Press conference, New York

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: UN Security Council high-level debate on maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine; High Seas Biodiversity Treaty; Climate Ambition Summit; Russia’s breaches of the UN Charter; Australian support for WHO pandemic preparedness; Julian Assange

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: I'm sorry, I'll have to keep it quite short, because I'm due shortly in the Security Council where I will deliver Australia's contribution to the debate on the war in Ukraine.

This morning we heard a very powerful contribution from President Zelenskyy, and I was struck by the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama's reflection, and he said this: "Who could have imagined that in the third decade of the 21st Century, a disastrous war started by a permanent member of this council would put Europe at risk by brutally undermining all the principles that gave birth to the United Nations."

It was a powerful, articulate reminder of what Russia has done. We strongly support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we'll continue to stand with others in the international community with Ukraine and continue to maintain pressure on Russia.

I've also had constructive discussions today with our friends and partners from Papua New Guinea, from France, from Barbados, I've had the honour of signing the High Seas Biodiversity Treaty to protect the world's oceans, and we've worked alongside Pacific partners to make this treaty a reality. It's about safeguarding the Blue Pacific, the ocean we share for future generations. We're very proud to be a founding signatory along with our Pacific partners for this treaty. It shows that the multilateral system is still delivering, notwithstanding some of the challenges.

I've also just come from the Climate Ambition Summit, that's also where Jenny McAllister, Assistant Minister, is this afternoon. We're very proud to jointly present with Tuvalu at the Climate Ambition Summit to talk about our work on adaptation with Tuvalu. Happy to take questions.

Journalist: The Security Council, President Zelenskyy said the Council was deadlocked and unable [indistinct] override Russia’s power of veto. How realistic is that, and [indistinct].

Foreign Minister: Well, Russia should not have exercised a veto in order to protect its own breach of the United Nations Charter. I mean the fact is that we didn't contemplate, humanity didn't contemplate that a member of the P5, the permanent members of the Security Council, who were given the power of veto by the international community would use that veto to protect their own breach of the UN Charter. So President Zelenskyy is right to identify this, as many have, as, you know, an appalling act by Russia, undertaken in order to protect themselves in the face of international condemnation.

These are the sorts of issues that are on the table for discussion in the UN context. I would say the way through this though is for Russia not to exercise its veto in a way that the international community clearly does not support and never contemplated.

Journalist: But do you have a particular view as to how the system should be reformed?

Foreign Minister: I think Australia is up for a discussion about how we might look to ensure that the United Nations better responds to the needs of the international community, and the reality of today. We've already said we think the UNSC should be expanded, I'm on record as saying that. It doesn't reflect the economic and geopolitical configuration that we see in the world today, and so it would benefit from reform, but that's a discussion that countries of the world would need to have together.

Journalist: You announced 100 million for the World Health Organisation today ‑‑

Foreign Minister: Oh, you listened. Or you read.

Journalist: There was obviously a lot of criticism of the World Health Organisation during the pandemic about its preparedness and effectiveness to deal with the pandemic, particularly at the start. Is the investment a sign you're confident it's adapted enough to be ready for the next one, or are there further changes you want to see?

Foreign Minister: Look, the whole discussion today in terms of pandemic preparedness was what are the changes we need to make to ensure that the lessons we learnt about COVID ‑ and we learnt some pretty awful lessons, as humanity, in terms of lives lost, the response, particularly initially, not being as we would wish, the availability of vaccines, the roll‑out of primary healthcare. All of these things we learnt. And we also learnt the way in which pandemics exacerbate the existing inequalities.

So the discussion today was about how do we learn from that, and how can we reform the multilateral health architecture to better respond next time. So, you know, whatever people's views about what the WHO did or didn't do, this is about making sure we work together to improve the response of all of the international architecture, the whole international community, should we face another pandemic, and we know the experts tell us that is a risk.

Journalist: Just on climate change, I suppose ‑‑

Foreign Minister: She got three, you got one.

Journalist: I was just going to ask, I know ‑‑

Foreign Minister: It's probably bad, and you know, I've said that and then you'll ask something hard.

Journalist: I know the former Government had raised the idea weapons-style inspectors as something they wanted obviously, and you were critical the way they raised that, is that something that's actually remained on the radar in any form?

Foreign Minister: The reason I was critical is it was yet another example of Mr Morrison looking to domestic politics, not to actually delivering outcomes internationally, which require working with others, that's why I was critical. Because it was just another, you know, Scott Morrison press release, or comment in a press conference that really didn't have any outcome behind it. We want to work with others to make sure we do better for Australia and for the world in the face of another pandemic.

Journalist: I'll go back to climate change. As you know, obviously a cross party delegation's in Washington today campaigning for the immediate release of Julian Assange. Is this something that the Prime Minister will be raising with President Biden when he comes here in October?

Foreign Minister: Well, we have raised this many times, and if ‑ I'm sorry about the helicopter ‑ for those who might have been at AUSMIN, you know, Secretary Blinken and I both spoke about the fact that we had had a discussion, and the views that the United States has and the views that Australia has.

We are consistent in our view that we think this has gone on too long, and the breadth of political representation on this delegation I think demonstrates that there are a great many people in Australia who would like to see this matter resolved.

Journalist: [Indistinct].

Foreign Minister: Sorry. Well, I've said for a while that, you know, Mr Assange has to be part of how this is to be resolved, and that's obviously ultimately a matter for him and his legal representation.

Journalist: If he is extradited and not brought home will this test the US and Australia alliance?

Foreign Minister: I think the alliance has survived and continued to be strong through many, many decades, and it will continue so to be. Thank you very much.

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