PRIME MINISTER: We've just had the honour of hearing President Barack Obama deliver his last address to the United Nations General Assembly as the President of the United States. He gave a powerful and impassioned defence of liberal democracy. He made the case for freedom around the world, he made the case for the rule of law, he made the case for open markets, he made the case for free trade and he described the dead end that protectionism represents. He described the way in which we must not allow fear of open markets, fear of the world in fact, to take us backwards into poverty, to turn back the economic progress that he described so eloquently. He summed it up beautifully I think when he said: "countries that seek to build a wall imprison only themselves". That is why Julie and I, here and wherever we are, around the world or at home, make the case for our economic plan which has at the centre, open markets and free trade. Because we know that has provided continuing economic growth in Australia, the envy of the developed world, 3.3 per cent. It provides that continuing economic growth, and leaders like Barack Obama and those at the G20, here at the United Nations, understand that we have to make that case, and we have to do a better job of explaining it and selling it and promoting it too. Barack Obama challenged us all to do that, but it's absolutely critical.
Now in terms of the Summit later today, which I'll be attending with Peter Dutton, who is here in New York as well of course, on refugees, let me say that you can see that our ability to deliver a generous humanitarian programme – the third most generous humanitarian programme in the world, the third largest in the world – our ability to do that is underpinned by secure borders. Because we are able to say that we decide who comes into Australia and how long they stay, because we have control of our borders, we are able to deliver that generous humanitarian programme. We're able to deliver that with the support of the Australian people.
FOREIGN MINISTER: This morning I attended the International Syria Support Group meeting co-hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. There was a unanimous view in the room that the ceasefire must hold in Syria. There was an acknowledgment that there are spoilers, there are those in Syria who want to see this ceasefire fail. However there was an absolute resolve of all present that we must do whatever we can to cease hostilities in Syria so that the humanitarian work can be undertaken. Australia's position is that all options should be on the table to ensure the cessation of hostilities and that a ceasefire must be in place so that the humanitarian relief can be supplied.
We have adjourned the meeting for a couple of days, it will reconvene possibly Thursday afternoon or Friday morning at which time we expect to have a plan in place to ensure that in Syria, the parties to this conflict can deescalate, and the humanitarian work - which of course is leading to the outflow of displaced people and those who are seeking to flee this conflict – can come to an end. So, there was a determination to resolve the Syrian conflict. It will not be easy, but Australia is part of finding a solution to ensure there can be a negotiated path to peace in Syria
JOURNALIST: Did the Russians and the Americans get on in that meeting, would you say?
FOREIGN MINISTER: There was a meeting prior to the broader meeting with the invited foreign ministers and I think both Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry resolved their differences to the extent that there was a united front at the meeting to support the cessation of hostilities.
There have been two incidents that are the subject of investigations, neither John Kerry nor Sergei Lavrov was laying blame at the feet of the other. They will allow the investigations to take their path.
JOURNALIST: Russia and Syria are both saying that neither of them bombed that aid convoy. There is some implication that the White Helmets might have been involved, surely that's ludicrous and kind of laughable?
FOREIGN MINISTER: There were no actual allegations made or accusations made at the meeting. Both Russia and the United States stated that there are investigations underway into both incidents and that those investigations should take their course.
JOURNALIST: It sounds from what you were saying like there will be a plan developed for this meeting later in the week, is it too optimistic to think we could be on the edge of a breakthrough in relation to that?
FOREIGN MINISTER: There was an agreement reached by Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry, essentially on behalf of the International Syria Support Group around the 10th of September, that included a ceasefire, humanitarian relief and the Syrian Airforce to stop flying, and the disconnection between the opposition and Al-Nusra. They were the essential elements of the agreement from early September and all options are back on the table, but I am hopeful that there will be an agreement along the lines that had already been agreed to by the US and Russia.
JOURNALIST: People in Aleppo described bombs falling from the sky like rain yesterday, the aid convoy was bombed, I mean we are at the point of war crimes here, surely?
FOREIGN MINISTER: That's precisely why there is an investigation underway. There was a deep level of concern expressed by all foreign ministers in the room but as the United States and Russia have said, there are investigations underway and they should be allowed to take their course.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you'll be addressing the General Assembly tomorrow, will the thrust of your message be similar to that of the President?
PRIME MINISTER: We certainly share the same values. The answer is yes - the values of open markets, of free trade of liberal democracy, the rule of law; these are ones Australia and the United States absolutely share. We also will be addressing directly the issue of irregular migration, which of course is one of the big themes of this week's General Assembly and the President – as I noted earlier – has a summit focussed on that which I will be attending later in the day.
JOURNALIST: The President also said that countries blessed by wealth and geography like Australia should be doing more to help refugees. I know you said that we're among the world's leaders per capita, but is there not more we could and should be doing?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we are as you know, increasing our regular refugee intake from 13,750 over the next few years to 18,750 and of course in addition to that there is the 12,000 refugees that we're taking, that are in the process of being received from the Syria conflict zone. So it is a very substantial contribution and one of the points I want to stress is that we have a very good story. We have a proud history of taking in refugees from some of the most troubled parts of the world and then integrating them into Australian society. We put a lot of effort, and Australian Governments have done this for many years, into the settlement services and that's not the case everywhere around the world.
You can see as you listen to other leaders - and no doubt you've spoken to some of them - how clearly settled it is becoming now in the minds of governments and leaders and their communities, that governments must maintain control of their borders. It's absolutely critical.
So we also have to recognise that while we are increasing our refugee intake and other countries should do the same, that would be of great assistance, we are talking about 65 million people - the population of the United Kingdom as Theresa May noted yesterday - who are either refugees or internally displaced.
Now that population cannot be absorbed in countries of resettlement. So the solution, the durable solution that is required is to restore peace and stability to the regions that are racked by conflict. Julie has just been talking about Syria being the plainest case at the moment, but there are others. Also of course, to ensure there are opportunities for economic advancement in developing countries and there you can point to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which of course are a source of irregular migration, unauthorised migration into Europe. Of course there are thousands of deaths at sea in the Mediterranean as a consequence.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister to maintain the elevated levels of refugee intake into Australia beyond 2018, is that a maximum or a minimum or is there room to actually increase beyond 2018?
PRIME MINISTER: We have no plans to do so. We believe that figure that we'll reach in two years is a sustainable and maintainable one but obviously governments have the absolute right to review it and adjust it, either up or down as circumstances change. But we believe that is a level of humanitarian intake, a humanitarian channel that can be maintained and of course, where the refugees that come in, can be settled.
You see a lot of people say: "Australia is a big country, we've got lots of room." The reality is that one of the features of the Australian migration story - and we are a nation built by immigration – is that we have done a very effective job over many decades, of settling our migrants, ensuring that they are integrated and of course the ones that have the greatest challenge are very often the refugees.
JOURNALIST: When you meet with the Saudi leadership, will you be raising with them the support that emanates out of Saudi Arabia for terrorism, to terrorist groups around the world?
PRIME MINISTER: I'll certainly be discussing the full range of issues in the Middle East, as I had done and as Julie does too with her counterparts, with leaders of nations in the region. In recent times I have had very detailed discussions, very frank discussions with President Sisi of Egypt, President Erdogan of Turkey and I'm certainly looking forward to speaking with the Saudis.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister could I ask on terror financing, following from Kieran's question, whether you will be raising that specifically with the Saudis and secondly, you talk about Australia's good story on migration and border protection, but what of it's bad story when it comes to people who are languishing and will languish for a very long time on Nauru and Manus? What are you going to do about that?
PRIME MINISTER: As you know – and again Julie has been working closely on this with Peter Dutton – we are always looking for resettlement opportunities. There are a number of opportunities that are available now, you know about the arrangements with Cambodia. It's also a very important point – and this is a matter that is touched on in the New York Declaration that the General Assembly adopted yesterday and that a number of leaders have spoken about – it's very important that nations accept back, whether on a voluntary or involuntary basis, their citizens who have been denied refugee status. This is a keen issue with a number of countries who will not do that and of course it is important that if there is going to be the cooperative action to end the scourge of people smuggling - and there is a global commitment, I believe, to do that - then there are a number of measures that have to be undertaken. One of them is to be prepared to accept the return of a nation's own citizens who have not been afforded -
JOURNALIST: Have you talked to Iran on this trip?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I am certainly in contact with my Iranian counterpart over this issue. It's been a long running discussion, we will continue to seek to negotiate with Iran so that they take back Iranian citizens who are found not to be owed protection. The simple fact is, they are Iranians who have been found not to be refugees, they must go back to Iran.
JOURNALIST: Are the reactions of the leaders of Britain and Germany giving you heart as far as the attitude towards Australia's good story is concerned?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes I think it's very clear – Look Julie and I are not here, nor is Peter Dutton, to lecture or advise other countries. Each country has got its own particular circumstances. But it is very clear that the public in our country - and I think you can see looking around the world in every other country too – expects their government to be able to control their borders and to be able to decide who comes and goes. That is absolutely critical and that is the foundation in our nation, in Australia's case, upon which is built strong public support for a high level of immigration, a high level of humanitarian migration and of course, the whole multicultural project, this extraordinary project that is Australia – the most successful multicultural nation in the world. More than a quarter of Australians, people living in Australia, were not born in Australia. That is a remarkable fact of life, that we have built this successful multicultural society. At its foundation is the public understanding and knowing that the Government is in control of the borders. That is what we reinstated when we were returned to government in 2013.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555