PRIME MINISTER: I’m very pleased to be here with the Foreign Minister to be participating in the UN General Assembly Leaders’ Week and I’ll be looking forward tomorrow to be providing the national statement, I’ll be focusing very much on Australia’s policy action in relation to key environmental challenges which don’t just include climate change but importantly the issue of our oceans, the management of our oceans, the impact of plastics on our oceans, waste management, and illegal fishing - important issues for Australia. I look forward to having the opportunity on addressing those issues tomorrow. Today though it’s been a busy day for the Foreign Minister and I with a series of bilateral meetings. Today I met earlier with the King of Jordan, the Prime Minister of Thailand, the new Prime Minister of Greece, who we hope to be welcoming to Australia next year, in the first half of next year. And I know there’ll be about 400 000 thousand Australians of Greek decent will be saying Yasou to that. Absolutely we’re looking forward to a great visit. And of course the President of Korea with whom I’ve met on many occasions. They’re our fourth largest trading partner and this was also a very good opportunity to talk about a whole raft of issues both on our economic relationship – where they’re involved in everything from major infrastructure projects in Australia, defence procurement projects - but also looking to our broader partnership which we’re seeking to establish around rare earths and critical minerals. The Foreign Minister, who I’ll ask to make a few comments today, Minister Payne earlier today met with her counterpart from China, in what has been the second of those meetings in the last six months – the last two months. We welcome that opportunity as well. And there have been many other engagements, we were there for the earlier presentations to the General Assembly and while I’m here in New York I’m also taking the opportunity to be talking to some of the biggest investors in Australia and understanding how they’re seeing the road ahead. And we’re very encouraged by their enthusiasm about the strength of the Australian economy, which really stands out in the globe at the moment. So, Marise.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, SENATOR THE HON MARISE PAYNE: Thanks Prime Minister. Looking forward to your national statement tomorrow. It’s been an opportunity the past few days to participate in the key events here for UNGA Leaders’ Week and importantly on cyber security in particular yesterday with our partners in the Netherlands, and the United States convening a joint statement of twenty seven signatories around the importance of lawful behaviour in cyberspace. Also, participating in the forum on universal health coverage where Australia provides significant support, regionally, and more broadly to ensure that we are supporting countries in delivering primary health care and secondary health care to their populations. A number of key bilaterals as you’ve already pointed out, Prime Minister, including today with the new Israeli Foreign Minister Katz, with State Councillor Wang Yi, with my counterpart in Poland, and a range of others. And of course some key engagements coming this afternoon, particularly around Myanmar and the status of the Rohingyas, which will follow on from my recent visit to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. So the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina convening that forum this afternoon.
JOURNALIST: Senator Payne, in your meeting with Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, did he raise the tenor of this trip with the Prime Minister’s speech, you know about the developing status -- sorry the developing nation status with you?
PAYNE: Well it’s not my practice to go into the details of my private bilateral meetings. But I can say it was a very positive meeting. As the Prime Minister said it’s my second meeting with State Councillor Wang Yi in the last two months. We also met in Bangkok in the sidelines of the EAS and for Foreign Ministers meeting. But most importantly we acknowledge that our relationship is based on our comprehensive strategic partnership and that’s the premise from which we begin.
JOURNALIST: Do you share the PM’s views that China isn’t a developing country now?
PAYNE: Well, I think the Prime Minister has outlined Australia’s position in his speech in Chicago yesterday. But more importantly, consistently for many, many months now and particularly in his Asia link speech in Australia
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Greta Thunberg. She’s warning of impending extinction. Her message to you and other leaders is “how dare you?” What’s your response?
PRIME MINISTER: Well first of all, I think that it’s important to acknowledge how deeply people feel about this issue. And we feel deeply about it to – that’s why we’re taking the action that we are taking. That’s why I’ll be addressing the actions Australia’s been taking on climate change in my remarks tomorrow. I think there’s a lot of disinformation out there, about frankly, what Australia is doing. You’ve heard me say on so many occasions now the progress we’ve been able to make., the fact that we meet our targets that we set. And in fact, we exceed them. It often comes as news to people when I share with them that Australia has the highest per capita investments in renewable energy of any country in the world. And in fact when put two and three together they still don’t believe us. And so I think there is a bit of lack of awareness about the action Australia has been taking. And so tomorrow will be a good opportunity I think to set all these issues out. But I do understand that people do feel strongly about this, but I think we also have to take stock and we have to ensure that we get a proper context and perspective. You know, I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future. And I think it’s important that we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, but they’ll also have an economy they can live in as well. And so, I would, I think we’ve got to caution against raising the anxieties of children in our country. Yeah we’ve got to deal with the policy issues, and we’ve got to take it seriously, but I don’t want our children having anxieties about these issues. Australia has dealt with so many issues in the past and the world has dealt with so many difficult issues in the past. And here we’re reminded of that. I mean the very institution that we stand adjacent to was the product of coming out of one of the greatest, well the greatest conflict the world has ever seen. So previous generations have seen quite existential threats in the past and these days I think it’s important – and I say this as a parent too – we’ve got to make sure that our kids understand the facts but they also have the context and the perspective and we do not create an anxiety amongst children in how we talk about and deal with these very real issues.
JOURNALIST: What did you make of António Guterres’ warning about a great fracture in the world, the world being split between China and the United States? And do you think we’re already seeing this happening in the Pacific Islands?
PRIME MINISTER: Again, I think this is what Australia brings to the table so often, as I remarked yesterday in Chicago. I’m a lot more optimistic about this. I’m a lot more optimistic about it. As I explained in the Chicago speech yesterday, the world has reached – the world global economy and the biggest players in that economy have reached a new level and that just means that the global institutions and settings that sit around that have to be recalibrated to recognise that. We don’t have to see this in the great conquest of ideologies and belief systems. It’s just the economy moving through a new phase, and the international community adjusting to that. That’s what we’re seeing. And whether it’s on technologies – and I’ve just had a meeting with some of the biggest investors here in the country – they understand like we do, that there will be different platforms and different systems. But if you get the standards right, then you can get interoperability between those. So, I’m not fatalistic about these things. And it’s important I think for Australians not to be, because our experience always proves that we have no need to be. And so, I would say, whether it’s to young kids, or people in their retirement, or people in their middle age or in whatever stage in life they’re at, if you live in Australia there’s a great reason to be optimistic, and experience always proves that.
JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese said that your trip is a failure on trade because you failed to convince Mr Trump and that it was too partisan. How do you react to those?
PRIME MINISTER: Oh look… I’m afraid Anthony and the Labor Party have become a weapon of mass confusion. Whether it’s on issues of the economy or issues of border security, or immigration, and now on issues of foreign affairs. They change their position in the desperate search for relevance on a day-to-day basis. I would urge them to take a more mature reading of these sorts of things. The position I’ve been outlining on these issues about managing our relationship between our comprehensive strategic partner and our most significant and greatest ally is a position that I’ve been setting out now for a very long period of time. And it’s been the consistency in that position that I think has ensured that we’ve maintained the credibility of these relationships. I’m not in the business of surprises. I’m in the business of being very clear about why we saying things, what we’re doing, and engaging in the relationships we have. And I think the meeting between Marise Payne, the foreign minister and her counterpart today is a further demonstration of the fact that relationship continues to be in good shape.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister one of the things that the President spoke about in his joint press conference with you the other day in Washington was Robert O’Brien’s hostage negotiations skills. We’ve got Australians in Iranian prison at the moment. Have you spoken to the US about that at all, or Foreign Minister have you spoken to [inaudible] at all?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll ask Marise to comment separately, but I’ve said on a number of occasions now that it is never in interest of those who are the subject of these issues for them to be canvassed in discussions in forums like this, it’s just not in their interests and that’s why I don’t.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister?
PAYNE: We are very focused on diplomatic negotiations as you would expect.
JOURNALIST: On plastics, Prime Minister. Can you describe or outline what you would like the world to do when it comes to this issue? Secondly, can you describe your feelings about what sort of threat plastics pose to the environment and to the ocean?
PRIME MINISTER: Sure. Well, first of all, what needs to be done when it comes to plastics recycling, and for that matter, any area of waste management, is it needs to be commercially sustainable as a model. We don’t want to see you know, taxes, and large levels of state intervention, and massive summits, and these sorts of things. What we want to see is industry leadership, and support for that leadership, and research, and design, and the identification of new products and markets, and how we can facilitate that, so you get a commercially sustainable waste management operation. Now, this is one of the issues I discussed with the Thai Prime Minister today. It is an important issue for them. It will be an important issue that’s been, was raised in last year’s East Asia Summit. So where you have commercially-led models, where resource in the same way Anthony Pratt has been able to build a very successful recycling business, both in Australia and the United States. We want to see that same sort of model be successful in the plastics recycling industry. And Australia has an enormous amount to offer here and it’s not only going to make our environment cleaner and the world’s oceans cleaner, but I think it’s going to be a real jobs opportunity for Australia. So, what does it mean for the oceans? Well, look. We need to take action on climate change, but there are actually issues like plastics in our oceans which present even more immediate threats. Not only to the wellbeing of our oceans from an environmental perspective, but they have quite significant impacts on health, particularly in the Pacific Island communities, particularly when you’re talking about nano plastics. This actually gets into the reproductive system of the food chain and of human beings themselves. So, this is a very real and present threat and is something that we clearly have the ability to address. And, I am sure that we can take action on climate change and actually raise the priority and focus on dealing with the world’s waste management and plastics problems and be able to achieve both.
JOURNALIST: President Trump in his address today noted his view was that the future doesn’t belong to globalists, it belongs to patriots. I wonder if you share that view? He also made a reflection about China’s status as a developing country. Is he echoing you? Or are you echoing him? And on Iran, he seems to say that the really tough decision is not to have a war there and to try and extract a peace, that must have given you some comfort?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me start with the last point first and I said this when we were in the Oval Office together and that was, I commend the restraint that the President is showing on the issue of Iran. Now, our involvement on that matter is on a separate issue regarding the freedom of navigation. And I’ve been very clear about the nature of that involvement. But, the President has been very clear that this is by no means a preferred option. I think he is showing restraint and seeking to work the issue through and I do welcome that. And as he said in the Oval Office, people may have had preconceptions of what his position on these things might be, but I think his practice, he’s shown they got those preconceptions completely wrong. On the first issue that you raised, I thought a very important point the President made this morning was about respecting the independence and sovereignty of independent nation states. And our Indo-Pacific vision, which is shared with Indonesia, with Japan, with India, with Korea – who call it by a different name – but, that is the fundamental building block of peace and stability in our region. It is respecting the independence and sovereignty of all of these nations that we live alongside with. And this is why we have always looked to ASEAN, those ASEAN countries, whether it be Thailand, or Singapore, or Indonesia, or Malaysia or others. They have coexisted quite happily on this basis for some period of time, operating with that as their guiding principle and I think the President reflected that sentiment today and I think that’s an endorsement of the view of how you maintain a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. You’ll have to remind me of the second part of your question…
JOURNALIST: China - developing country-
PRIME MINISTER: Look, we often come to same, similar conclusions, but we come from a different perspective on occasions. As I said also, we also have a trade surplus with China, they have a trade deficit. But the issues that are being raised are really about this gear change that I have said we have got to with the maturity of the Chinese economy. Now, that’s happened. I mean, when you look at the level of investment that China makes in countries outside of their own borders, when you look at the level of military expansion within their own ranks. They are not the actions of a developing country. They are the actions of the second largest economy in the world and I think for Anthony Albanese to dismiss that today in the way that he has, I think shows the very confused position and he needs to update himself on the scale of the achievements that I think China have been able to amass at rapid rate, at record rates. So, it is really coming to the same conclusion that we need to move into this next phase and moving into that next phase does mean ensuring that we are all sort of playing on a level playing field, so I wish them both well in coming to an agreement that recognises this. I don’t see this as an issue of conflict, I see this as a set of issues that were inevitable, and they would have to be addressed at some point. They are now being addressed at this point and I look forward to their conclusion.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister. Britain’s in the midst of a constitutional crisis. You’re a great friend of Great Britain and Boris Johnson. Are you concerned about that? Will you have an opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I spoke to him yesterday actually. We were sitting alongside each other, as Marise was arriving. We had a bit of a chat while we were sitting there. It is obviously a period of great uncertainty and instability at the moment, but that’s not really news in that situation. It’s been like that now for several years. And so we would just hope like everybody else that this matter can be brought to some sort of conclusion and stability can be restored and I think that’s what is important for the people of Great Britain. But also more broadly in terms of seeking to settle arrangements with the European Union. The uncertainty that sits around a lot of these global issues at the moment, obviously it has an impact on the confidence and sentiment in the global economy. Australia is not immune to that. We are seeing that impact on Australia more recently. So, we are always keen to see these things resolved.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minster. Just back to kids being anxious about climate change. Do you think kids in Australia would be less anxious about climate change if emissions were falling rather than rising and if there was a clear commitment from your government to develop a 2050 strategy for emissions reduction that sees Australia get to net zero? And also, if I may, on China, what do you say to people who think, given the alignment between your language and Donald Trump’s in relation to developing economy status, in relation to climate change, that Australia has already made a decision between its major security partner and its major economic partner and that we are firmly now in America’s corner?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would say in relation to the last point that you made, that’s a flawed analysis of the situation. The United States is our great ally and China is our comprehensive strategic partner and we continue to maintain that this isn’t a matter of choosing. This is a matter of working closely with both nations and in the spirit of both of those histories and those relationships. So, no, I’ve been saying for some time now Katherine, that I reject the binary narrative that keeps being thrust towards me on this. I don’t buy it. And I don’t support it. And I am not going to make decisions based on it. I think it is a very narrow-cast analysis. On the former issue, I’m talking about 10 and 12 year old kids. And 10 and 12 year old kids need to have discussions about these issues, which have perspective and context. So that it doesn’t create needless anxiety.
JOURNALIST: I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude or cut across you-
PRIME MINISTER: You’ll give it a go anyway-
JOURNALIST: No, no. I don’t mean to be rude, but they are not dumb. These kids are not dumb.
PRIME MINISTER: I’m not saying they are. I have a 10 and 12 year old child myself.
PRIME MINISTER: And we don’t have deep conversations about emissions reduction targets and what’s happening with the Kyoto Protocol and Paris, but we talk about fossil fuels and we talk about what they learn at school. And I encourage them to have a passionate, independent view about how they see the world, but I also give them a lot of context. I don’t allow them to be basically contorted into one particular view, I like them to make up their own mind. But I also like to give them reassurance, because the worst thing I would impose on any child, is needless anxiety. They have got enough things to be anxious about. I always like kids to be kids. We have got to let kids be kids. We can’t have them sort of growing up as mushrooms either, but at the same time, I think we’ve got to get a bit of context and perspective into this. We’re taking action on climate change. We are meeting our targets. We are planning for Australian’s future. Australia’s best days are ahead of it. And young children growing up in Australia should feel great about Australia’s future. I do. I feel great about my future- for my children, our children as Australians and whatever challenges come our way, we’ll deal with them, like we always have.
JOURNALIST: Just on the situation in West Papua. It seems to be deteriorating, with reports Indonesian forces have used live ammunition, the internet has been shut down. What do you both make of that situation and have you been lobbying on behalf of the Pacific who raised this and, if they were quite keen for a UN visit at some point in the next year?
PAYNE: Well, we are obviously very concerned about the reports of violence in Papua and West Papua. And they are matters which our Post in Jakarta is obviously following up with authorities there. We have indicated consistently that we urge absolute restraint from both sides in actions that are happening on the ground there and most particularly support President Widodo’s calls for calm as well. But, I expect to be updated on that in the coming days.
JOURNALIST: Minister, When you spoke to your Chinese counterpart, did you raise the Uyghurs, especially the disturbing footage that came out and what did he respond?
PAYNE: Well, Andrew I did say previously that it’s not my practice to go into the details of my conversations, but I do consistently raise in an appropriate way and with my counterpart our concerns around human rights issues. That does include Xinjiang and in this case it also includes Dr Yang Hengjun, who of course continues to be detained in China and I have encouraged the Chinese authorities again to provide him with access to a lawyer.