Press Conference, New York

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: The UN General Assembly; UN Security Council; Solomon Islands; war crimes in Ukraine; referendums in Ukraine.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thanks very much for waiting. And I'm sorry it's a bit chilly. Can I say it was a great honour and a great privilege to give a National Statement in the General Assembly on behalf of Australia. I have to confess I was pretty nervous because it is a real privilege to speak on behalf of your country. Today tops off a pretty lengthy day. Obviously, some of you might have been at the QUAD meeting, meeting of Foreign Ministers of QUAD countries this morning and a range of other bilaterals and trilaterals during the day. But the most important thing to do was to articulate what we consider to be Australia's national interest in the statement to the General Assembly. A national statement making the very important point that we have agency, that small and medium-sized powers shouldn't just leave it to the big powers to sort out. And we need to work together to create the world we want. A world that is peaceful, that is stable, that is prosperous and respectful of sovereignty. Happy to take questions.

Journalist: Minister you've spoken a deal about small nations and larger nations. It's an obvious case with Russia. But how much is your message extended to China?

Foreign Minister: I was very clear in the speech, in the statement, and I have said previously, that the world does look to China as a great power and as a permanent member of the Security Council, to exercise influence that it has in relation to Russia to end an illegal and immoral war. And we would continue to urge China to show that leadership.

Journalist: The Solomon Islands Prime Minister complained of what he said was unwarranted criticisms of his country's relationship with China. Did you take that to be directed as Australia?

Foreign Minister: No, I didn't. What I would say about Solomon Islands is I've had very good meetings with Minister Manele and I was very grateful and touched by Solomon Islands and Samoa representatives approaching me after the speech and giving me a garland of flowers as I walked off behind the stage, and I'm very grateful for their friendship.

Journalist: Minster, what do you make of [indistinct].

Foreign Minister: Probably not.

Journalist: [Indistinct]. They've come back, and said that yes war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. People from the age of [indistinct] have been raped and tortured. What do you make of that report and how does the West, how does Australia now respond to those allegations?

Foreign Minister: Well the world should respond. The world should respond and the world in this place and in international tribunal should respond. Obviously, I've had a fair bit on today and I haven't watched all of the media, so thank you for bringing that to my attention. We've said for some time there appeared to be credible evidence of war crimes. We spoke about, and we should speak about more, the use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war and how unacceptable that is. And what I would say is the international community can choose to work together to hold Russia to account and we should. That is something we would - I'm so sorry?

Journalist: Should that include something like removing the veto powers of Russia?

Foreign Minister: Well, those are matters entirely for the UN. We've talked about the importance of expanding the Security Council. I made the point in there tonight, though, and this is an important one. When the veto power was given. It was never envisaged, it would be given in order to enable a state holding a veto to abrogate the UN charter. If you ever wanted an example of why Russia is flouting the international system, is rejecting the international system, it is the fact that it is using its veto power itself in order to breach the UN charter.

Journalist: Why does Australia want a non-permanent spot on the Security Council?

Foreign Minister: Look, this was something previously advocated for by Ms. Bishop. We should make sure that we are part of the international security arrangements. We should make sure we take an appropriate leadership role in the United Nations. It's some time off, and obviously there's plenty of more room for the campaign. But I would say that we are a player. We are a country that has played our part in the international system from Doc Evatt until today, and we should continue. And why is that? Same thing I've been saying all week. We've got an interest in the multilateral system, working.

Journalist: Minister, having had the benefit of speaking with other Foreign Ministers and other diplomats [indistinct], what's your judgement on how dangerous [indistinct] with regard to Russia and its threats [indistinct]. What's your assessment of that threat?

Foreign Minister: I assessed Mr. Putin's words demonstrating a degree of desperation and a degree of weakness. We all know such words are unthinkable. Such actions are unthinkable.

Journalist: Back to Solomon Islands. Has the criticism, the questions, and concerns around the security pact with China, has that been unfair?

Foreign Minister: We have simply made the point, and as have other members of the Pacific Islands Forum, that we believe security is the responsibility of the Pacific family. And that is Australia's position.

Journalist: Just back on Russia [indistinct], he said earlier this week that he's not bluffing. Do you think he is bluffing? Do you hope he's bluffing?

Foreign Minister: We've heard a lot of words from Mr. Putin, we've heard a lot of words from Mr. Putin over many weeks and months and years. And what we do know is that his boasts about what would happen in Ukraine have not come to pass. The Ukrainian people and the international community have held firm, and we should continue to do so.

Journalist: Minister, the White House said today that it is preparing stepped-up sanctions as a response to a potential annexation of territories.

Foreign Minister: The sham referendums?

Journalist: Yes. Do the current sanctions need stepping up in the current environment, do you have an idea of how they might be?

Foreign Minister: We will always look to the possibility of improving or strengthening sanctions where available. Australia already has, with bipartisan support, I'll acknowledge the work of the previous government as well, put in place extensive sanctions, but we're always open if there is a need to step them up further. We're always prepared to look at that. Thanks very much, everyone.

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