Press conference, New Delhi, India

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: India-Australia relations; the G20 Summit; Indo-Pacific security; Russia-Ukraine war.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you. Can I say how pleased I am to be here in India. It's not my first visit, but it is my first visit as Foreign Minister and it's a real privilege to be here and I had a wonderful welcome last night.

I want to say something first about Australia's partnership with India. We see this partnership as crucial for us and crucial for the region. There are deep ties between our two nations. Obviously, the Indian community in Australia is one of our largest and fastest growing diasporas. And over, almost a million Australians identify as being of Indian heritage, which says something about who we are. We're comprehensive strategic partners, we're Quad partners and we are partners in the Indo Pacific, the region which we share. We have a shared interest and a shared ambition in a region that is peaceful, that is stable, that is prosperous, and a world of similar attributes, and a world in which sovereignty is respected, in which no country dominates or is dominated.

Obviously, I'm here also for the G20, and I would say about the G20, the G20 has an important role in shaping the world and the region we want. Dr Jaishankar, my friend and counterpart put it well when he said, "Where we remain uninvolved, we are nevertheless left to face the consequences." So what are we doing here at the G20? Well, we're working together. That's what we're doing and that's what we need to do.

And I want to emphasise how strongly Australia supports India and its G20 presidency. We welcome their ambitious agenda for the G20 and its focus and their focus on sustainable development. The theme that India reminds us of in its hosting of G20 is One Earth, One Family, One Future. Certainly at a time of great and increasing global complexity, geostrategic competition, climate change and so many other challenges, indeed, it is good to be a reminded that we are one Earth, one family, one future. I look forward to engaging with my counterparts. I'm happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, obviously a lot of issues with G20 but Ukraine is a big one. Do you think you can reach an agreement with Russia and China in the room?

FOREIGN MINISTER: What I would say is Australia remains committed to ensuring that Russia remains accountable for its illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine. And that was reflected in the G20 Declaration of Leaders last year. We think the international community remains very clear about Russia's behaviour. It has abrogated the UN Charter and we all care about that.

JOURNALIST: You just spoke about your strong relations with India, but it hasn't come out and condemned Russia. Is that a sore point for these two countries?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, look, I think that I've been asked this before, as has my counterpart, the External Affairs Minister, standing next to me. And the point I made is Prime Minister Modi said last year, now is not a time for war. We agree with him and we continue to put our view about the importance of countries being clear about the multilateral order, in particular the UN Charter.

JOURNALIST: Would you like India to take a stronger stance considering it is the President of the G20?

FOREIGN MINISTER: That is ultimately a matter for – India will no doubt exercise wisdom and judgement in its chair in the G20.

JOURNALIST: Are you anticipating any hesitancy from India to describe the war in Ukraine as a war in Ukraine?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not going to speak for India, I can only speak for Australia.

JOURNALIST: How do you plan to engage with Russia's Foreign Minister who walked out last year? Are you anticipating doing the same? How do you think Australia's allies will treat him?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think what – I did listen to Mr Lavrov for the entirety of both of his submissions to the G20. I think you're referencing the EAS, actually. But what I would say is this, no matter how many words Mr Lavrov utters, nothing can detract from what they are doing and what they have done to the people of Ukraine.

JOURNALIST: There was a failure to reach a joint communique last week. Are you worried about that similar sort of situation panning out after this?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I appreciate you want to ask me those questions, but I always find in negotiations it's probably good not to negotiate via the media. We've got our view and our view is a clear view, but obviously, this is a G20 and then that will be the subject of – the words are always the subject of discussion.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, was asked yesterday about this issue with the Gujarat riots 20 years ago and he basically gave a general answer about the importance of Australians and India's relationship. Are you able to be more specific? Does Australia share the concerns of human rights organisations that violence against minorities is on the rise in India with the approval of the government? And will Mr Albanese raise it with his Indian counterpart?

FOREIGN MINISTER: A couple of points, on the specific issue I understand those issues were traversed through the Indian legal system and that's a matter for the Indian legal system. I would say more broadly, Australia and India are close friends. We are comprehensive strategic partners. As you would anticipate, we will engage on human rights regularly, and we do.

JOURNALIST: Will Mr Albanese raise those issues?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I understand why you're asking me that, but you wouldn't expect me to talk about what leaders might or might not talk about. What I can say to you is we are friends, we are comprehensive strategic partners and we engage on human rights issues regularly.

JOURNALIST: But Minister, that documentary, the BBC documentary about this incident was banned in India. Does that concern you, considering you are such strong partners, you both support the free press, is that something you'll be pressuring India to take a stance on?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Again, I'd say to you, I'd refer to my answer to your colleague. But obviously, we have engaged with the Indian system on those issues and on other issues.

JOURNALIST: What was Australia's reaction to the raids on the BBC last month?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, as I've said to you, we have engaged with the Indian system on those issues.

JOURNALIST: What do you mean when you say –

FOREIGN MINISTER: That's what I mean.

JOURNALIST: What does that mean?

FOREIGN MINISTER: That's what I mean. It's – those are the words I'm using and I'm not going to go into those matters any further.

JOURNALIST: India has raised that it wants more than just the Ukraine war to be discussed, that it wants issues around the global south, climate change, poverty and so on, are you worried that the Ukraine war will dominate the discussions this week?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not sure who you're referring to, but the general proposition that the G20 should deal with the many matters that the global community are concerned about, I think is a sound one. Of course we want to make sure that we assert the upholding of the UN Charter and that we put the view that we have put about Russia's actions, and we do that because it matters to all nations. I think that we have to keep reminding ourselves of that. The reason the world is focused on what's happening in Ukraine is that it is an egregious example of the UN Charter which was agreed post World War II to protect all nations being breached. So we're all less safe in a world where that charter is not observed.

But you raise many of the issues that G20 rightly should deal with. The G20, we see, is one of the most important multilateral fora that we engage in, it was critical during the global financial crisis. There are not many forums where you bring together those economies, those nations, and at a time of strategic competition, of climate change, of pandemics, of development challenges, that group of nations, of course, should consider all of those issues, just as we did at Bali, where we good security was obviously one of the main issues. Okay.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask one more? I understand the Indian government is giving a range of cultural immersion experiences to the delegates that come here, have you been offered those yet? Any yoga classes and things of that nature, is there anything in particular that you're looking forward to?

FOREIGN MINISTER: No. Well, no, I wasn't aware of that genuinely. I guess my program is too packed, I tried a little bit of yoga this morning in the gym, but I was pretty average, so I probably could do with a class or two.

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