Press conference, Adelaide

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Hamas-Israel conflict; Philippines–Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) in Adelaide.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thanks very much for coming, can I thank the Governor of South Australia, Her Excellency, for allowing us to utilise Government House. We’re really grateful to both Her Excellency but also the Government of South Australia for their hospitality with this event. Don and I are so pleased to welcome Secretary Manalo and Secretary Pascual to our hometown of Adelaide. We’re very grateful to have them here, very proud to have them here and we’ve just had an excellent meeting or series of meetings together.

Before I go to the meeting of the day, if I could touch – make some remarks about the dreadful situation in Israel. It remains a complex and evolving situation. I want to say that we continue to seek to confirm the welfare of Australians who may have been caught up in these tragic events. Officials are monitoring the situation closely and we remain in close touch with local authorities as they learn more. I’ve said previously, I’ve also spoken to my counterpart the Israeli Foreign Minister.

What is clear is that there’s been a devastating loss of life from these attacks. What is clear is the actions of Hamas are abhorrent and the government continues to support Israel’s right to defend itself. We call for all hostages to be released and we continue to urge the protection of innocent civilian lives by all parties. We are engaging with countries in the Middle East and beyond at all levels. In addition to the Israeli Foreign Minister, last night I spoke with my counterpart from Jordan and we are reaching out to a number of other partners and officials have also been engaging with governments with influence in the region.

I want to say to Australians, and I know this is shared by my friends in the Philippines, what we are seeing unfold is deeply distressing for many in our community. It’s an issue close to the heart of many and I know that many people wish to express their views. I want to urge all Australians to maintain respect for one another. We are a country that people want to come to because we are tolerant. We are respectful. We are peaceful. There is no place for anti‑Semitism. There is no place for hatred and prejudice and all of us have an obligation to each other and to the Australian community to uphold those values.

Our position has always been the guiding principle when it comes to the Middle East is the just and enduring peaceful two‑state solution, where both Israelis and Palestinians can live within secure borders. The actions of Hamas are completely inconsistent with this aspiration. And they have set back this cause.

So I appreciate the opportunity to make some comments, but now to more pleasant matters, which is the meeting today. We share a special connection with the Philippines. And South Australia particularly shares a special connection with the Philippines and I have probably stolen Don’s thunder or Secretary Manalo’s thunder by referencing 1942. Because in March 1942, when the Pacific faced some of its darkest days, US General MacArthur sought refuge in Australia and he travelled through the mid north, including Terowie – there’s a quiz later for which of the journos know where Terowie is – and he uttered the famous words “I came out of Bataan and I shall return.” And Secretary Manalo gave a very impressive and moving speech yesterday here at the University of Adelaide where he spoke about these events and Bataan, of course, is – well, Manila, it’s the peninsula, isn’t it, it’s in the Philippines.

We have a long friendship, a long friendship, a deep partnership – 77 years of diplomatic relations. We’re bound by history. We share interests about the sort of region in which we want to live and we also have strong people-to-people links. About 400,000 people of Filipino heritage call Australia home. It’s been a year of real elevation in the tempo, in the depth, in the breadth of the relationship. So, both Don and I have visited the Philippines. Prime Minister Albanese visited and last month met with President Marcos first bilateral visit in I think a couple of decades, or close to it, and we elevated the relationship to a strategic partnership.

Today is the next step in that and what we have done today is worked through a plan of action for our officials across government to take forward that leaders’ ambition in practical terms, cooperation in defence, cyber, critical technology and the green energy transition, further maritime cooperation, stronger and deeper economic ties. We’re announcing today that the first senior business delegation under our South‑East Asia business exchange program will travel to the Philippines in 2024 and Don is also announcing – I probably should leave it to him, I’ll leave Don’s announcement to him. But we’re really pleased with the work we’re doing together, the practical steps we’re taking and the importance of this relationship bilaterally, but also for the region we share. Very happy to hand over to Enrique now.

ENRIQUE MANALO, PHILIPPINE SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thank you, Penny. Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. At the outset, I wish to send my heartfelt thanks to Senator the Honourable Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Senator the Honourable Don Farrell, the Minister for Trade and Tourism for their gracious invitation for us to attend the sixth Philippines–Australia Ministerial Meeting in Adelaide. I also wish to thank Governor Frances Adamson for hosting us in this beautiful building and to Premier Peter Malinauskas for hosting us yesterday evening here in Adelaide.

This visit marks my first time to visit Adelaide and I’m truly delighted to be here and I’m also very delighted with the weather, which has been very cooperative for the past three days, and those will be my memories of Adelaide as I return to the Philippines.

Today’s gathering signified the robust partnership between the Philippines and Australia and it follows a series of high-level visits, most notably the historic elevation of our relations to a strategic partnership during Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s recent visit to Manila where he met with President Ferdinand Marcos Romualdez Junior. Today’s ministerial meeting underscores our commitment to deepen existing and explore new areas of cooperation as strategic partners. The enduring bonds between our nations remain rooted in the values of democracy, sovereignty and a deep commitment to the rule of law, amidst an ever‑changing world. It is with these shared principles that we navigate the complex dynamics of our region in the world.

As strategic partners we are determined to seek alignment as we pursue cooperation across various sectors, including defence, security, law and justice, trade and investment, development, people-to-people, and matters of regional significance. A whole‑of‑government plan of action derived from our joint declaration of a strategic partnership will translate our shared vision into tangible outcomes. Our commitment to regional security is resolute. Our defence and security cooperation, spanning joint exercises, counter‑terrorism exercises, maritime security and capacity building has reached new heights. Recognising the growing importance of cybersecurity in today’s security landscape, the Philippines looks forward to advancing our cooperation with Australia in this domain.

During our discussions I emphasised that the West Philippines Sea, South China Sea remains of foremost regional concern. I reaffirmed the Philippines’ unwavering commitment to a rules‑based international order, adherence to international law, especially the 1982 UN convention the Law of the Sea and the final and binding 2016 South China Sea arbitral award. As maritime nations, the Philippines and Australia share a commitment to preserving freedom of navigation and overflight and upholding the rule of law in our common waters. We collaborate across policy formulation, practical engagement and capacity building to safeguard regional peace and stability and it is in this same spirit that the Philippines wishes to thank Australia for its continuing support for the 2016 arbitral award on the South China Sea.

Development cooperation is at the heart of our partnership also. Australia’s invaluable support in times of need is deeply appreciated. We seek to expand our collaborative efforts, notably addressing pressing global challenges such as climate change, disaster resilience and public health. Finally, our people‑to‑people connections are of paramount importance. The presence of over 400,000 Filipinos, including 21,000 here in South Australia, contributes significantly to the development of our societies. We value these connections and we will work to enhance them further.

The Philippines looks forward to a dynamic partnership with Australia and to achieving new heights as strategic partners. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you, Enrique, I appreciate that. I’ll hand over to Don then Secretary Pascual.

DON FARRELL, MINISTER FOR TRADE AND TOURISM: Can I thank, as the Foreign Minister has done, Secretary Manalo and Secretary Pascual for joining both of us, Minister Wong, and myself, in Adelaide today, which is, of course, our hometown.

The meeting provided a great opportunity to discuss how we can enhance our trade, our investment, and our tourism ties. Australia’s prosperity is very linked to South‑East Asia. Australia is proud to be a trusted and reliable partner to our South‑East Asian partners as they look at options to boost their growing and modernising economies. Before Prime Minister Albanese travelled to Manila last month, he launched Australia’s South‑East Asian Economic Strategy to 2040. This provided a valuable framework for our meeting today. Secretary Pascual and I discussed ways that we can deepen trade in sectors such as agriculture, education, resources and clean energy transition and what we could do to encourage two‑way investment.

The Philippines is an extremely important partner, economic partner, to Australia. It’s one of the fastest-growing economies in this part of the world and the region. The Philippines population is nearly 115 million and is on track to overtake Japan later this decade. But we can do better. In fact, we can do a lot better. With less than $10 billion worth of two‑way trade, the Philippines is our seventeenth largest trading partner. That is why today we agreed to promote opportunities to boost two‑way trade and investment through sending a business mission to the Philippines next year and establish an investment deal team in Manila itself. These efforts will make an important contribution to ensuring that we can expand our trade and investment connections. I’d like to invite Minister Pascual to say a few words to you today.

ALFREDO PASCUAL, SECRETARY OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY: Thank you, Minister Don Farrell. I’d also like to greet Minister Penny Wong. I’ll be brief. I’d like to say that the Philippines and Australia in a series of meetings which we just completed is truly a testament to the commitment of the Philippines to operationalise the strategic partnership with Australia. It sends a strong signal of our mutual commitment in deepening collaboration across a spectrum of areas, including, as mentioned by previous speakers, security and maritime, people to people, trade and investment, and regional strategic issues.

In terms of economic relations, Australia remains an important trade and investment partner of the Philippines and we’ll work together to further enhance the collaboration in the area of mutual interests such as agriculture, education, critical minerals and clean energy. There’s a lot of room for doing this enhancement. The Philippines is committed to work with Australia in finding mutually beneficial gains as we move forward in our strategic partnership. Thank you and good day to all.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you to my colleagues. We’re happy to take questions. Is there anything in relation to the Philippines strategic partnership or meeting that people want to raise?

JOURNALIST: You mentioned further maritime partnerships. Will this be in relation to the South China Sea?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, we have announced further Australian support for maritime cooperation, including some technical training, the monitoring and protection of oceans and waters as well as some new equipment to the Philippines Coastguard. But I think you’re probably referencing the joint sails proposition that the Prime Minister and the President discussed in the meeting last month. I’m not in a – we’re not making an announcement on when, but the intention remains as the leaders announced, for a joint sail in the West Philippines – in an appropriate maritime location as yet to be announced.

JOURNALIST: Thank you and some questions for Secretary Manalo on a slightly separate issue, did you discuss the events unfolding in Israel at this morning’s meeting?

SECRETARY MANALO: We didn’t discuss it officially. We met during our consultations, but naturally in our walk in the garden, and a cup of coffee, we discussed the unfolding events there and the various actions that have been taking place.

JOURNALIST: There’s been some media reports of Filipino workers that are unaccounted for in Israel. Are you hearing anything about this?

SECRETARY MANALO: Well, our embassy and officials are seeking to find confirmation of these reports.

JOURNALIST: And what is your response to what’s happening in Israel?

SECRETARY MANALO: Well, naturally we’ve already issued statements condemning the events, especially the targeting of civilians. And we’ve also recognised the right to self defence of Israel in accordance with the United Nations charter. At the same time, we’ve also issued statements concerning the safety of Filipinos in Israel and we are, of course, committed to ensuring the safety of all Filipinos who are living in Israel.

JOURNALIST: And what are your responses to other countries in the region like Malaysia and Indonesia alluding to the fact that these recent events are caused by the occupation of Palestine by Israelis?

SECRETARY MANALO: Well, I don’t think I’ll comment on that. I think you’ll have to ask the officials of Malaysia.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, is there any update on how many Australians have been caught up in the conflict. We understand at least one potentially. The UK and the US have been able to say how many of their citizens have been caught up.

FOREIGN MINISTER: I’m not in a position to provide you as yet with that information. What I can say is that we are continuing to work to confirm the welfare of Australians who are in either Israel or in occupied Palestinian territories. We obviously are concerned about the situation and I will continue to do the work to assess the circumstances of those Australians.

JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that at least one person has been caught up or give a ballpark as to how many you believe may be affected?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I’ll refer you to my previous answer, but this is a very dangerous situation. There’s obviously been substantial loss of life as well as hostages taken.

JOURNALIST: When do you expect to have that information given that the UK and the US have been able to release that data?

FOREIGN MINISTER: What other countries do is a matter for them. Secretary Manalo gave a very similar answer to the one I just gave and we will - we are likely seeking to confirm the situation in respect of Australians in this region.

JOURNALIST: The Islamic Society of South Australia has taken exception to your comments taking saying that Israel has the right to defend itself, saying it’s led to the deaths of innocent children and civilians. What do you say to that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I stand by my comments.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to the Islamic Society’s reaction to buildings around the country being lit up in support of the state of Israel when they’re obviously concerned about innocent Palestinians also being caught in this conflict?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I first would say this, I think we all recognise that there is a long and complex and disputed history to this conflict and that the narratives of different groups differ.

What I would urge is that we engage in a discussion about what is occurring respectfully. I saw anti‑Semitism being expressed, which I think is antithetical to who we are as a country. All prejudice and discrimination of that sort should be rightly condemned.

I would say to all groups, certainly in response directly, I understand the view, the experience, of the Palestinian peoples that the Society is referencing. Whatever people’s views about what has occurred today or what should occur in the future, it does not justify the sort of violence, the murdering of civilians and the hostage taking that Hamas has engaged in.

JOURNALIST: Major airlines are already cancelling flights to Tel‑Aviv. At what point will Australia consider putting out evacuation flights?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, on that I have again asked my department to update on that. I understand that the airport is still open, that there are still commercial options available. We will continue to monitor that commercial availability, but I have asked them to look at what other countries are doing as I understand most other like‑minded countries remain focused on commercial outcomes.

JOURNALIST: Israeli authorities have cut off water, electricity and fuel to the Gaza Strip. You say that we can’t judge from afar, but do you accept that under international law that is a war crime?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I’m not going to get drawn into that sort of language at this stage. I think that Israel has been attacked. Its citizens have been killed in a surprise and coordinated attack, and it has hostages that have been taken, including women and children. We understand that Israel has the right to defend itself, we also understand Israel is seeking to establish security within its territory. We would always continue, and I’ve done this before, urge that civilian lives be protected and for de‑escalation.

JOURNALIST: And should Australia provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip given that the EU has cut off aid?

FOREIGN MINISTER: The EU had a different sort of arrangement around programs. We continue to provide assistance to entities, international entities, through the UN and through the international ICRC.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that it was appropriate to light up Adelaide landmarks last night for Israel?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, I think that – I was asked this question yesterday morning, I think. It’s been a long 24 hours. Was that yesterday morning? In Melbourne. And I made the point that I think to stand in solidarity with a country that has been the subject of the sort of attack that we’ve seen is appropriate.

That doesn’t mean we resile from our principal position that we have always sought to take, which is a just and enduring two‑state solution. That has been our position. And I would again urge – I understand that this is a very emotionally charged issue for many communities in Australia. How we deal with this is an indication, is a demonstration, of our maturity and our values and cohesion as a nation and that matters to everyone. It matters to all of us, regardless of our views on this conflict or our views on what is occurring.

We should deal with this respectfully and in accordance with the values that have made this country such a decent and inclusive country. We respect each other. We deal with each other respectfully and we don’t engage in hate speech. Thank you very much for your time.

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