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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 23570

Interview with David Speers, Sky News

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/06/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23570

Subject(s): Iraq

DAVID SPEERS:

Prime Minister, thanks for your time today. Can I start with the situation in Iraq? The President isn’t ruling anything in or out, if he does decide to take military action would Australia support that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let’s wait and see what he does decide. I just want people to know that this is a very serious situation. It seems that one of the major cities of Iraq – Mosul – has fallen to an al-Qaeda type group. Wide swaths of Iraq are now threatened by an al-Qaeda type group and to have such chunks of country, such numbers of people in the hands of an al-Qaeda type regime is disastrous. It’s a humanitarian disaster apart from anything else, but also a potential security disaster as well.

DAVID SPEERS:

Well indeed, the threat posed by al-Qaeda was the reason for going into Afghanistan, wasn’t it? This group has been very active causing a lot of grief in Syria. Should it have been stopped earlier?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as you know, the situation in Syria is diabolically complex and it seems that the situation in other parts of the Middle East is now becoming a witch’s brew of difficulty. But the President is taking it seriously, let’s wait and see what action is decided upon, but it is being taken very, very seriously here in Washington and you’d expect us to have consultations as a matter of routine with our principle ally in a situation like this.

DAVID SPEERS:

What’s your principle as Prime Minister on supporting US military action? What are the circumstances under which you would commit Australian support?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I want to do what we reasonably can to protect Australian citizens, Australian interests and Australian values and there is a very strong community of interest and values between the United States and Australia and our other principle allies. So without ruling anything in, obviously this is a very concerning situation and it does need to be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.

DAVID SPEERS:

So you don’t rule out then potential Australian military involvement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I don’t. I hope it doesn’t come to that of course, but this is a serious situation and it does need to be dealt with. The Iraqi government is extraordinarily concerned about the very rapid advances that this al-Qaeda group seems to be making against its own forces.

DAVID SPEERS:

Today you finalised with the President, a Force posture agreement between our two countries. This covers the legal footing for the presence of marines in the top end, but it could go beyond that.  Where would you like to see the level of military cooperation go to?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I want to see it go to whatever is appropriate and necessary for the stability and peace of our region and the thing about the relationship between Australia and the United States is that it is a partnership for peace. America’s presence in our region has been very good for our peace and stability ever since 1975 and earlier. So we want the United States to stay involved, if anything we want the United States to be increasingly involved and the great thing about the US marine force which is now rotating through Darwin is that it doesn’t just mean that we can exercise with the United States marines it means that our neighbours and regional partners can. For instance, later in the year there’ll be two modest exercises in Australia involving not just Australian and American forces, but also Chinese forces. Now this is an important trust building, confidence building measure.

DAVID SPEERS:

If it is working well could it be expanded to American use of airbases and naval bases in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is obviously some American use of air and naval bases now; we have quite a number of ship visits, we have quite a number of aircraft either servicing US forces in Darwin, servicing the joint base at Pine Gap.

DAVID SPEERS:

But what about basing them there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’re not talking about US bases as such; we’re talking about the United States using our bases on a more regular basis and having an appropriate legal arrangement for this to go forward.

DAVID SPEERS:

Can I ask you about China? Both you and the President agreed today on the need for united messaging on – yes the rise of China’s good, it needs to be peaceful and they need to follow international law. They don’t seem to be doing that in relation to Vietnam, they’ve dragged an oil rig into what Vietnam says is its territory. Did you get the sense today from the President that further action needs to be taken?

PRIME MINISTER:

David, it’s very important to stress that the rise of China has been a good thing for the world. Our resources sector would be almost unimaginable without the extraordinary growth of demand in China. Australia’s recent wealth is in very significant part due to demand from China. We benefit enormously from the consumer goods that we get from China, so this is a good thing and we frankly ought to give credit to the Chinese people and government for the extraordinary advance in human welfare associated with bringing hundreds of millions of people into the middle class.

Now it’s true – it’s true – that we have seen rather more forthright behaviour from the Chinese in the South China Sea. Our position has always been clear: disputes need to be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law and there should be no unilateral action. We have seen some unilateral action – that’s regrettable. I like to think that that’s out of character for the Chinese, but it is important that people understand that there is a united view in our region that we do need a code of conduct for behaviour in the South China Sea and then it needs to be adhered to.

DAVID SPEERS:

You said in a speech today that one day China will liberalise more than just its economy because people who are free to get rich will apply that creativity to other aspects of their lives. You don’t think communism will last, is that what you’re saying?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m saying that China is evolving and it’s evolving quite fast. 30 odd years ago no one would’ve imagined that transformation that we’ve seen and I suspect that China in 30 years’ time will be quite different from the China of today.

DAVID SPEERS:

Will it be communist?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well. That’s really a matter for the people of China, but I am confident that the China of 30 years’ time will be a more prosperous and I’m pretty sure a freer place.

DAVID SPEERS:

You did talk about climate change with the President today. It seems to me you agreed to disagree on the way to achieve the same goal – reducing emissions. He has said in recent weeks he still would prefer a price on carbon, you don’t like that at all, but if major economies did put a price on carbon – it’s an if – would that change your mind?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, David, I don’t accept the characterisation of our conversations as agreeing to disagree because frankly we agree on so much. We agree that climate change is a serious issue, we agree that there needs to be strong action against it and what the US has done recently is actually very similar to what the Coalition is proposing to do. They want cleaner power stations – we want cleaner power stations…

DAVID SPEERS:

But putting a cap on emissions essentially saying there needs to be a reduction of 30 per cent.

PRIME MINISTER:

They want cleaner power stations – we want cleaner power stations; we’ve got $2.5 billion which in comparable American terms would be $40 billion. We’ve got $2.5 billion on the table to, amongst other things, clean up power stations, get smarter technology into our economy, so that we do rest lightly on the planet.

DAVID SPEERS:

He would like to put a price on carbon, he said that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well when this matter went before the Congress eventually the President decided that there were more effective ways of bringing about emissions reduction and look, I think appropriate regulatory change is very often quite a good way to deal with these matters.

DAVID SPEERS:

Last question. Next stop for you is Houston before you go home. This is the energy capital of the world with the oil and gas – shale oil and gas boom that’s going on there. What potentially is there in Australia to copy some of this? Are you frustrated what the states – New South Wales in particular – are doing in terms of restricting coal seam gas development?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve got to have appropriate environmental safeguards – no doubt about that. We’ve got to have high environmental standards – no doubt about that. But we need to have swifter process in terms of making decisions here. That’s why the Coalition is moving rapidly towards a one stop shop for environmental approvals. You’ll be pleased to know, David, that some $500 billion – half a trillion dollars’ – worth of potential projects have received environmental approval since the election. So my fundamental message to the resources sector in Houston will be: Australia is open for business, we’re under new management and if you want to see profitable investment opportunities look to Australia.

DAVID SPEERS:

But are the states helping you with that message?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think very much so. I think all of the states want investment, all of the states want jobs and this is all about investment and jobs.

DAVID SPEERS:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks David.

[ends]

Transcript - 23570