David Cameron and Tony Abbott joint press conference

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

David Cameron and Australian PM Tony Abbott held a joint press conference ahead of the 2014 G20 meeting.

Tony Abbott

Well, what an honour it is to have Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom with us in our Parliament today. David Cameron is not only a fine leader for his country, but he’s a leader for our world too. I want to thank Prime Minister Cameron for the leadership that he’s provided in a whole range of areas, but particularly in recent times in the Middle East and particularly economically.

We’ve had a really outstanding speech from Prime Minister Cameron. I particularly appreciated the observations about economics, about trade and about security. And perhaps it was knowing that you were following us, even the Australians managed to lift their game a bit today David, so it was a pretty good day for our Parliament this morning.

Look, while there’s enormous history when it comes to Britain and Australia, there’s a very strong present and an even stronger future. Prime Minister Cameron and myself will be going from here to the G20 in Brisbane, and the G20 is the world’s premier economic forum. It unites the countries which are responsible for 85% of global GDP, 75% of global trade and 65% of global population.

And we’ve got a very strong mission in Brisbane to work for growth and jobs. Growth and jobs: that’s our focus. There are lots of other issues around right now, lots of other issues that, individually and collectively, we’re interested in. But the focus of this G20 will be on growth and jobs. And one of the absolute keys to getting higher growth and more jobs is freer trade, and that’s why I was so pleased that Prime Minister Cameron chose to make that such a focus of his splendid address to our parliament.

One of the other points that I should make is that you can’t have prosperity without security. You absolutely can’t have prosperity without security. We like to think that we live in the best of all possible worlds, in the best of all possible times. But there are threats to us, threats to our way of life. That’s why it was good to hear Prime Minister Cameron’s words today on security questions, particularly the issue of foreign fighters where, again, Prime Minister Cameron has given leadership to the wider world.

We’ll obviously be looking closely at the new legislation that he’ll be introducing shortly, but we have been very pleased to see the speed with which Britain has moved in recent times to protect metadata. Because as anyone connected with the world of law enforcement and particularly security at these times know, it’s absolutely vital that our law enforcement agencies, our security and intelligence agencies continue to have access to the telecommunications metadata. Britain has sorted this out, and that’s to your credit. But we are yet to sort this out, although there is legislation that’s now before a parliamentary committee and I hope we can deal with it very, very early in the New Year.

Finally, let me say again what an extraordinary partnership this is. It’s warm, it’s intimate, it’s close and it’s deepening all the time. This is a partnership for the future. We might be 12,000 miles away, but we are next-door neighbours when it comes to the way we think, the way we act, the way we feel, and it is a real thrill to have you in this parliament.

Prime Minister

Thank you. Well, thank you very much. First of all, I want to say thank you to Prime Minister Abbott for such a warm welcome on this visit to Australia. Tony, you’ve been a very strong ally, you’re a good friend and I really support – I really thank you for all the support that you’ve given to me and given to Britain.

As you say, the relationship is strong, it’s getting stronger, and that’s what our talks have been about today. The economic relationship is very powerful, but we all think there’s more that we can do. We want to make it easier for Australians to visit, and we discussed that. We’re also involved in many of the same battles, particularly this battle against Islamist extremism, whether that is a battle domestically or indeed a battle in Iraq and Syria. And we’ve been discussing that, and we’re working very closely together.


Also, in advance I want to thank you for your leadership of the G20 this year. I think you’re absolutely right to put at the front of the G20 the need to enhance global growth. Britain is growing 3% this year – we’re I think one of the leaders in the pack in terms of growth and job creation – but we recognise the risks to the world economy, and I think the G20 under your chairmanship is showing great leadership in pushing forward growth-boosting measures. I think you’re also right to highlight the importance of free trade and the dangers of protectionism.

The other things I’ll be hoping to put on the G20 agenda are obviously the continuing issue of making sure we have better tax cooperation between countries so that big companies pay the tax bills that they should. That’s something we very much kicked off at the G8 in Lough Erne under my chairmanship, and it’s been taken forward by the G20. A lot of progress has been made with many, many tax jurisdictions now cooperating with each other; I hope we can make some further progress here in Australia.


And obviously the crisis in West Africa with Ebola. I think the world has now stepped up to the plate in terms of making donations, and I’m delighted with what Australia is doing with Britain to provide beds in Sierra Leone. But I think there’s more we can ask the rest of the world to do to galvanise effort, to look at the availability of vaccines, finance, beds, all the things that are necessary, and that’ll be one of the things I’ll want to put on the table at the G20.

But thank you for your chairmanship, thank you for the warm welcome, and thank you for the opportunity to speak in this magnificent parliament building. It was a real privilege. Thank you very much.

Tony Abbott

Thank you, David. Okay, well, look, we’ve got some questions from the Australian media and then from the UK media.


Thank you Prime Minister. A question for Prime Minister Cameron, but perhaps you could respond as well. Given the deal between the US and China this week on climate change, should this encourage you or should other countries be encouraged to set more ambitious targets, and what more would you like to see?

Prime Minister

Well, first of all I think we need to see more detail of what America and China have really agreed, but I think it’s good if some progress has been made.

Climate change

My view’s very simple. Look, climate change is an international challenge. It’s going to take action by every country internationally. Every country has its own issues and energy mixes and domestic debates and all the rest of it, and I don’t propose interfering in every single one of those. But I think what does matter is when countries make promises, particularly future promises, that they set them out in a way that shows they’re going to be achievable, and I think that’s very important in this debate.

Tony Abbott

And Lane, look, as I’ve already said, I welcome the agreement between President Obama and President Xi. I welcome all agreements between the United States and China, because it’s good to have the two most powerful countries in the world on much the same page on any subject, particularly one as important as climate change. They’re also the biggest emitters by far; China emit some 24% of global carbon dioxide, the United States emits some 15% of global carbon dioxide. By contrast, Australia’s about 1%. So, I think it’s important that they do get cracking when it comes to this.

I’m very proud of the fact that at the same time as we got rid of the carbon tax, which was damaging our economy without helping the environment, we’ve put in place our Direct Action policy, and I am absolutely confident that our Direct Action policy will deliver our 5% cut on 2000 levels by 2020, and that in fact is a 19% reduction on business as usual emissions.

So, Australia is taking strong action. We will continue to take strong action, and obviously starting from the Lima Conference but going into the Paris Conference in the second half of next year, we’ll have more to say on this subject.

I think there’s a UK question.


Prime Minister Cameron, I’d like to ask you about exclusion orders. What you are going to do here, isn’t it, is maroon many British citizens overseas without their passports, effectively rendering them stateless and with very little due process in terms of legal redress. And Prime Minister Abbott, is that a step too tough even for the Australian government to take?

Prime Minister

Well, what we’re doing is making sure that our police and intelligence services have all the tools that they require to keep people safe in the United Kingdom. That as Prime Minister is my first priority. And so there’s the power to take away people’s passports, the power to stop people travelling, and there’s the power to exclude people temporarily until they return under our express instructions, and we’ll be announcing more details of more of our plans later on.

But I think it’s very important to defend our country to make sure we give our police and security services the tools that they need to keep the country safe, and the tool that you refer to is one part of an important picture.

Tony Abbott

And if I could just add that it is the first priority, the highest duty of government, to keep our people safe, and there is no assurance of safety when you’ve got people who have been brutalised and militarised by experience with terrorist organisations abroad coming back into your country. We’ve got about 70 Australians currently operating with terrorist organisations in the Middle East. We’ve got quite a few that have already come back. We’ve got quite a few that would like to go, and that there are more still that are supporting them – those that are there – with financing and recruiting.

So, this is a very serious problem. It’s a very serious problem. It’s a problem that Britain has at least as much as we do in Australia, and the reality of our predicament today is that all the terrorist needs is a knife, a camera phone and a victim. That’s all the terrorist needs. So it is important that all sensible governments take all reasonable measures to protect our populations. And certainly as far as Australia is concerned, any one of our people who has been overseas to fight with terrorist organisations has committed a very serious offence, and our absolute intention, should they seek to come back to Australia, is to detain them, to prosecute them and to jail them for a very long time, because the only safe place for someone who has been brutalised and militarised in this way is one of Her Majesty’s prisons.


Thanks Prime Minister. A question to both of you: how concerned are you at the increasing assertiveness of the Russian military around the world, not only in the Ukraine? Are the current sanctions enough? What more can be done, needs to be done?

Tony Abbott

Do you want to go first, David?

Prime Minister

I would just say – thank you, Tony – that first of all Russian action in Ukraine is unacceptable. We have to be clear about what we’re dealing with here: it is a large state bullying a smaller state in Europe, and we’ve seen the consequences of that in the past and we should learn the lessons of history and make sure we don’t let it happen again.

I don’t believe there’s a military solution to this, but I think the sanctions are important. I think the sanctions have had some effect. You can see that in what’s happened to the rouble, what’s happened to the Russian stock market, the difficulty Russian banks have in gaining finance. And I think we should use those sanctions in response to Russian action.

So, I would still hope that the Russians will see sense and recognise that they should allow Ukraine to develop as a independent and free country, free to make to make its choices. But if they don’t take that approach then the relationship that Britain has with Russia, the European Union has with Russia, the relationship I hope that Australia has with Russia, will be very different. They will be putting themselves into a very awkward position in their relations with the rest of the world.

And we should simply respond to the events as we see them. If Russia takes a positive approach towards the Ukraine’s freedom and responsibility, we could see those sanctions removed; if Russia continues to make matters worse, we could see those sanctions increase. It’s as simple as that.

Tony Abbott

And David, the last thing I ever imagined 12 months or so back is that I would be sitting – standing at this podium talking about Russian assertiveness, Russian aggression. The last part of the world that I ever thought Australians would be particularly focused on is the fields of the eastern Ukraine. But we are great travellers, and because we are great travellers we were amongst the principal victims of the MH17 atrocity, and it is our clear understanding – obviously there is an investigation that goes on, but on the evidence so far clearly this was shot down by Russian-backed rebels, most likely using Russian-supplied equipment. So I think there is a heavy responsibility on Russia to come clean and atone.

It is part of a regrettable pattern – whether it’s the bullying of Ukraine, whether it’s the increasing Russian military aircraft flying into the airspace of Japan, European countries, whether it’s the naval task group which is now in the South Pacific – Russia is being much more assertive now than it has been for a very long time. Interestingly, Russia’s economy is declining even as Russia’s assertiveness is increasing, and one of the points that I tried to make to President Putin is that Russia would be so much more attractive if it was aspiring to be a superpower for peace and freedom and prosperity, it was trying to be a superpower for ideas and for values, instead of trying to recreate the lost glories of Tsarism or the old Soviet Union.

In the end what Russia does is a matter for Russia, but what the rest of the world does is legitimately a matter for us, and this is where it’s important to have strong partnerships, strong alliances and clear values. And this I think is what Australia and Britain and other countries have had.


Can I just go back to the counter-terror measures? Why should other countries be forced to deal with British terror suspects who have effectively been rendered stateless? What role do countries like Turkey play, and are they happy to play this role? Why have you not reintroduced the powers to relocate terror suspects who are subject to TPIM (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures) orders at home? Have you given in to your Liberal Democrat colleagues on this one?

And on a separate issue, Sir John Major says there is now a 50-50 chance of Britain leaving the EU. Do you agree with him? And Mr Abbott, you said in your speech that Britain was a European country with a global role. Do you believe that Britain could play that role outside of the EU?

Tony Abbott

Well, I’m not going to offer any specific directives to other countries or indeed to the European Union. Obviously it’s in all of our interests that Europe collectively is strong, effective and successful. It’s in all of our interests, particularly Australia’s interest, that Britain be strong and effective and successful. I think Britain has very much kept its individual character, very much kept its freedom of action, while at the same time being a strong and effective member of Europe. So I just don’t see that this is an either/or business, I really don’t.

I don’t see it as an either/or business, and if I may say so, one of the tendencies of our English-speaking media is to constantly see opposites when I think we should often be looking for complementarities. And I think Britain can be a strong and powerful global voice, while at the same time being an effective member of Europe.

Prime Minister

Thank you. on the package of powers that I’ve announced today, on the exclusion powers it is worth asking, you know, why do we need extra powers other than what’s simply in the criminal justice system? Why don’t we just arrest people for crimes committed, prosecute them, convict them and imprison them?

Successive governments have come to the view – and I agree with the view – that when you’re facing an existential challenge and a challenge as great as the one we face with these Islamist extremists, you need additional powers as well as simply the criminal law. And that is why we have these powers to take away someone’s passport before they travel, to ban someone from traveling, and that’s why we’ve added this additional power to temporarily exclude someone from coming back into the UK: because we believe you need an additional set of powers in order to keep the country safe, over and above what the criminal law allows. And I think it’s very sensible that we do that.

We obviously do that after debate. We listen very carefully to what the police and security services advise us. We think about the civil liberties implications, we think about the effect on other countries, etc., etc. But at the end of the day I make the choices based on what I think is necessary to keep the British public safe, and I think this new power is important in that regard.

In terms of the full set of measures that we’ll be introducing in terms of anti-terrorism, there will be more detail, there will be more to follow, which I think is the answer to your second question.


On your third question – because you packed in three, you’re so good at this – John Major’s speech, all I would say about that is I think it was an excellent speech and I agree with what he said, particularly the point that he went to Germany to make a very clear speech about the need there is to address Britain’s concerns about immigration inside the European Union. And I think it’s very powerful that a former prime minister, a very respected British politician with a long track-record of negotiating within Europe, felt it necessary to make that speech in those terms so clearly.

And obviously he will speak for himself, but it seems to me one of the reasons that he feels so strongly about this is that when countries in Europe have difficulties that need to be addressed, Europe needs to have the flexibility to address them. When there are problems with – whether it’s the French budget, or whether it is countries’ differing views about what power sources they should use, or problems countries have with particular aspects of the European Union – we need a network that is flexible enough to cope and manage with those things. And that’s why I think the John Major speech is so powerful, so important and so timely, and I agree with what he said.

Thank you very much.