Joint press conference with New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: Australia/New Zealand relationship, First Nations foreign policy, Pacific engagement, climate change, Pacific Islands Forum, regional security, regional architecture, 501 visa policy, Nauru, Taiwan Strait.

Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand: Tēnā koutou katoa. I'm really pleased to be here today with Senator Wong, following our first in-person bilateral meeting, and I'm sure this will be the first of many meetings and I look forward to us working closely together.

Thank you for travelling to Aotearoa New Zealand for consultations. I know you've had a busy travel program. I hope you will agree that we had a productive and full meeting and, in fact, there's so much that we can work together on. I appreciated hearing from you about your ambitions for Australian foreign policy, and there can be no doubt that you've hit the ground running.

In an increasing uncertain and risky geosecurity environment, it's really important that we communicate and coordinate across the foreign policy spectrum. As we've set out in our joint statement, having a neighbour who is also a close friend is more essential than ever for the security and wellbeing of the citizens of both nations.

During our consultations we discussed: cooperation and engagement in the Pacific region – in particular, the importance of working together to support Pacific partners facing a complex and growing array of challenges, including the impacts of climate change and an increasingly contested strategic environment; our common goals on the international stage, including our support for the international rules based order and its institutions; climate change and the responsibility on countries to commit to ambitious climate change action; our responses to Russia's unprovoked and egregious invasion of Ukraine; and in an area close to my heart, I welcomed our discussion on placing Indigenous voices at the heart of foreign policy.

I look forward to further discussions on this and many more issues that are important, sharing our experience, and as we develop and implement an Indigenous foreign policy outlook, I know that we have much to do together. 

I hope that your journey with regards to responding and implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart is one that we can share and support. Further details on the breadth of issues Minister Wong and I discussed are set out in our joint statement.  

Can I invite you now, Minister, to have a call.

Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you very much. Can I thank Foreign Minister Mahuta for hosting me and my delegation here today. It's been a really wonderful opportunity and you did us a great honour with a formal welcome and the hospitality that you've shown. I want to say to you all obviously we're a new government in Australia and we come with a range of different priorities and objectives, a very different view on climate change to our predecessors and a very strong focus on the region. 

I want, we want, a strong working relationship, a close working relationship with the Government of New Zealand and as your Foreign Minister has said, we have such a close friendship between our two nations and that is part of who we are. It's also essential for the security and wellbeing of our citizens, even more so in the world in which we stand where we're allies, we're friends, and we're partners in the region and the world that, as the Minister said, is experiencing a much sharper set of challenges.

I particularly wanted to emphasise that we see New Zealand as family and we see our partnership as indispensable. We know we can always rely on each other. 

One of the areas I am most grateful that we did engage on was having an Indigenous perspective on foreign policy and the Foreign Minister brings such a depth of personal wisdom to that. One of the differences between the past and the new Australian Government is we committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We want - I want, as Foreign Minister – that to be part of how we talk about ourselves to the world and how we engage with the world, as well as what we do domestically.  

We discussed many matters, one of them was, of course, the importance of the Pacific Island Forum, the unique role of the Forum and the security architecture associated with the Forum. We both welcome the unity of the Forum being re-enforced and the sustained efforts of all Pacific leaders, of so many Pacific leaders in support of the Forum. 

As we go forward, I'm really confident, and optimistic about the ways in which Foreign Minister Mahuta and I can work together. I really appreciated her insights as someone who has been in the job longer than I and has a much greater insight into the Pacific. I really have appreciated her insights in our very constructive and pretty long and very friendly discussions. So I thank you very much, Foreign Minister, for inviting me here. Thank you very much for the opportunity to engage with you and I look forward to working with you in the future.  

Foreign Minister Mahuta: Thank you. We'll take some questions.

Journalist: Did you discuss today China's recent moves in the Pacific and what can New Zealand and Australia do about it? 

Minister for Foreign Affairs: We can work together and we do and will.

Foreign Minister Mahuta: And we have both recognised the Pacific is a contested space and so by working together it will be important to ensure that we work alongside the Pacific as they define their priorities but also the way in which we partner the Pacific on their biggest issues – like climate change, like economic resilience are areas where we've identified there are opportunities for us to work together.  

Journalist: Minister Mahuta, you've been criticised for not actually, you know, having any recent visits to, for example, the Solomons and Samoa. Do you have any plans for those visits and how do you take that criticism?

Foreign Minister Mahuta: Oh, look, I think our relationship across the Pacific is very strong and when I came into the role certainly started to ensure that we had a range of engagements with the Pacific. As borders open I've indicated that I will go to the Pacific and certainly with the PIF coming up very soon, that is an area where I want to ensure that we can address some of the regional issues, so I’m keen to be travelling to the Pacific.

Journalist: Do you like travelling?

Foreign Minister Mahuta: Yeah, I do, actually. The difficulty for me when I came into office, as you know, borders weren't open. So we had two years of a COVID response and it was really practically challenging.  

Journalist: Minister Wong, since taking the job you've been heavy in your language use of calling Australia a part of the Pacific family. Can I ask firstly what is your assessment on whether Pacific nations consider Australia a member of that family, perhaps an estranged member? And secondly, do you think we're on the cusp of a remaking of Pacific security architecture, updating Biketawa at the next Pacific Island Forum? 

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, first, I think Australia has more to do as a member of the Pacific family and I don't think anybody watching - I don't want to get into too much domestic politics - but I don't think anybody watching what has occurred in terms of various Pacific Island Forum engagements and bilateral engagements would doubt that many countries in the region have been concerned about Australia's previous position on climate. And I know that from when I was climate minister. 

So I was climate minister between 2007 and 2010. It was expressed to me then, as is articulated, including in the Boe Declaration, that climate change was the number one national security and economic challenge facing the region. So part of why I wanted to engage really early was because I think we do have some ground to make up and we want to demonstrate we bring a commitment, a stronger and more ambitious commitment on climate because we actually think it matters and more resources and more energy on that. In terms of your question about what the Forum will deal with, obviously that will be a matter for foreign ministers and leaders. It will be a matter for the region.  

Foreign Minister Mahuta: We've got a question down the front and then I'll come to you.

Journalist: To Minister Wong. Our Government has worked really hard with our engagement with Māori here. What can you take back to your Government in terms of engagement, co-governance perhaps with your iwi, with your Indigenous people?  

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Indigenous people. That's a word I've learnt today. We can learn a lot from your country and I'm reluctant to speak outside of my policy area and some of the things you reference are really issues that are within domestic portfolios but I would just talk in general terms. 

I think we can learn a lot about the way you have learned to work together and some of the difficult things you have addressed. I think the respect – both in some of your legal frameworks but also in terms of how you talk about who you are – for Māori is different. And it's a journey we're on and I always used to say during the election that there are many reasons why I wanted to win government for the country – and I wouldn't mind doing this job either, obviously – but for the country, and first among them was the hope that we could be part of a government that could work with our First Nations people to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart with all of its power and graciousness.

Journalist: Senator Wong, what do you expect NATO's role in this region is going to achieve, and particularly what role will Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan play in connection with NATO and how will NATO's role differ or supplement that of the Quad? 

Minister for Foreign Affairs: We didn't actually have much discussion about NATO per se but we did talk a lot more about what we could do in terms of our coordination on development assistance, climate policy as between our two nations and certainly, could we coordinate better with other developing partners. And so, we certainly want to work on that. I think the whole is often greater than the sum of the parts and I think there's certainly a willingness for us to work together more closely on some of those matters.  

Journalist: Senator Wong, following up on what you said about the need for coordination, Australia is in a growing number of groupings, alliances, that New Zealand is not – the Quad, AUKUS. What complications does that pose insofar as you may have access to information and arrangements that you possibly can't share as readily with New Zealand as much as you might like and how do you resolve that? Would it be helpful for New Zealand to seek associate status to have a role in any of these? 

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I'm not here to determine the foreign policy of New Zealand, I'm sure you're quite capable of doing that. I don't see - you're setting it up as a sort of a binary. I don't agree with that. I mean, I think we went to the Quad meeting obviously, as one of our first meetings, a few hours after we were sworn in. That's a very important group, particularly at a time of strategic competition but it works alongside other parts of the regional architecture or other aspects of regional architecture, whether it's ASEAN, or the EAS. These are discussions between like-minded partners that work alongside regional architecture, including obviously the Pacific Island Forum, which is of central importance to our two nations.

You know, I think we live in a time where we know that there is a lot more contest; I think, more competition in the world in which we live. We should be focused on working with others about what we're for. And what we're for is peace, prosperity, stability, and the rules of the road being predictable and applicable to all nations regardless of their size.

Journalist: Minister Wong, we often receive quite graphic images and footage coming out of detention centres in Australia. Will your Government be the one to bring an end to the alleged ill-treatment of deportees or detainees and the wider issue of 501 deportees? 

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I think the 501 issue has been discussed between our prime ministers and I think Prime Minister Albanese has made some statements about that. We understand the concerns have been raised and we'll take those into consideration.  

Journalist: Minister, (Te Reo Māori).

Foreign Minister Mahuta: (Te Reo Māori.) We just come to the front here and I will move along.  

Journalist: Minister Wong, you've spoken about developing an Indigenous foreign policy. What are some things I guess that you learned from Minister Mahuta and New Zealand and how did you find the pōwhiri this morning and singing the waiata?  

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I was really moved, actually. Too much of a softy sometimes, clearly. It was really moving. It's an act of respect and honour, isn't it? And you feel the power of that and being welcomed to someone's land – you feel the import of that.  

What was the first part of your question? Oh, First Nations foreign policy, Indigenous foreign policy. Well, look, I think I sort of referenced that in answer to one of your colleagues earlier. I've explained why we want to. I think it's about who we are. We are a modern, multicultural, diverse nation and we have the privilege of one of the oldest continuing cultures on Earth and we should integrate that much more into how we engage with the world and how we talk to and with the world and about ourselves.

I read a couple of speeches from Foreign Minister Mahuta as preparation for this, where she talked about concepts, Māori concepts, that were important to her foreign policy and to your foreign policy. I thought they were extraordinarily powerful. They're not speeches I could give yet around what it is from First Nations heritage that we would want to include. So I suppose one of the things I learnt is that is one of the ways in which you can do it, at least to talk about who you are and how that is expressed through your foreign policy drawing on your heritage in a different way.

Journalist: Minister Wong, how valuable has the face-to-face engagement you've had through your travels in the Pacific been and what do you hope to achieve visiting the Solomons tomorrow, I believe? 

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well I said early on that I wanted to bring new energy, new resources to the Pacific, as I said, in answer to one of your colleagues. I think, you know, we've got a bit of ground to make up, we recognise that and it was important for me to get out and listen; listen to people's perspectives and learn from that, but also to talk with them about our renewed ambition on climate, our much more ambitious commitments and our commitments on labour mobility and the Pacific Engagement Visa and additional development assistance – all of which were part of our election commitments.

Journalist: On the Pacific, there appears to have been a de facto version in the past where New Zealand has focused primarily on Polynesian nations, Australia on Melanesia and the United States on Micronesia. Does that approach still fit the purpose? Do you think both countries - this is to either minister - both countries perhaps need to expand and not sort of segment the workers as much as has been the case?

Foreign Minister Mahuta: Yeah, look, in our conversations we've identified that we need to broaden our collective approach in terms of the relationship across the whole of the Pacific and we are both agreed that things have changed. As I said earlier, the Pacific is a contested space. We need to work together through regional institutions to support the Pacific in their aspirations. That will require, by and large, an aligned effort but it will also rely on our ability to broaden our relationship and we've both identified that that is needed now; things have changed. We are in a new conversation space around where the Pacific priorities must be led from and it's certainly our view that the Pacific are key to articulating what that looks like. I'll just come to someone who hasn't had a question and then I'll come back. Thank you.

Journalist: Hi. You guys talk a lot about partnership. What does that look like in practical measures? Are we going to see more projects, infrastructure projects together, climate financing together or is it more just a kind of discussion across the two countries?

Foreign Minister Mahuta: Oh, no, it's action. As I said earlier, when Minister Wong came into her role, some early signals were very much welcomed from New Zealand in relation to climate change. But let's be really clear, our response to climate change must be a global one; in what we do together in the region, alongside other partners who are committing to climate change impacts that can benefit the Pacific will be a natural area where we can work in partnership, again, alongside the Pacific. I'll come over here.

Journalist: Minister Wong, is Australia fully committed to ongoing funding for the Nauru regional processing centre given its importance to Nauru and its budget? And expanding out, is it a goal of Australia and New Zealand foreign policy to work together to support Pacific economies to avoid an over reliance or an indebtedness on China? 

Minister for Foreign Affairs: You ask questions with lots of bits to them. Well, look, in terms of Operation Sovereign Borders we've been clear - including offshore processing - we've been clear about the Government's maintenance of that.  

Your question about indebtedness, though, is a very important one. The sustainability of debt financing for developing countries, particularly those in our region, is of interest to both our nations. It goes to sovereignty and choice and it goes to stability. It also potentially goes to security of the region. So I think both our nations, both our countries are seized, as are other members of the Pacific Island Forum, about the importance of debt arrangements which are reasonable and fair and which avoid countries being unduly burdened, not just in the now but in the decades to come.

Foreign Minister Mahuta: And last question and then that's it.

Journalist: This one's for both ministers. What do you both make of China's move to extend its military operations in the Taiwan Strait? 

Foreign Minister Mahuta: We've experienced a real challenge in terms of China's influence across the Indo-Pacific region. Can I just say that in the latest read out of my meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, I reflected our views in the area that we want our greatest stability and peace to be the priority and that will be very important and we will commit ourselves to ensuring that that remains the message and the focus in the Taiwan Strait.  

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Our long-standing position is very clear. We support the status quo and we would urge there be no unilateral changes which would disrupt the status quo in relation to the status of Taiwan. Thank you.

Foreign Minister Mahuta: Thank you for your time. (Te Reo Māori.) 

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