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Joint Press Conference with the Rt Hon Bill English, Prime Minister of New Zealand

17th February 2017  |  Comments  |  Transcripts

SUBECTS: Prime Minister’s visit to New Zealand; Australia-New Zealand relationship; Centenary of Anzac; trade; TPP; US Administration; fake news; protectionism; tax reform; national security; combatting the scourge of terrorism; fight against ISIL; citizenship; Coalition party room.

E&OE…

PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND:

It is my great pleasure to welcome Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mrs Lucy Turnbull to Queenstown today, along with Treasurer Scott Morrison and Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos.

Malcolm, I am sure you will agree our relationship is in great shape. One reason for that has been your personal commitment to resolving issues that have been of concern to New Zealand and we respect that ongoing commitment.

Australia is our closest security partner and ally. Our friendship is never stronger in times of need, and Malcolm, New Zealand was very appreciative of the assistance that was spontaneously offered by Australia to combat the fires affecting Christchurch.

Underpinning our close friendship is a number of factors. Australia is the biggest market for our goods and services exports, our biggest source of capital and our biggest destination for overseas investment.

There's around 2.5 million trips across the Tasman each year, many of cause from Australia directly into Queenstown. We are each other's largest source of inbound visitors, so we are unique, as two of the world's most integrated economies.

We are also partners on the world stage. Our Trans-Tasman relationship leads the way in openness and free trade. We are known and respected for being principled and ambitious, and we are focused on working together to open markets and create an even playing field, so our businesses can take advantage of the huge opportunities on our doorstep. We are both uniquely placed to capitalise on fast paced growth in the Asia-Pacific.

And like Australia, we New Zealanders are very aware we won't get rich by selling to ourselves. Over the last 30 years, we have prospered because of the success of the Australian economy, and we wish it ongoing success.

And we recognise today that both our countries can do better still by selling to more than 800 million people that live in TPP countries. And trade liberalisation, agreements like CER and TPP are not about big business, they are about creating jobs.

That's why Malcolm and I are both focused on regional trade and the opportunities that free trade agreements represent. We're focused on finding ways to take the TPP forward now that the United States has withdrawn. We've agreed it's important to reach out to our TPP partners to continue to work to secure the significant economic and strategic benefits the TPP would deliver.

Malcolm and I today welcomed the signing of the Australian New Zealand Science, Research and Innovation Cooperation Agreement, a concrete example of further steps towards a single economic market. The Agreement signals our shared goal to establish ourselves as smart countries committed to science and innovation, and it will continue to evolve along with our priorities. The aim is to generate new job opportunities and growth.

One of the first joint projects will be a second generation satellite-based augmentation system in both countries. We've also agreed to explore avenues to engage in genomics, health care and cooperating on planning and investment to work with third countries - for example through the Global Alliance on Chronic Disease.

Malcolm and I have discussed the pathway to citizenship for New Zealanders in Australia. We appreciate very much the investment the Turnbull Government has made in providing a pathway for long-term resident New Zealanders who have made their home in Australia.

On behalf of the many New Zealanders affected by the Kaikoura earthquakes in November, I thank Malcolm for the Australian Government's significant contribution and I can recall my own visit to your naval ship, which voluntarily left the naval celebrations in Auckland, steamed to Kaikoura and helped to evacuate hundreds of people from a town that was isolated by the earthquakes.

That spontaneous response was yet another reminder that our two countries stand by each other when times are tough.

Prime Minister, I'm looking forward to continuing our discussions during the remainder of our visit, but I now invite you to make some remarks of your own.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much, Bill. You have been very, very kind. I want to thank you and your wife, Dr English, for the hospitality you’ve shown Lucy and myself and of course your ministers have shown, my ministers, Scott Morrison and Arthur Sinodinos.

We have had a very good discussion. You began with a reflection on the assistance that we have offered in respect to the fires around Christchurch. Can I say that we are at one with New Zealanders in mourning the death of Steve Askin, one of New Zealand's finest soldiers who died fighting that fire. He died as he had lived his life in the New Zealand Army defending his countrymen, selflessly serving his nation. The firefighters of New Zealand and Australia willing themselves into the furnace, standing between the fury of nature and the lives, the homes of their communities. They are heroic men and women. They reach out and help each other across the Tasman again and again.

It is that same spirit that we remembered this morning at Arrowtown. That Anzac spirit. A hundred years on it is stronger than ever. And now, in the Middle East and around the region, Australians and New Zealanders are working together to combat terrorism, to stand up for freedom, to defend the values that we share.

So, Bill, it has been a tough time and I know you are coming up to the anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake as well. Nature can be very cruel in both our countries - floods, fire and earthquakes. But those tough times bring out the best in Australians and New Zealanders and they bring out that Anzac solidarity again and again.

And we have so many shared values and shared agendas. One of them that Bill spoke of is free trade. You said very eloquently, I made a note of it, you can't get rich selling things to yourselves. We want our businesses to sell to 24 million Australians but we want them to be selling to 7.4 billion people all around the world. It is a great big world out there and we have got some of the smartest, most talented people in our countries and they want to have the biggest and the most open playing field to run onto because they are the best.

And that is why we are committed to free trade and that is why, like you, we are sorry the new American Administration pulled out of the TPP. But we will continue to open up, working together, recognising our shared interests in opening up more economic opportunities, more trade opportunities for our two nations because, as you said, trade means jobs and it's not just an opportunity for big businesses, it's an opportunity for businesses of every size. And, of course, as we move more and more to internet e-commerce platforms, the opportunity for small businesses, very small businesses, mum and dad businesses, to get into these big markets, particularly the big Asian markets, is greater than ever.

So I want to thank you too for the commitment that you have shown always to work with us right around the world and especially in our endeavours on security.

We are celebrating many anniversaries at the moment, both the First World War, 100 years ago, which we remembered particular at the Arrowtown memorial, but also this week, 75 years since the Fall of Singapore - both Australia and New Zealand feeling that they were completely secure and protected by the might of the Royal Navy and the impregnable island fortress, Singapore, realised that the world, their world, our world, our parents’ world had changed.

What a generation they were. We saw some of them there today at Arrowtown. What a generation of women and men they were. How hard they fought for freedoms cause and then after the war, were able to forgive. They were a mighty generation and it was good that we were there to meet with them and honour them and their service and their sacrifice.

But right now, everywhere, Australians and New Zealanders are working together. We work together diplomatically, we are working together building the capacity of the Iraqi armed forces, to defend their nation, to recover their nation from the scourge of terrorism, of the scourge of Daesh.

Bill, it is a great partnership. It is built on millions and millions of Australians and New Zealanders working together. Family, we are truly a family, a Trans-Tasman family.

It is wonderful to be here with you, I look forward to having a very strong relationship with you as Prime Minister, and we look forward, as we were discussing earlier, with Stephen and Simon and my ministers, we are looking forward to learning more from you. I have been an absolutely unalloyed fan of New Zealand. I feel you do many things more efficiently and cost effectively than we do. Your distinguished predecessor John Key used to say it was because you didn't have as much money to waste as we Australians did but I know it was because of the efficiency of the Finance Minister that made it all possible.

[Laughter]

I know that as Prime Minister, you will continue to do that.

We can share so much experience, our countries are so similar, if something works in New Zealand, it would probably work in Australia and vice versa. If it doesn't work in Australia, it may not work in New Zealand. We can all learn a lot from working more closely together.

Isn't it great we have signed this agreement on science and innovation? How fantastic is it that our best and brightest are going to be working together to solve the riddles of genomics to find the cures to deal with the most challenging illnesses in the future. We are the best, Aussies and Kiwis, and when we work together, we are unbeatable. It is great to be here.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you Prime Ministers. My question is about the change in leadership in the United States, and in particular practicalities of dealing with Donald Trump on a leader to leader basis? Prime Minister Turnbull, if I could ask you first about the practicalities of dealing with Donald Trump after your own phone call - what is the approach when dealing with the President?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the only approach to take when dealing with any president or any prime minister is to be frank and forthright. And I am too old to be any different, I might add. I suspect Bill is too old to change too.

We had a very constructive call – that is to say President Trump and I have had several calls now, we’ve had a very constructive call. It was frank and forthright and it was very valuable. I thanked him for the commitment that he made.

JOURNALIST:

Just a follow-up to that. Today, we have seen a press conference by President Trump where he has discussed at length this issue is fake news. Prime Minister Turnbull do you believe there is such a thing as fake news? And you too, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me be very brief on this point.

A very great politician, Winston Churchill, once said that politicians complaining about the newspapers, is like a sailor complaining about the sea - there’s not much point.

That is the media we live with and we have to get our message across and we thank you all in the media for your kind attention.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND:

We just say you’re wrong Paddy, we don’t call it fake news.

[Laughter]

JOURNALIST:

Prime Ministers, thank you for both of your time this afternoon. I have got a question for both of you. The Defence Minister, Marise Payne, says that Australia is open to considering a bigger commitment to the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Now, should you both receive a request from President Donald Trump for boots on the ground, how far would you both be prepared to go with your commitment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’ll go first, thank you.

We will assess all requests on their merits as we always do and always will.

We work very closely with our American ally and our other allies, including New Zealand. It is a very, very close, intimate relationship in terms of defence and security matters. We are part of the Five Eyes countries that have the closest intelligence and security collaboration as you know.

So we will assess it on its merits. I should say that Australia already has one of the largest, if not the largest presence in the alliance against Daesh, other than that of the United States, in terms of foreign contributions. So we have a very substantial commitment there and I just want to say again, thank the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand men and women of the New Zealand defence forces for the outstanding role they’re playing in working with our force at Taji, in building the capacity of the Iraqi forces, and of course also now their police, their domestic security forces. Which is very important, because as areas are liberated from Daesh, it’s important that there are the police that can go in and maintain the order that the army has secured by their defeating the terrorists.

JOURNALIST:

What about specifically more boots on the ground? If there is a request for more resources, can you give an indication of what you would commit? I mean the US Defense Secretary is looking at an acceleration in the US mission in the Middle East.

PRIME MINISTER:

As I just said earlier, we will assess any and every request from the United States on its merits and make a decision. We haven't received that request, but when we do, we will assess it very carefully.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister English is that the same decision for New Zealand as well?

PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND:

It is our intention to continue the work we are doing with Australia. You’ll remember, that was much discussed about the commitment to Iraq. We wouldn't want to underestimate the complexity of the situation in Syria. The US is working on it, trying to find a path through there to some kind of stability - however you define that, looks to us to be a real challenge. So we will just wait and see what comes out of that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Turnbull, I just wonder if you could expand a little bit on whether you were concerned about a growing trend of protectionism globally? You have obviously talked a lot about free trade. How concerned are you about that? And when you talk of a joint approach, when there is talk of a joint approach between New Zealand and Australia on free trade, do you see that as some sort of ‘Anzac front’ in terms of trying to push for a future TPP without the US?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we work very closely together in so many areas and we are very much of the same mind on the importance of free trade. For all the reasons that Prime Minister English just set out in his opening remarks.

As far as protectionism is concerned, you can understand the way in which it is being presented. What you find, is at a time of very rapid change, both economic and technological change, that produces anxiety. People can be persuaded, in some cases, that the answer is to throw up walls and to stop trade, increase trading barriers, to trade.

My view, and I know Bill's position too, is that that is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Free trade, more trade means more jobs, it means more growth.

We have got to remember Australia and New Zealand are relatively small - compared to places like China and the United States - relatively small open trading economies. We have a much bigger percentage of our GDP in Australia depending on trade than for example the comparative percentage in the United States. So trade is critically important for Australian jobs.

I’d just say, I said at the G20, protectionism is not the ladder to get you out of the low growth trap, it is the shovel to dig it deeper and deeper and deeper.

Protectionism leads to poverty. We have seen that film before. We saw it at the time, nearly 90 odd years ago, in the Great Depression. It was protectionism - because of the concerns created by the Depression - countries started putting up trade barriers. It only made it worse. So we are pursuing our rational national self-interest in promoting trade.

JOURNALIST:

Question to you, Mr Turnbull, first. Can you rule out a tax increase in May's budget? And if you can’t doesn’t that mean that Tony Abbott is right to raise that very concern?

A related question to you Mr English, how helpful was the 15 per cent GST here in New Zealand in returning your budget to surplus?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you should go first.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND:

OK, actually, not helpful in returning to surplus, because we did, back in 2010, some time ago, essentially a tax switch - we increased GST and reduced income tax and we also increased taxes on property. But we have got an efficient tax system that means that as the economy grows, it does generate revenue that is greater than our expenditure. That is helping us back to surplus.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks. Tom, we have no plans to increase tax. Indeed, all of our plans for tax were set out in the Budget last year. They included a reduction in personal income tax, which stopped half a million Australians, on middle incomes, from going into the second highest tax bracket.

That included the reductions in business tax, company tax following New Zealand's example, I might say - to making sure that our company tax regime was more competitive. So we are pursuing that reform in the Parliament at the moment.

Our tax plans were set out in the budget and they have been pursued in Parliament. That is our commitment.

In 2014, personal income tax was increased, you may remember. The deficit levy, putting 2 per cent on the top personal rate. In the Budget last year in 2016, personal income tax was reduced. That reform has gone through the Parliament. But we are still seeking to get the support of the Senate to the business tax cuts.

I don't know Bill, it’s not my job to interview you, but I might just try now - one question, Tom, I’m sure would have liked to ask you was how important do you think your more competitive company tax rate has been? Because you were the architect of that.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND:

We think it’s really important to signal that we want reinvestment in businesses. Because that is what grows the jobs and grows the capacity, so we have got a pretty settled rate, though it is lower than Australia.

PRIME MINISTER:

It is.

PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND:

We had hoped it would attract a large number of Australian businesses across the Tasman, but that hasn't quite happened yet. We might have to lower it again.

[Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

There you go.

JOURNALIST:

Can I just ask you though to address the second part of the question - is Tony Abbott out of line with his comments today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm sorry. I can't comment on those. I'm not sufficiently familiar with them to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Turnbull, you've talked a lot today about the friendship and the friendly nature of the relationship between Australia and New Zealand. You've got an effective amnesty on citizenship meant to kick in, I think, in July. Is that still on track? And do you envisage the day when Australians living in New Zealand will be treated the same as New Zealanders living in Australia? Which is an unequal treatment, certainly of New Zealanders in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

How Australians are treated in New Zealand is a matter for the Government of New Zealand, so you’ve got to address that question to your New Zealand Prime Minister. The Pathways to Citizenship measure will begin, as you noted on the 1st of July, and we believe there is around 60,000 New Zealanders resident in Australia that will be able to take advantage of it. That's an estimate, of course. Time will tell how many seek to do so. It will enable those people to meet those requirements. We have modified them to make sure that people have been out of the workforce because of caring responsibilities for example, will not be disadvantaged.

So those arrangements which were negotiated or agreed to between Prime Minister Key and myself last year, will begin in a few months.

JOURNALIST:

Can you envisage, though, the day that taxpaying New Zealanders living in Australia will be entitled to the same as taxpaying Australians living in New Zealand?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, it is how Australians are treated in New Zealand - which I'm sure is always courteously and collaboratively, other than on matters related to sport – but I’m sure that's a matter for the New Zealand Government.

But New Zealanders have a special access to Australia, as you know - and we've made this special provision about the Pathways to Citizenship - which applies to New Zealanders who meet the requirements, who arrived between 2001 and 2016.

But New Zealanders who seek to have permanent residence in Australia or seek to move to citizenship in Australia in the future, can obviously apply through the normal channels.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you very much to you both. Mr Turnbull, if I can cast your mind back across the Tasman at home - have you received any assurances from George Christiansen that he won't be abandoning the party? And can you, in terms of that, can you really afford not to give in to his demands?

PRIME MINISTER:

I've never seen any indication that he is anything other than a committed member of the Coalition party room.

Thank you very much.

[ENDS]

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