Press conference, Adelaide
Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thank you very much for coming. Before I go to international news, can I just acknowledge the really dreadful situation first in New South Wales; express my condolences to the family of the Australian who is confirmed to have lost her life, and thank again emergency personnel for their work. I also know that South Australian communities along the Murray are bracing for what is here and to come. We say to all of you, please stay safe, please listen to the advice of authorities, and of course, the thoughts of all South Australians are with you.
But I'm here today to talk about what is occurring in Europe and in particular in Ukraine, and also what we have heard overnight in relation to Poland.
Can I first start by saying Australia stands with Ukraine. We condemn Russia's deadly missile attacks, and reports have indicated that Russia has fired up to 100 missiles at Ukraine, which would constitute the largest such attack against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine since the invasion began. We all know that Russian reckless use of force across Ukraine is illegal and immoral. We also know that that reckless use of force is dangerous for the region.
The missile strike in Polish territory is deeply concerning. It's a stark reminder that any conflict comes with the great risk of miscalculation. I can indicate that I have today spoken both with the Polish Chargé and Ambassador ‑ our Ambassador, Australia's Ambassador to Poland in relation to these events.
In relation to the Polish Chargé d'Affaires, I have expressed condolences for the loss of life. We know that there have been two casualties confirmed. The Chargé advised me that the Polish Government will undertake an investigation into the origin of the missiles and I note President Biden's statement that the US stands ready to support that investigation.
I also spoke to Australia's Ambassador to Poland, Ambassador Brodrick, who confirmed to me that we are not aware of any Australian casualties and that, to the best of our knowledge, all Australian personnel are safe. I understand this is news that is worrying and deeply concerning to Australians, and what I would say to you is this: first, I would echo the words of the Polish Prime Minister who said that he called on all Poles to remain calm and prudent. We echo that call.
I would also say to Australians we will stay in close contact with our friends and partners. I spoke to the Prime Minister this morning who is obviously still at the G20 in Bali, and he will be engaging with others, including European counterparts and other friends and partners, as always, to ensure that we continue to work with others to keep Australians safe and secure. I'm happy to take questions.
Journalist: To the best of Australia's intelligence, where were these missiles launched from in Poland?
Foreign Minister: Well, I think this is why it's important for us to be prudent and careful. As the Polish Government has said, they will undertake a proper investigation into the origin of these missiles and I would urge people, as the Polish Government has, to await the outcomes of that investigation.
Journalist: Have you had ‑ you said you've had communications, Minister, with the Polish Government as well as our Ambassador. Has there been any Australian Government communication with any officials from Russia?
Foreign Minister: Look, not by me. Obviously, you know, the G20 is on at the moment, and you would assume there are discussions between NATO partners in pursuit of ensuring peace in the region.
Journalist: Has there been ‑ I appreciate you probably, your discussions with the Prime Minister - has the Australian Government got any contingencies or got any concerns about a potential escalation in the conflict in Ukraine?
Foreign Minister: Look, we've always been concerned. The whole world is concerned about what is occurring in Ukraine in its own right, and the consequences of escalation and miscalculation. And if you look at what we have said, what NATO partners have said, and what the US have said, what the Europeans have said, we are condemning the illegal and immoral invasion, but we are also saying there is always a risk of escalation and miscalculation. That is why Russia should withdraw.
Journalist: Do you feel, therefore, if this is proven ‑
Foreign Minister: Well, you asked a question that asked me to be drawn on the investigation and I'd again say to people, particularly at this time it's very important that we are careful and prudent and cautious about how we report this and how we talk about this. And I would heed what the Polish Prime Minister has said that there would be an investigation and to ask people to be both calm and prudent.
Journalist: Has Australia offered further help to Ukraine following the attacks?
Foreign Minister: Obviously, we are a very large contributor to Ukraine, both in terms of military support and humanitarian assistance. I know the Prime Minister has engaged with counterparts not only in his visit but also at the G20, and we will continue to do what we can in relation to Ukraine.
Journalist: Well, what kind of response does the world need to see from NATO today?
Foreign Minister: Well, I think the NATO allies are demonstrating the sort of response that we would want. I think there is calm, there is consultation, there's a lot of engagement, and if you look at both the public statements and what we know privately, there's obviously very good engagement between NATO partners, and that's what we want. You know, peace is secured by countries working together. And peace is secured by leaders maturely handling these sorts of situations, and I think you can see from both the Polish leadership, President Biden, other members of NATO, that sort of leadership.
Journalist: On the Prime Minister's meeting with President Xi, China - this is not about the G20 - do you think China will be more inclined to reassess heavy trade sanctions on Australian goods after last night's meeting?
Foreign Minister: Well, ultimately that's a matter for China. I have made clear in two in‑person discussions with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, State Counsellor Wang Yi, and a telephone discussion with him ahead of the G20 meeting, that we believe it is in both our countries' interest to stabilise the relationship and we believe that unimpeded trade is also in the interests of both countries.
Journalist: What do you interpret, or what does President Xi's words "meeting China halfway" actually look like?
Foreign Minister: Look, I've expressed the view that we should move together. And, you know, we know that we live in the same region. We know that we have strong economic complementarity. We also know, as the Australian Government and the Australian people, there are differences between Australia's interests and China's interests which we will have to manage. There are differences which go to our national interest, our national security, and we will manage them. But it is better managed wisely and it is better managed with dialogue, and that's what we intend to do.
Journalist: Minister, what does he mean by those words, though, "meet halfway" are there any specifics?
Foreign Minister: I can control what we say and I can give you an indication of what I say means.
Journalist: And on that note, Minister, can you please explain to the general public the significance of the Prime Minister's meeting with China and what that ‑ what the significance means for Australia?
Foreign Minister: Okay. Australia's relationship with China has been in a difficult place. We know that. And since the government came to power, we have said we think it's in the interests of both countries, Australia and China, for that relationship to be stabilised. We know there are differences that we need to manage, differences that will need to be dealt with, but those differences are best managed through, and including, engagement.
So we will cooperate where we can. We will disagree where we must, and we will engage in the national interest. And it is a good thing that we are seeing dialogue again at the leader level as well as previously at ministerial level this year.
Journalist: Do you ‑ do you hope the relationship, or the ‑ the improved relationship with China, do you hope that they might help intervene with Russia and call them back from the conflict?
Foreign Minister: I have said this before. I have said at the UN General Assembly on behalf of the country, the National Statement that, one: all of us should care, not just for human reasons about the conflict in Ukraine, but because we know that history tells us that peace and security requires the rule that one country not invade another, be followed. So we should all care about countries, small and large.
Secondly, I have said that the world does look to China, which is a great power, and a P5 nation, a permanent member of the Security Council, to use its influence to end a war that is not only illegal and immoral, but a war that risks security. And we all want peace. Did you want to ask a question?
Journalist: Yeah, I've got a question. Don Farrell has talked about finding an off-ramp – an off-ramp for China on trade sanctions, what would that look like and how would it work?
Foreign Minister: Well, ultimately it's a matter for China how it seeks to respond. I would say we are complementary economies. We believe there is mutual benefit in those trade blockages or those trade impediments being removed, and we will continue to assert that. That's been my message to China since we were elected, and it was consistent ‑ consistent with that, also the Prime Minister's message in his meeting with President Xi.
Journalist: What comprises would you be willing to consider?
Foreign Minister: Well, I think that's a question that reflects ‑ or that's a question which perhaps doesn't recognise what the government has said. And we have been very consistent. Our national interests do not change. You know, national security considerations remain paramount. There will be differences between Australia and China but they are best managed with dialogue, and that continues to be the message that we articulate to China and to the Australian people.
Journalist: Senator, just really quickly, a response to Donald Trump's announcement that he's going to go for re‑election?
Foreign Minister: Well, I won't comment on US domestic politics but I would say to you that our alliance and relationship with the United States is based on shared values, our shared security imperatives, and a faith in democracy. Thank you very much.
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