Foreign Minister: Well, in relation to that last point, of course we should discuss and see what we can do to work together to avert the crisis we see in food security. Of course we should do what we can to deal with that current and growing crisis. Of course we need to continue to advocate for and to act on climate. But I would say this - we all have an interest in the UN Charter being observed. That's not an issue of wealthier countries or less wealthy countries, not an issue of developed or developing. All countries have an interest in territorial integrity being respected and the UN Charter being respected. This is the lesson of World War II. It's the lesson of the horrific history that we know humanity has. So we all have an interest. In terms of China, I have made clear that we are open to engagement. I understand those arrangements are being finalised. And if they are finalised, then I'm sure that we will have a productive engagement. What I would say to you is our position, whether in the meeting or outside of the meeting, it remains consistent in relation to Australia's national interests.

Journalist: Minister we have had a meeting between two close Australian allies, Prime Minister of Japan and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. They've released a statement that say, "that the leaders resolve to tackle the strategic threat posed by China". Is that how Australia sees China's role - is it a strategic threat? And how will Australia respond?

Foreign Minister: Look, I have spoken before the election and since about strategic competition in our region. And we know we live in a time of that competition and we know the pressure that is placing on the multilateral and regional system. What we would say from Australia's perspective is we have an interest in working with others to ensure a strategic equilibrium. We want a region in which sovereignty is respected, where rules and norms can govern disputes, not simply power and size. We want a region which is not hegemonic. I've said those things repeatedly and those are the words I'll continue to use.

Journalist: Is the word "threat" one you're not comfortable with?

Foreign Minister: Well, people can choose their words. What I would say is we want a region which is stable and prosperous and in which sovereignty is respected. That is the approach Australia will continue to take. And I would repeat also, I have previously spoken about the risk of escalation and I'd again refer you to the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue Statement we were issued after the EAS with Japan and the United States.

Journalist: Minister, do you think it is that the United Nations can find any solution for Russia and Ukrainian conflict?

Foreign Minister: Well, I'm not sure when you join this, but what I would say again is the solution to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is for Russia to do the right thing and to withdraw and to cease its illegal invasion of someone else's territory.

Journalist: [indistinct] support [indistinct] to defeat ISIS.

Foreign Minister: I'm sorry?

Journalist: Your country is member of the International Coalition to defeat ISIS.

Foreign Minister: Yes, we have been.

Journalist: Could I just get clarification, before you mentioned that it would be up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future, did you mean that there is any legitimacy to the referendum that are being –

Foreign Minister: No, my point is that Australia would be guided in its response, and I assume the international community too by Ukraine and Ukrainian sovereignty. Thank you very much. Thank you.

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