‘Australia’s strong econoky is growing at 3.4% and unemployment at 5%’ Morrison addresses at G20

PRIME MINISTER: You cannot but appreciate how important it is for Australians to have a strong economy – as

PM Scott Morrision at G20 (Source Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

PM Scott Morrision at G20 (Source Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

we do – because that is not only recognized, I believe, by Australians but it is recognized by the many other countries that sit around the G20 table and more broadly. Australia’s strong economy is growing at 3.4 per cent, with unemployment at 5 per cent. But not just that; the fact is that female participation in our labour force is at record levels and the gender pay gap is well below the average of the countries that sit around this table and it is at historic lows for Australia.

So it shows that we’re not just able to have a strong economy, but we’re successful in having a strong economy that is reaching more of its population that you see in many of the countries if not all the countries that are represented around the table here at the G20 and other forums. You come and you see and you realise and you’re reminded that a strong economy can never be taken for granted because there are plenty of economies that sit around this table that are weaker. That means we can never take that for granted because it’s that strong economy that is delivering the essential services that Australians rely on. It’s the strong economy that means we can invest in the infrastructure, that it continues to bolster up the performance of our economy all around the country. We are a big country geographically, like many of the other countries that are represented here and so that means we need to continue to focus on the things that grow our country.

There is much discussion about inclusive growth but you can’t have inclusive growth without growth, so continuing to focus on the things that lift our economy up. Also then at the same time, ensuring that it can be spread as far and wide as possible is really our goal. So this is why the Liberal and National parties and I as Prime Minister will never rest when it comes to the issues of keeping our economy strong and why there are always risks of going down alternative paths on the economy. Because that can make our economy weaker and put at risk the services and the future and the economy that Australians would live in over the next decade. We are indeed a very fortunate nation but we’re also a country that has made the most of our opportunities and have ensured that we’ve had a strong programme of economic development, of fiscal management that leaves Australia in, relatively, a very strong position to the rest of the world. So here I’ve had the opportunity to further those discussions. Obviously trade has been a key focus of ours. Australia has always been the most active and the most vocal of advocates for trade because it has made us a prosperous people. We know you don’t get rich selling things to yourself. We have always sought to follow that experience and these meetings have been an important opportunity to re-state that and encourage further reforms to the world trading system to ensure that we keep our rules-based approach to trade but at the same time we modernize those rules that reflect what’s happening in the digital economy.

The digital economy opens up so many opportunities for people who do struggle to participate, but now can in a digital world. Whether they’re people with a disability or females who have been frustrated at getting involved in the workforce and the list goes on. The digital economy is getting a lot of attention here and what we’ve always argued is that the digital economy needs to be accessible and it needs to have a policy environment around it which continues to protect consumers while ensuring that they can also have access to the growth and the economic opportunities that come with it. So there’s been a lot of very useful discussions, I’m happy to take questions on them but the key point is this; Australia has a strong economy, we must never take it for granted.

JOURNALIST: Mr Morrison, two questions. One, following your talks with Mr Trump did you relay to him privately as you’ve been saying publically, about your wish for the outcome of tomorrow night’s meeting with President Xi? Secondly how did you go with President Macron on submarines?

PRIME MINISTER: Let me start with the second one first. We made a lot of progress there, the SDA is progressing extremely well and we’ve agreed that we can elevate that up to leader level to ensure that it’s finalized in the near term. We anticipate that occurring. There’s been excellent engagement between the Ministers, Pyne and Parly which has gotten us to where we are today. So I’m very pleased about how that’s progressing, it’s a huge project, it’s important for both countries for the next 50 years. So, we’re getting very close to finalizing that arrangement.

Now with President Trump, it’s the same point that I’ve made with him and Vice President Pence and as I’ve had the opportunity to do with the open sessions as well; that is, we are friends. But we, like all the other countries here know, that tensions between the G2 have a big impact on the broader global economy. The IMF has estimated this to be potentially about 0.7 per cent of growth in GDP on the global economy. Now this is stating the obvious and that’s why I’m pleased, from where we were say  two weeks ago when we were at APEC, I think there’s been some positive movement and some more positive discussion I think between the two largest economies. Which is showing greater recognition of the issues they’re seeking to resolve.

JOURNALIST:  There’s a huge China presence here, as there was at APEC and so there is obviously discussion about the reach of Chinese power now. Did that come up at all in the discussion with Mr Trump, not just on trade but China’s strategic power?

PRIME MINISTER: Not so much related to that, but we obviously had a very good discussion about our Pacific ‘step-up’ programme and our joint efforts in the South West Pacific. We were able to talk briefly about our impending cooperation under the PNG-led initiative at Lombrum and more broadly our work in the ADO space, such as the electrification initiative which we announced in Port Moresby. But, the broader cultural, strategic, educational, diplomatic engagement across the south west Pacific and how that is linked up with other partners – my meeting with President Macron also dealt a fair degree with that territory as well, with the south west Pacific and there was a very strong interest, for obvious reasons. I mean they have a strong presence in the south west Pacific themselves. So, then together with whether it’s France or Japan, the United States, ourselves, there is a college of countries there who are very happy to work together in terms of how we can support our family and friends in the Pacific. But I also made the point quite plainly that where there are projects where we can work cooperatively with China in the area, we will.

JOURNALIST:  [Inaudible] discussions you had over trade, do you feel more optimistic after having discussed that with Mr Trump, that he and Xi will actually come to an agreement of sorts, when they meet?

PRIME MINISTER: Whether they come to an agreement tomorrow really only they can discern that. But both, from the meeting I had with the President and the Vice President two weeks ago, the suggestion that the path the United States is pursuing has a protectionist motivation, I think is false, that has been confirmed to me on a number of occasions now and it stems back to the time when I dealt with Secretary Mnuchin; they’re looking for a better arrangement. They’re looking for trade over the next 20 to 30 years which is better than it has been in the past. So this isn’t about shutting all trade down, this is about coming to a new set of arrangements and we’ve got to bear in mind that the challenges at the WTO are two-fold. There is resolving a set of unresolved issues between these large economies but there is also the challenge of the WTO’s rules actually embracing and being modernized to deal with the new economy. Both of those issues are important and both of them can slow down trade. So this is about where data centres can be located, how data can move across borders, things like this. I mean they’re not part of any of those old rules really and that’s why the TPP-11 – which is something that Prime Minister ABE, who I also had the opportunity to have a good discussion with this morning – we often highlight the TPP-11 because it shows how you put a modern trade agreement in place. There was discussion also about services and things like this, so the trade discussion was very alive. I don’t think it’s surprising that there will be tensions from time to time as you try to transition from an old economy to a new economy. Some of the old rules were a bit clunky, they need a service.

JOURNALIST: Did you say to President Trump you’d prefer not to see the next stage of tariff increases that are slated for January 1?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I continue to highlight, as I always have, that the trade tensions are not good for the global economy. We all know that, but that’s just a statement of the obvious and it’s echoed by all countries, but done so in a friendly way. It’s just that there are issues they’re seeking to resolve. I think there’s growing acknowledgment that there are genuine issues that have to be resolved and it’s only for them to resolve them.

JOURNALIST: Did you talk about the possibility of shifting the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem?

PRIME MINISTER: No, that didn’t come up today. I’d had that discussion with Vice President Pence as so in the time we had available today, that had been well traversed in my previous discussion but we did talk about the Iran nuclear deal and I was able to advise him that we have a without-prejudice process underway currently and we both share concerns about the threat of the financing of terrorism and to ensure that nothing we’re doing here is providing opportunities for that.

JOURNALIST: Are you any closer to [inaudible]? 

PRIME MINISTER: The timetable hasn’t changed.

JOURNALIST: Was there any response from Mr Trump on your comments about the without-prejudice process on Iran?

PRIME MINISTER: He very much welcomed the fact that as a friend and an ally, we are always to look at these things. I mean they had raised the point about whether this is fit for purpose, whether it was a good deal and there are many things that sit outside the deal and that’s been one of our concerns and one of the reasons I raised my concerns and initiated the process we’re now involved in.

JOURNALIST: How would you describe your personal relationship with Mr Trump and do you think there’s any chance he might visit Australia in the next six months?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I wouldn’t say in the next six months. No, we’ll be a bit busy in the next six months in Australia so we’re not anticipating that and he’s certainly got a full deck of things to deal with in the United States. But look, Australia and the United States have the longest running Alliance of any countries in the world today, going back 100 years. So you’d expect regardless that there would be a strong relationship to build on and I was happy to play my role in that today and it was a very easy and affable connection.

JOURNALIST: Mr Morrison, Mohammed bin Salman has come to be a controversial figure [inaudible]. Have you picked up anything amongst fellow leaders of officials that there’s a reluctance for Saudi to host the G20 in two years? Has that come up at all?

PRIME MINISTER:  That issue has not come up, no.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, forgive me for being churlish but has the issue of leadership at all come up in your discussions with Mr Trump?

PRIME MINISTER: Well they have their inquiries and when you describe the parliamentary system, it’s a foreign system to presidential systems, but it’s readily understood.

JOURNALIST: Has the President asked what happened to Malcolm Turnbull?

PRIME MINISTER: We just ran through what the events were there.

JOURNALIST: The President said that you’ve been doing a good job in the time that you’ve been Prime Minister, that you’ve been doing things that people have wanted to have done and that’s why you were sitting in the seat that Malcolm Turnbull probably would have been sitting in today. What did he mean by that do you think?

PRIME MINISTER: Look he didn’t make any specific reference to it when we met other than, I think, to acknowledge what I’ve already run through, some important issues we’ve been talking about today; whether it was how we’re dealing with issue on Iran, we also talked about and he updated me on the situation in North Korea, the Pacific ‘step up’ that we’ve under taken has been a very big initiative and that’s been very warmly welcomed in the United States. So Australia getting on with the job basically, that’s what people expect of us regardless of what is happening, that we don’t get distracted, we keep focused on the things that matter. And in our relationships, we ensure that we’re always delivering on that and staying in close contact with our partners and allies.

JOURNALIST: On trade Mr Morrison, the nervousness about tomorrow. The markets are nervous, you’re nervous, other leaders are nervous, what’s your benchmark for success tomorrow? Is it the language of the communique, is it agreement between Trump and Xi to sort of sit down and smoke the peace pipe? What would you consider a success or otherwise?

PRIME MINISTER: Look I’m not having expectations. I think that doesn’t assist, particularly when we’re not directly involved in what needs to be resolved between those two countries. But in terms of what is coming out of the G20, I am encouraged I think by the more constructive language we’re seeing being shared around particularly between the major economies which is very acknowledging of the importance of trade, the importance to deal with modernizing the rules that sit around it and reinforcing the need for there to be rules and this as something that needs to be progressed. So I think there’s some positive language, it’s being discussed along those lines and I think that’s an improvement from where we were a few weeks ago.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned before the trade rules [inaudible] the WTO. Does Australia have a firm position on how to reform those WTO rules, because, are we backing the US on some of the changes they want or some of the changes –

PRIME MINISTER:  Well they’re involved in the process with the EU and Japan and ourselves. They’ve had some involvement with that but that EU-Japan process is one that we’ve participated in and been supportive of. I think that’s sort of starting to build a bit of a consensus.

JOURNALIST: You said that the trade war didn’t come from a protectionist basis necessarily. Did Donald Trump seem to confirm to you that this trade war is an active, sort of, trying to force China into a better deal for the US?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that phrase was never used –

JOURNALIST: Well okay, but did he seem to confirm that?

PRIME MINISTER: What he confirmed is what I think he’s been saying publically and what I’ve been interpreting the US position to be and that is, they’re looking to have some issues resolved that have long been unresolved and that at the end of the day, what this would result in is a stronger, more open, fairer, freer trade system with a strong rules-based order.

I mean the US built the multilateral rules-based order for trade and that has been, with few exceptions, one of the greatest contributors to prosperity in the post 2nd World War environment. I mean they were architects of this and I don’t think it’s surprising that as the architects of it, if they feels there’s deficiencies with it, over time, that they want to see them addressed. Now in the past they’ve sought to take a fairly orthodox approach to achieving that. I think that what we’ve seen more recently you wouldn’t describe as orthodox, but that doesn’t mean the objective isn’t the same.

JOURNALIST: You were quite sympathetic to the US position in this trade discussion and all of that, one of the issues that Donald Trump raises often is intellectual property theft. Now, is that an issue you’re sympathetic –

PRIME MINISTER: It’s an issue for Australia.

JOURNALIST: Precisely, so what do you think, do you think China has to answer for –

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think these are issues that need to be resolved. You know, I’m not making any allegations one way or the other but what I am saying is it’s an important issue particularly in a new economy. When you’ve got ICTIP and these sorts of issues and how that’s transferred and how it’s dealt with, where data centres are and how data moves around, these are the lifeblood of the new economy. So it’s important that if the world is going to realise all the benefits of this new digital economy, then there needs to be some sensible rules that protect propriety and intellectual property in these situations. So that’s, I think, not an unreasonable position at all, I think it’s a fairly obvious one.

JOURNALIST: Does China specifically need to do more?

PRIME MINISTER: I think these are issues that need to be resolved within the global trading system. I mean it can apply potentially anywhere but the point is that there needs to be common rules and a way to commit ourselves to those rules so we can have them resolved when there are disputes. Whether it’s frankly on IP, or whether it’s on sugar subsidies, both of them have real interest to Australia. It’s important that we have a system that enables us to resolve them, that’s why I’ve made the point in the sessions a few times; just over a decade ago, a decade ago I should say, the G20 was instrumental in restoring global financial stability at a time when it was at its most weak point in decades. The G20 was extremely effective in not just making those changes, but then following those changes through. Now ten years on, there’s a new threat to the global economy and it is resolving unresolved issues between some of the biggest economies in the world and modernizing the global multilateral trading system. That is something of a task and I think there’s a strong acknowledgement of that, I mean pretty much every intervention that you’ve heard at the G20, that point has been made over and over again.

I mean the G20 is fundamentally an economic and financial forum and this is the place where the importance of resolving these things needs to be agreed. Then that provides, I think, very clear running rules for the economies to go and resolve any matters they have outstanding.

JOURNALIST: PM are you hoping – I saw you have a quick chat with President Xi [inaudible]. Did you manage to [inaudible] were you hoping to try and get a more substantial [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: Well no, we don’t have any plans for that. We had a brief chat as I did with him in Port Moresby. But as you know, we had a very extensive meeting with Premier Li Keqiang in Singapore, that’s where we really covered the bases quite significantly. He had been fully briefed on all of those when I saw him in Port Moresby but it was again, a very positive and cordial exchange which demonstrates that what we’re doing is, we have friends, partners, trading partners all around the world and it’s our job to advance Australia’s interests. To try to ensure that as one of the most consistent and long-term advocates and practitioners of global, open trade, that we keep that policy direction on course. I mean I referenced again the fact that over the last 20 years, $8,500 in real terms, higher per household of income as a result of the trading arrangements we’ve had over that period of time. Since the early 90s, one billion people no longer live in extreme poverty in our region. These are significant. One in five jobs in Australia are down to trade. I mean that’s why we’re here. The hospitality is pleasant and we appreciate it, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because by advocating to ensure that these trade rules are in place and we’re moving this agenda forward, that creates jobs in Australia. That supports the stronger economy that I spoke of when I first came to the lectern. The stronger economy is what delivers for Australians the households, their jobs, their services, their Medicare, their affordable medicines. A weaker economy won’t do that, only a stronger economy will do that and we’re here, Mathias Cormann and I, to ensure that we’re doing everything we can globally and in our engagements, whether it’s the G20, APEC or anywhere else, to preserve those opportunities for Australia, for the economy we want Australians to live in over the next decade. We want it to be stronger, not weaker. That’s why we’re here. Thank you very much.