Australian Prime Minister Press Conference – Canberra 17 June

Prime Minister

: Thanks for joining us, I’ve just concluded hosting a State Lunch in Premier Li Qiang’s honour, the first Chinese Premier to visit Australia since 2017. Premier Li’s presence represents another important step in stabilising our relationship with China. It follows his visit for a couple of days to Adelaide, including the announcement that was made about two younger pandas coming to Adelaide Zoo, as well as the event that was hosted at Penfolds there at the Magill Estate in Adelaide. And this afternoon, indeed, very soon, I will fly to Perth, the Premier will travel separately to Perth, where there will be events tomorrow, including an event hosted by the peak business organisations, as well as a community luncheon, as well as other separate events with industry that Premier Li will undertake in the morning and the afternoon before his visit concludes tomorrow. Our approach has, of course, been patient, calibrated and deliberate. I’ve said repeatedly we will cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, but engage in our national interest, and that is in the interest of Australia and in the interest of China, as well as in the interest of regional stability. The recommencement of our regular Annual Leaders’ Meetings has restored the high level dialogue which is central to this stabilisation. And we discussed today next year’s meeting, which will, of course, be held in China. This morning I raised the full range of Australia’s interests during the meeting, as I do in all my formal international engagements. Dialogue is how we manage differences. It’s how we also share opportunity. Having signed a number of important new agreements, we will both travel to Perth. And happy to take a couple of questions before I depart.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Albanese, what are both sides doing to ensure that the twists and turns in the bilateral relationship don’t reoccur?

PRIME MINISTER: I think dialogue helps. It’s always positive when people are engaging and we engage in a very direct way about some of the differences that we have, the incidents that have occurred, for example, I certainly raised our issues in the Pacific, as well as other issues, including human rights, including Dr Yang’s case, as well as the Australians who are on death row. We, of course, in Australia oppose capital punishment and I reiterated our position there.

JOURNALIST: And Prime Minister, did you raise the issue of foreign interference with the Premier? And is it appropriate that critics of the Chinese Communist Party have been advised by Federal Police to alter their daily patterns of life here. Is that something that people in a democracy should have to put up with?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I did raise the issue of ensuring that foreign interference wasn’t acceptable in Australia’s political system. We’ve seen, of course, here as a full expression of our democracy, different views, being out the front of Parliament House, we saw this morning an expression of that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you talk a lot about the importance of dialogue, but do you trust China’s leaders to do what they say they will do?

PRIME MINISTER: I have had constructive discussions with Premier Li and those discussions have produced results. We’re not transactional in how we deal with that. We put forward our view and I must say that the Premier also puts forward his view. There are some areas, I’ll answer the questions, you get to ask them, Premier Li and I have had constructive dialogue. That is what we have had. That is how you build relationships with people.

JOURNALIST: While some of the documents were being signed in the committee room today, some Chinese Embassy officials tried to block my colleague here, Cheng Lei, from a view of cameras. Is it acceptable to import that kind of behaviour into the heart of Australia’s democracy here in Parliament House?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I didn’t see that. I saw Cheng Lei and we smiled at each other during the event. Look, I’m not aware of those issues. It’s important that people be allowed to participate fully and that’s what should happen in this building or anywhere else in Australia.

JOURNALIST: As this was going on today, Bill Shorten, representing the country in Switzerland at the Ukraine Peace Summit, China didn’t turn up at that. Did you raise with the Premier, Australia’s view that we want China to do more on Russia? And just can you let people in? What sort of general response do you get when you raise these issues? Is it a polite yes or a polite disagreement with our views?

PRIME MINISTER: I did raise that issue of the ongoing impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I didn’t raise specifically the Peace Conference that has gone ahead with Bill Shorten, I felt was an appropriate representative. He’s someone who has a linkage to the Ukrainian-Australian community and was very keen to go. And I thought it was appropriate to give a former Leader of the Australian Labor Party, the party that’s in Government, to give it that status as well. And that was after I had a discussion with President Zelenskyy just a couple of weeks ago where he asked for a senior representative. With regard to the character of the discussion, on some issues there’s immediate agreement, on some issues there is not. We have differences of opinion, but it’s important that we be able to express those, that we’re able to be constructive about it. So, for example, one of the very practical measures that we spoke about was improving military to military communication so as to avoid incidents, getting that dialogue. I’ve already spoken with the Defence Minister, Richard Marles, who was at the one on one meeting that wasn’t really one on one. The one on one meeting had myself and Richard and Penny Wong there as the Foreign Minister, with equal numbers from Premier Li’s side as well. But it is a constructive dialogue, in a mature way of trying to work through where there are differences.

JOURNALIST: There was, in the press conference, Premier Li said that there was talk about expanding mining cooperation between Australia and China. Could you tell us anything else about that? Was there any agreements to expand mining between areas of critical minerals?

PRIME MINISTER: No. Look, we have, of course, considerable interest between our mining sector and China. You’ll note at the main table today at lunch, Tania Constable, the head of the Minerals Council, and Kellie Parker from Rio Tinto, for example, when Premier Li visits WA, I would be surprised if at the business meeting, the mineral sector wasn’t substantially represented. Michelle, last one.

JOURNALIST: Could you elaborate on improving this military communication so we don’t have these incidents again? And have you raised the question of the Australian media getting back into China?

PRIME MINISTER: I raised that when I was in China last time around. And the Chinese side say that they are willing to grant that access and speaking to some media organisations as well, it’s a matter of whether they wish to send people there, I think is that point. On the military to military better communication, it literally came out of a meeting that was hours ago. That was a part of the dialogue. I’ve given you very much up to date report on that. So, obviously what will happen is that officials will go away and we’ll have that discussion about how that can be implemented in practice.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything else you can tell us about the condition that Dr Yang is in. His family fears he will die in jail. Do you think that at this point that is likely?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Penny Wong answered that question yesterday on Insiders. It’s not appropriate to talk about an individual and their circumstances in terms of privacy. I’ve indicated that I’ve raised Dr Yang. I’ve raised that. Thank you. Thanks very much.

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