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An address by Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke to the Lowy Institute on the situation in Ukraine, how it affects the Indo-Pacific and what Australia is doing in response.  

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An address by Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Thank you Michael for that introduction. I appreciate the opportunity to again speak at the Lowy Institute.

Let me firstly acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet – the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation – and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

I also want to pay tribute to any serving members of the Australian Defence Force or veterans who may have joined us and simply say, thank you for your service.

As we meet today, and with heartbreaking familiarity, images of catastrophic loss due to flooding have again gripped our nation in Queensland and NSW.

Sadly 16 people have so far been lost, and our deepest condolences go out to their families and loved ones. 

I thank all those engaged in the painstaking work of rescue and recovery - from our brave emergency services workers and SES volunteers through to the men and women of our ADF.

2,000 Defence Force personnel are currently deployed across the flood affected areas under Operation Flood Assist 2022 led by Brigadier Mick Garroway, and directly tasked by state governments in NSW and Queensland to support their flood response. This number will increase to 5,000 personnel over the next few days as we move into the clean-up and rebuilding phase.

Scott Morrison makes a virtual address to the Lowy Institute, Monday 7 March 2022

ADF assistance includes airdrops of food and supplies into isolated communities, and helping clear roads to restore essential services like power and internet. More than 100 people have been rescued by ADF since the disaster began, and these rescues continue in the many areas still cut off, working with the SES and other local authorities.

In addition, $193 million has been paid in disaster payments by the Federal Government through Services Australia, in just five days, to 163,000 individuals impacted by these floods.

Primary producers can also register for recovery grants of up to $75,000 and small businesses up to $50,000, with the NSW and Queensland State Governments, as part of a $1 billion program jointly funded by the Federal Government, which has also included $1 million in direct payments to local governments in affected areas.

But we know more support will be required, especially in Lismore and surrounding districts, where flood levels are reported to have peaked above all known records.

In Lismore, this is not just a flood event, it is a catastrophic event.

We are currently bringing together a further package of support and I look forward to being able to visit the impacted areas later this week after my current COVID isolation is completed, to assess the situation first hand.

But most of all today, to the thousands of Australians who just reached out and helped their neighbour, thank you. Your quiet acts of care, compassion and bravery have once again humbled our nation. Again I say thank you.

Beyond our shores, we face many other threats. The world has entered a period of profound strategic challenge and disruption.

Once again, the horror of war has befallen Europe – an unprovoked, unjust and illegal war.

After months of planning, bullying, coercion and intimidation, Russia has invaded Ukraine.

Australia strongly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We condemn Russia’s abhorrent actions in the strongest possible terms, as a gross violation of international law and an assault on freedom.

This is the latest example of an authoritarian regime seeking to challenge the status quo through threats and violence.

Our rules-based international order, built upon the principles and values that guide our own nation, has for decades supported peace and stability, and allowed sovereign nations to pursue their interests free from coercion. This is now under assault.

A new arc of autocracy is instinctively aligning to challenge and reset the world order in their own image.

We face the spectre of a transactional world, devoid of principle, accountability and transparency, where state sovereignty, territorial integrity and liberty are surrendered for respite from coercion and intimidation, or economic entrapment dressed up as economic reward.

This is not a world we want - for us, our neighbours or our region. It’s certainly not a world we want for our children.

The well-motivated altruistic ambition of our international institutions has opened the door to this threat. Just as our open markets and liberal democracies have enabled hostile influence and interference to penetrate into our own societies and economies.

We are right to aspire, however, the hope that such inclusion and accommodation would lead to some reform or moderation of these regimes or assist us in tackling the big global economic and environmental challenges has been disappointed.

As Prime Minister, I have been warning about this for years.

Our Liberal-Nationals Government has been clear eyed. We have taken strong, brave and world-leading action in response.

We have taken the initiative to bolster our own resilience, to call out the threat and to rally like-mindeds to address what is taking place right in front of us.

We have been criticised for our stand, including in our own country. And we have been targeted.

But I am pleased we have been prepared to stand our ground. If not us, then who? Would we be expecting others to do it on Australia’s behalf to protect our interests? I do not believe Australians want such timidity and resignation from their leaders.

None of us want conflict. We want peace and stability. But nor do we want the very world order that underpins our freedoms to be eroded for fear of giving offence, in the vain hope that concessions will ameliorate the determination of those who seek to intimidate and coerce.

Events are now lifting the veil. Perhaps the scales are beginning to fall from the world’s eyes also. At least I hope so.

And so Australia faces it’s most difficult and dangerous security environment in 80 years.

This is where I would like to address my remarks today.

Firstly, the crisis in Europe and the contribution Australia is making, and then broader challenge to world order and Australia’s national security response, focusing on our own region - the Indo-Pacific.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a gross violation of international law and the UN Charter. Russia’s actions should be condemned by all members of the international community.

We expect Russia to continue its brutal attacks, including bombarding residential areas, even nuclear facilities, with scant regard for civilian casualties or the broader catastrophic impact.

This is what autocrats do. It is not the product of a sudden madness or a failure of earlier diplomacy to resolve just grievances.

These are the bloody and violent acts of an autocrat determined to impose his will on others, in the contrived self-justification of realising nationalistic destiny. We have seen this before.

Everything points to a bloody and protracted conflict.

More than 1.5 million people have already fled Ukraine. We fear this is only the beginning of an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.

As I remarked to President Zelenskyy on Saturday evening, Australia will continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine.

We are working with our allies and partners to supplement Ukraine’s military defences.

Last Tuesday I announced around $70 million in defensive military assistance, non-lethal military equipment and medical supplies to support the defence of Ukraine. Our missiles are on the ground now. If there is further effective support we can provide to assist their efforts, we will.

Every day Ukraine resists is a further day of humiliation for President Putin, and imposes a heavy price on his illegal, reckless and callous acts of aggression.

We have offered our prayers, but we have also sent our ammunition.

In addition, Australia is helping those rendered homeless or vulnerable by Putin’s war machine, with $35 million in humanitarian assistance for urgent needs, especially for those displaced in a neighbouring country.

This was a special focus of my discussions last week at the Quad, as well as with German Chancellor Scholz and Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki.

Australia’s assistance will deliver life-saving services and supplies, including shelter, water, food and medical care.

Since the crisis began less than two weeks ago, we have fast-tracked the approval of 1,700 visas and have begun preparations to address likely demands on our humanitarian and broader migration program. This may include a rerun of the successful temporary safe haven program we ran for the Kosovars.

In my discussions with European leaders, it is the prevailing expectation that, rather than long-term resettlement, those who have been displaced will want to return home.

Australia is working with other countries to ensure that Putin’s Russia pays the maximum possible economic price for this brutal war of aggression.

This is important because we know that there are powerful actors in our region who are watching closely, looking for signs of weakness and division within the West.

Unprecedented economic and financial sanctions are now biting hard on the world’s 11th biggest economy.

A significant portion of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves has been frozen, and the Russian economy is increasingly cut off from Western financial markets. Major multinational companies such as BP and Shell are selling their Russian assets.

Australia has imposed targeted financial sanctions on 21 entities, including 11 Russian financial institutions - that includes the Central Bank of Russia.

We have also imposed financial sanctions and travel bans on 392 persons.

That includes President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov and all permanent members of Russia’s Security Council. This is in addition to our sanctions on eight oligarchs, 339 members of the Russian Parliament, and key figures in the Belarusian Government and military.

I want to particularly recognise actions taken against Russia by countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore - a welcome testimony to international solidarity in our own region.

It would be folly to venture predictions on the wider fallout from Mr Putin’s war at this point. Certain early conclusions can be drawn, however.

Firstly, Europe has had a major wake-up call - strategically and economically.

Australia welcomes signs of a more concerted, tough-minded European approach to autocrat adventurism.

  • Germany supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons and stinger missiles and moving immediately to increase defence spending to two per cent of GDP.
  • Sweden and Finland, long committed to military non-alignment, now contemplating joining NATO - and also taking part in all NATO consultations about the crisis and sending weapons to Ukraine.
  • The EU funding weapons for Ukraine, and even Switzerland moving from its traditional position of neutrality.

Secondly, the global system of interdependent commerce and finance, built largely under American leadership over the past 70 years, remains an enormously powerful force not to be underestimated.

This should give us renewed confidence to assert that those who wish to overturn the global order through violence need to think again.

Thirdly, political will matters.

It’s been humbling to witness the courage and moral clarity of President Zelenskyy’s inspiring leadership of his country.

There is a wider lesson here for Western liberal democracies as we come face to face with brutal, autocratic aggression and coercion. We must stand together.

We cannot afford the pettiness of small differences to infect our relations and our long-term cooperation. Our adversaries will ruthlessly look to exploit this.

What unites us as Western liberal democracies is greater and more enduring than what divides us.

We must stand together, resolute, against aggression and coercion – wherever it occurs.

The strategic, political, economic and social implications of this crisis will be deeply felt in Europe, but will inevitably stretch to the Indo-Pacific.

This war of choice by Mr Putin is a reminder that, although Australia’s focus is the Indo-Pacific, events anywhere can affect our security.

The Indo-Pacific remains at the centre of global geo-strategic competition.

Australia is an Indo-Pacific nation.

The future of the Indo-Pacific is our future.

Threats in our region are proliferating from both state and non-state actors.

Militarisation is expanding and evolving rapidly.

The spectre from terrorism and all forms of violent extremism endures.

The challenge from more surreptitious malign activities – espionage, disinformation, cyber-attacks, foreign interference, and economic coercion – is mounting daily.

We’re seeing increasing resort in our region to ‘grey area’ tactics – where the boundary between legitimate and hostile activity is deliberately blurred.

And the rise of so-called ‘hybrid warfare’, that has stripped away the old boundaries that once separated the realms of defence, foreign policy, trade and investment, communications and other areas reaching deep into our domestic society.

Australia seeks to work with all countries to ensure a peaceful, stable and prosperous region.

However, we cannot be naïve.

The challenges we face continue to mount. They require us to increase our resilience, expand our capabilities and harden our defences.

The Liberal-Nationals Government that I lead is taking decisive action to ensure that Australia is secure.

Firstly, by building our military capability for the new challenges of the 21st century.

Secondly, by widening and reinforcing our webs of alignment, especially in the Indo-Pacific.

And thirdly, by strengthening our national resilience at home with policies that reinforce both economic and national security goals into the future.

The cornerstone of national security under our Government has been extensive reinvestment in defence capability.

When we came to Government, the Defence budget, as a share of our economy, had fallen to 1.56 per cent in 2012-13 - the lowest level since before the Second World War.

In 2020-21, Defence spending as a percentage of GDP rose above two per cent. This year, it will be at almost 2.1 per cent.

The Government is investing $578 billion in the nation’s Defence Force over the next decade, including over $280 billion in enhanced defence capability.

This investment is geared to delivering regionally-superior capabilities. And there is more to do.

Our first initiative under the AUKUS partnership is acquiring nuclear-powered submarine technology, leveraging decades of experience from the US and UK.

On 8 February, the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement came into force.

This landmark agreement is the first time since 1958 that the US has allowed access to this information. It gives Australia the training and the information sharing that we need to build a nuclear-powered submarine capability here.

It is a huge milestone and a reflection of the strategic trust that we’ve built with our partners.

We will also enhance our long-range strike capabilities to boost the ADF’s ability to deliver strike effects across our air, land and maritime domains.

Australia will be one of few countries to field Tomahawk missiles, the extended-range version of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, and other sophisticated strike capabilities.

Through the $1 billion Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordinance Enterprise, we will be able to make our own weapons on our own soil.

This is essential to keep Australians safe, while also building sovereign capability right across Australia.

We are developing niche technologies to enhance our capability and partner interoperability in space and advanced cyber domains.

But it will not end there.

Alongside new capabilities, we must ensure they are deployed to maximum strategic effect.

In 1987, the Hawke Government announced a ‘Two-Oceans Basing Plan’ for the Royal Australian Navy. The intention was a Navy capable of deploying major fleet units for sustained operations off both the east and west coasts.

Significant infrastructure and force structure investment led ultimately to the main fleet bases on each coast becoming known as Fleet Base West, at HMAS Stirling, which became home of the Navy’s new Collins-class submarines, and Fleet Base East, centred on HMAS Kuttabul.

Since that time, while around half of our major warships have been home ported on each coast, the Collins-class submarine fleet has been home ported in the west.

There has been good reason for this, particularly to avoid duplication of facilities and infrastructure and to ensure we had an industrial base capable of supporting submarines.

However, tomorrow’s capability calls for new thinking today.

Today, I can announce that the Government has decided to establish a Future Submarine Base on the east coast of Australia to support basing and disposition of the future nuclear-powered submarines.

This is about additional national capacity, not relocating any existing or planned future capacity for Fleet Base West.

Fleet Base West will remain home to our current and future submarines, given its strategic importance on the Indian Ocean.

The decision to establish an east coast submarine base has been many years in the making as part of our transition from Collins. However, the Government has now determined that, to support our decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, establishing a second submarine base on our east coast will enhance our strategic deterrent capability, with significant advantages in operational, training, personnel and industrial terms.

An optimal east coast base would provide homeported submarines with specialised wharfs, maintenance facilities, administrative and logistics support, personnel amenities, and suitable accommodation for submarine crews and support staff. It would also enable the regular visiting of US and UK nuclear-powered submarines.

Following significant work by Defence reviewing 19 potential sites, three preferred locations on the east coast have been identified.

They are Brisbane, Newcastle, and Port Kembla.

All three locations meet many of the criteria that the Government agreed would need to be met to support our strategic objectives. These criteria include:

  • Being close to sufficient industrial infrastructure that will be able to support the complex demands of maintaining and repairing high technology submarines, in an efficient and affordable manner.
  • Being close to large population centres to optimise our ability to attract, recruit and retain the substantially larger uniformed submarine workforce we are building to crew and support the future submarines.
  • Being reasonably proximate to our primary maritime training and operational areas; to deep water; and to weapons storage and loading facilities.
  • Ensuring that the location of the base provides strategic depth as far as possible from potential threats, and supports the mounting and sustaining of operations.

Our Government has authorised Defence to immediately begin engaging with the New South Wales and Queensland Governments, and relevant local governments and authorities, to further validate their work to date and to begin negotiations on what will be an enormous undertaking.

This initial work is expected to be completed by the end of 2023 and will ultimately form part of and be informed by the work underway now by the Nuclear Submarine Taskforce.

Defence has not constructed a major new base since Robertson Barracks in the 1990s. Construction of a new east coast submarine base would be a larger undertaking and the largest infrastructure investment in the Integrated Investment Program.

Based on early estimates, we have provisioned nationally more than $10 billion to meet the facilities and infrastructure requirements for the transition from Collins to the future nuclear-powered submarines, including the east coast submarine base.

We’ll also be spending and investing in the West too, as part of the required upgrades to infrastructure in other locations.

The establishment of a new submarine base on the east coast will bring significant positive long-term economic impacts.

These include the obvious investment associated with building a new greenfields submarine base, as well as the economic benefits flowing from a larger ADF population and their families in and around the new base.

There will also be significant benefits for local and national industry in supporting the new base and the more complex and larger nuclear-powered submarine fleet.

Again, none of this detracts from what we will be doing at Fleet Base West.

Australia rarely acts alone. We are most successful when we work with others.

And we carry our weight. That is why we have been so successful in forming so many new like-minded partnerships essential to protecting our national interests and keeping Australians safe.

Since 2018, my Government has done the hard work of diplomacy to build these relationships and shape our strategic environment - building webs of alignment.

We’re taking a multi-layered approach, deepening our bilateral, regional and multilateral engagement.

Through the G20, to promote a resilient recovery from the pandemic.

Through our participation at the G7+ we’ve made a strong contribution to build our collective resilience as open democratic societies and economies.

Our new AUKUS trilateral security partnership leverages 70 years of working together with the United States and the United Kingdom to protect our shared values and promote security and prosperity. It is the most significant defence partnership since ANZUS.

We’ve reinvigorated the Quad partnership with India, Japan and the United States, with a new Leaders’ Dialogue that met again this past week to discuss the implications of the war in Europe specifically for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Our cooperation is delivering vaccines, setting standards for critical and emerging technologies, enhancing clean-energy innovation and boosting supply chain resilience.

Australia recently became the first country to agree a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with ASEAN, demonstrating the primacy of our engagement with Southeast Asia. These elevated ties build on nearly 50 years of cooperation as ASEAN’s first Dialogue Partner.

ASEAN sits at the heart of the region’s architecture. Its stability, security and growth is fundamental to our own.

To our north and east, the Pacific Island nations are Australia’s family – our futures are inextricably linked. And whenever a family member needs help, we have helped, and will continue to be there.

In the Indo-Pacific, we are working with European partners to help bolster the principles that have underpinned stability for decades. We will look at practical ways to support Europe’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

And in the last four years we’ve worked to elevate bilateral partnerships with Timor-Leste, Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia, Fiji, India, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Malaysia, Austria and Germany.

China’s growing power and influence are a geostrategic fact. What we care about is how Beijing uses its strength. There’s no doubt that China has become more assertive, and is using its power in ways that are causing concern to nations across the region and beyond.

We are concerned at the militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea, where international law should apply - as it does everywhere else. And we are concerned about growing tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Australia has long supported the status quo that has underpinned regional security and prosperity. That status quo is disturbed by China’s military actions.

A few weeks ago, we saw a Chinese naval ship in the Arafura Sea, irresponsibly pointing a military-grade laser at an Australian Defence Force aircraft. This is needlessly provocative – and very dangerous.

The crisis that now grips Europe heralds a moment of choice for China. Under Mr Putin, Russia has chosen the path of violence and seeking to overturn the global order.

The world has heard China’s words about its commitment to global peace and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity for a long time now. It is up to China, at this hinge point of history, to demonstrate these are more than just words.

The early signs are not good as, following the Xi-Putin meeting in Beijing at the Olympics, the Chinese Government has acted to throw Putin’s Russia an economic lifeline, relaxing trade restrictions on Russian wheat. China’s language has also pretended to an equivalence of interests, and even a ‘legitimate’ cause for Russia to invade Ukraine.

No country would have a greater impact on Russia than China joining the rest of the world in denouncing Russia’s aggression and applying the same sanctions. So far they have not.

Alongside building our military capability and our network of relationships, there is another pillar on which our national security rests.

We must continue to build our economic strength and resilience at home - to continue to give Australia the ability to make our own decisions, and for us to pursue our own path.

Let me touch on three areas where the Government has worked to build such national resilience - cyber security, critical infrastructure protection and sovereign manufacturing capability.

Firstly, our 2020 Cyber Security Strategy set out a comprehensive $1.67 billion ten-year plan to achieve our vision of a more secure online world for Australians, their businesses and the essential services upon which we all depend.

We’ve invested in the capabilities of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, with a particular focus on enhancing our capabilities to protect our critical networks and infrastructure.

We’ve enhanced the powers and capabilities of our security agencies to combat cyber criminals.

One example is the work of our world-class Australian Signals Directorate, which has actively undertaken offensive cyber action during the COVID-19 pandemic to hack back and disrupt offshore cyber criminals scamming Australians.

We’ve also been investing in growing the human capital so crucial to creating a secure digital economy - our cyber security workforce.

Secondly, our Government has been at the leading edge of protecting Australia’s critical infrastructure to secure the essential services all Australians rely on – everything from electricity and water, to health care and groceries.

In 2017, as Treasurer, I announced the establishment of a Critical Infrastructure Centre, to coordinate the management of the complex and evolving national security risks to our critical infrastructure.

Since that time, we’ve passed laws that enhanced the scrutiny of the management and operation of critical infrastructure assets; that introduced mandatory incident reporting for critical infrastructure entities that experience serious cyber security incidents; and that allowed the Government to use its unique capabilities to assist industry to respond to immediate and serious cyber-attacks on Australian systems.

We intend to pass an additional round of critical infrastructure protection legislation later this month when Parliament returns.

Thirdly, the COVID pandemic has underscored why it’s important to maintain a sovereign manufacturing capability.

The Coalition’s $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy is securing Australia’s sovereign manufacturing capability and supporting supply chain resilience.

Our focus is on six priority areas: Space; Medical Products; Food and Beverage; Recycling and Clean Energy; Resources Technology and Critical Minerals Processing; and, of course, Defence.

Building our sovereign defence capability not only means acquiring new capabilities and growing and skilling the people we need to operate them. It also means growing and building the industry capability and capacity needed to maintain them.

Resilient supply chains underpin Australia’s prosperity and security. And while the private sector is primarily responsible for managing supply chain risks, there is a strategic role for the Government to help deliver solutions to supply chain vulnerability in areas critical to our national interest.

Recent experience provides examples of how supply chains of critical goods are vulnerable to a wide range of impacts, including COVID effects, economic shocks, coercive action, workforce stoppages, freight delays, natural disasters, demand surges and disruption at global production centres.

Not all manufacturing and supply chain issues can or should be addressed domestically. That’s why the Government is also working with our Quad partners and other friends to develop cooperative approaches to strengthen supply chain security based on mutual manufacturing and resource base strengths.

More broadly, international collaboration to maintain free and open markets in a global, rules-based order will continue to be central to help manage supply chain risks.

Ladies and gentlemen, if there is a simple message from my remarks today it is that national security affects all Australians.

It extends far beyond the prospect of fighting wars.

It is about safeguarding our way of life, our access to the amenities, liberties and essentials Australians rely on and enjoy.

It is about seeking to shape the changing world we live in to promote peace, provide stability for people to live their lives and favour freedom.

We face a world that is more fragile, more contested and arguably even more fragmented than at any time since the Second World War.

My Government has remained steadfast in protecting Australia’s interests. We have led, not followed.

Australians know the courage we have shown and will continue to show. We are the proven choice when it comes to protecting Australia’s national security interests.

Our decisions are underpinned by our values as a liberal, democratic country.

We believe in a liberal, rules-based global order. One that favours freedom over autocracy and tyranny. Universal human rights, opportunities for all, and the sovereignty of all nations.

By investing in our national security, we are better placed to protect ourselves and to work with others.

To ensure our region remains one in which each country’s sovereignty is respected.

Where might does not make right, and where the same rules apply to all countries – whether they are giants or small island states.

Our shared prosperity and security depend on it.

That’s how you keep Australians safe.


Scott Morrison makes a virtual address to the Lowy Institute, Monday 7 March 2022


In Conversation with Executive Director Michael Fullilove

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: Let me start with Ukraine. I'm sure Mr Putin thought that this war would strengthen his position at home. But instead, as you said, Russia has been subjected to unprecedented sanctions - the freezing of its currency reserves, the devaluation of the ruble. We've seen protests in Moscow along with security crackdowns. In light of all this, do you think a regime change is more likely in Kyiv or in Moscow?

Prime Minister: Well, I  probably wouldn't speculate on either of those, at this point. But what I would say is this, there is no doubt that Mr Putin is not getting what he was seeking, and each and every day the resistance by Ukraine, I think, has been extraordinary, and the cost is piling up day on day on day. I think he's overestimated the capacity of how he might be able to prosecute this illegal war and the sheer callous disregard, not only for innocent civilians in Ukraine, but frankly, for the way that he has just sent young conscripts into the flames. I don't see how that would be resonating well back in Russia. There is a clear, I think, gap emerging between his ambition and what would be the reasonable nationalistic sentiment of Russians more broadly. And I really do applaud those in Russia who have been standing up. I applaud those Australians of Russian descent here who have been standing with with their Ukrainian fellow Australians. That, I think, is one of the, one of the most positive messages that can be sent out of a multicultural country like Australia. So I don't think it's playing out for Mr Putin as he thought. And it's certainly playing out far better than anyone would have anticipated for President Zelenskyy. And he has showed a forthrightness and a determination which has been inspiring, and that's why we lit up the Opera House. I mean, that's why so many countries have done similar things. Yes, we have to continue to encourage them to go forward with their efforts and continue to provide them with everything we can to support them. 

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: You mentioned that you had a call with President Zelenskyy at the weekend. Tell me, tell us a bit about his demeanour on that call and talk a bit more about your impressions of his leadership in the last couple of weeks. 

Prime Minister: Well, he's very focused. He's very determined. He has a clear plan. It obviously depends heavily on continuing to rally international support, both in a practical way when it comes to lethal defence support, as well as maintaining the pressure. And I think all Western countries, all those participating in these sanctions, need to hold fast and endure over the long-term. You know, some break in the, in the fighting that may occur should not enable the pressure or the vice to be, to be eased when it comes to Russia. And that's what they need. They need that continued international momentum. I talked about Russia having to pay an economic price, but they have to also pay a reputational price for this, a diplomatic price for this, and they are indeed paying that price. So he is just very focused on that element of his plan. He's very appreciative of the support, particularly from Australia, a long way away from Ukraine. I think when he first heard of our support, this was over over a week ago, we've been trying to get in touch with each other. But when he, I get a message saying, can't do the call tonight because we're I, you can fill in the rest of what he was up to. Probably the most reasonable excuse I've heard for not being able to complete a call on a particular night, and we’ve given him full support. But I'm pleased we could speak on Saturday night and I could just encourage him in what he's doing, and he needs that encouragement. We obviously talked about things like the no-fly zone and things of that nature, and additional support, air support. These are complex issues. I sense that he understands that, and he understands the delicate balance that has to be maintained by those who are supporting him. But, equally, the resistance and the fight in President Zelenskyy is something to behold.

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: PM, you said Ukraine has been a major wake up call, and I would say that the West has woken up. How confident are you that we’ll remain awake and that this solidarity will continue? 

Prime Minister: Well, I’m maybe not as confident as you, Michael, about how big the wake up is. I certainly hope that's true. And that's why I made the remarks about, this was not the product of President Putin seeking leverage to try and gain some marginal advantage in some negotiations and the usual European dance of diplomacy that goes around here. That’s not what this was. He planned this a long time ago, and he was absolutely determined to follow it through, and he went and told China he was going to do it, by the reports that we see, very clearly. And this is quite chilling. And so now we hear the theory’s, oh, it's just he’s all gone mad. No, he hasn’t. He's an autocrat and he's following through on his plans. And for all of us in the West and more broadly, I think we need to understand that autocrats don't play by the same rules as the rest of us. Their mindset is very different. And I found it quite chilling when I spoke to other leaders about conversations that they've had with President Putin about these issues, and they're subjected to a rather lengthy lecture on on nationalistic aspirations of Russia and what is rightly theirs. That has a chilling reverberation with similar lectures that I have been on the receiving end of about situations in the Indo-Pacific and what people claim to be theirs. So I think we have to be eternally vigilant on this, and this is very important for Australia. You know, we can't step back from this. I know it comes at a cost. I know it means that we have been targeted. But we must look clear eyed about the threats in our own region and what's occurring in Europe. And it was a very good discussion at the Quad the other night. Of course, all Quad members are concerned about what's happening in Europe. But the Quad wasn't set up to focus on Europe. The Quad was set up to focus on strategic issues, on humanitarian issues, economic development issues in the Indo-Pacific. And so President Biden and Narendra, Prime Minister Modi, and Prime Minister Kishida and I had a very lengthy conversation about why it's so important that a price is paid for this aggression. And that we understand fully the nature of the work and planning and determination of autocrats. 

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: Alright, let me go to Russia and China. Today you referred to an arc of autocracy, which I presume includes both Beijing and Moscow. Yesterday, the Defence Minister Peter Dutton called this relationship an unholy alliance. Tell us a bit about this relationship. How tight is the relationship? Could the invasion of Ukraine create a problem for the relationship? What can countries such as Australia do to weaken that relationship? 

Prime Minister: Well, I think the second last point you've made about the events - I assume what you’re saying about the events in the Ukraine and what that means for that relationship - I I would describe it more of an instinctive relationship, an opportunistic relationship, rather than a strategic one. China and Russia have got a fairly interesting history in terms of their engagement. I don’t think anything’s changed about that. But there does seem to be some alignment in the sort of world order that they would prefer, to the one that has been in place since the end of the Second World War. And we've seen that play out over a long time. So there has been a convenient fellow travelling, I think, and that's how I would describe it. I wouldn't for a moment seek to draw any parallels between the situation in the Taiwan Strait and Ukraine. I think these situations are entirely different, and the responses that would be expected in in the Taiwan Strait would be completely different to what has occurred in Ukraine. So I wouldn't want to alert or concern Australians simply because of what's occurring in the Ukraine then then a will, b will follow a, on on these things. I don't believe that. I think those circumstances and that situation is as it was before - tense, deserving of concern and attention, but not necessarily at all impacted by the events in Ukraine. What can Australia do? Keep calling this out. While most of the world was focused on what the actions of Russia was, I was quite adamant in speaking up on the fact was I was listening for the voice of the Chinese Government when it came to condemning the actions of Russia. And there was a chilling silence. And when I learned the other day that they were easing wheat trade restrictions for Russia, and throwing Russia an economic lifeline while the rest of the world was seeking to impose a heavy price, this, for me, just jars completely with what the broader international interest is here. Now, China has long claimed to a role as a, as one of the major powers in the world, and to be a contributor to global peace and stability. This is why I reinforce this point - that no country will have a bigger impact on concluding this terrible war in Ukraine than China. But so long as they have a bet each way on this, then I fear the bloodshed will continue. 

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: PM, let me ask you about institutions. You said today in your remarks, the well-motivated, altruistic ambitions of our international institutions has opened the door to this threat. And it reminded me of your 2019 Lowy lecture or, as it became known, the negative globalism speech, in which you voiced concerns about international institutions becoming overly powerful and demanding conformity. But let me ask you, wouldn't you say that international institutions have been very useful in the past two weeks? For example, hasn't the European Union stepped up? Ukraine has applied to join the UN, the EU, I should say. The UN and other institutions have condemned Mr Putin's aggression. Don't we want to see international institutions behaving just like this in relation to threats from countries like Russia and China?

Prime Minister: Of course, and I would call that positive globalism. I mean, my remarks several years ago, was it, was simply to draw attention to what I think are the less helpful elements of how international institutions operate. We are a great supporter of international institutions. And what I also said in that speech, as you may recall, is we then set out and have had some success. Think, of course, to the elevation, the election of Mathias Cormann, the Secretary-General of the OECD. We set out on a very clear path of seeking to have greater influence in these institutions to ensure they were focused on what we believe were the most pressing issues. And we have been working hand in glove with many other like-minded countries to ensure that international institutions are not being hollowed out and hollowed out in plain sight by some who would seek to take them in different directions. So we've worked on many candidacies of many countries to support them in a lot of these institutions, to ensure that they focus on a positive agenda. The point I was also making today, though, Michael, was that it is, it is right and good - so it's not so much a criticism as an observation - it is right and good that we would want international institutions to work with member states to try and deal with the big economic and environmental challenges that we face. This is a good thing. But by the very open nature of that process, we have become exposed to interference, to subversion, to a range of other things which can take that agenda off track. And, you know, there are a lot of concessions that have been given, whether it's been in trade or so many other things. In our own democracies, I mean, we are open democracies that are open to foreign investment and all of these things. This is a good thing. But at the same time, it comes with a double-edge risk, double-edged sword risk, of a vulnerability, and that has been taken advantage of. And I think that is clear. So what has been our response domestically? Foreign interference legislation, a raft of other measures, which have sought to improve the resilience of liberal democracies to these sorts of threats. And I think international institutions need to be just as wary of of these things, just as countries like Australia have. And Australia has led the way in this area. I mean, when I tabled those 14 points at the G7+, they were surprising. They were surprising to many around that table. And it's important that we continue to do that, because I said, if it's not us, then who is it? 

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: Let me come to AUKUS and Australian defence capabilities. How does the invasion of Ukraine affect the argument for nuclear-propelled submarines for Australia?

Prime Minister: Well, I don't think it changes it at all. I mean, it was already compelling and overwhelming. So I think, yeah, sure, I think it highlights the the work of autocracies, as I've outlined, and I think it highlights the the higher threat environment in which we need to operate and why we need greater capabilities. But I think all of those points were the driving forces of AUKUS before these events took place, and it continues to carry it. 

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: Yesterday, the Defence Minister Peter Dutton said that the discussions with the Americans and the Brits since the AUKUS announcement had been incredibly productive and the Government would make an announcement in the next couple of months about which boat we're going with and what we can do in the interim. Let me put a question to you from Ben Packham at The Australian. Will this announcement be made before the election? And if it is, will there be consultation with Labor, given the long timeframe of the program? 

Prime Minister: No, we don't anticipate that that decision will be made before the election. We don't, and and no one should expect it to. It won't be done in that timeframe. And as Ben rightly points out, that would involve a whole another process, particularly during a caretaker period leading up to the election. But I can confirm what Peter has said, that we have made a lot of progress. I mean, we haven't let the grass grow under our feet. Admiral Mead’s has been out here most recently. He’s been down in South Australia. We've been, there's been an enormous amount of work that has been going on in that 18-month process that we set out. But the 18-month process isn't just about deciding the technology option and the boat option we go forward with. It's, you've got to make that decision, and then there's a whole series of things that have to take place after that. But I stress this, as the Minister for Defence did - this is a trilateral partnership. This is not a procurement contest. This is a partnership where the decisions are being made together, which separates it from any other procurement arrangement that the Government has been involved with. The United States has proprietorship over the technology, not just over any technology that we would seek to use, but also over the UK use of such technology. So that is the nature of this partnership, and the partners are working incredibly well together. The speed at which what was effectively the treaty level arrangements that needed to be put in place and the how that was able to be secured was very encouraging. And when I was in the United States last year and we took the effort, as we should have, to go up onto the Hill and be briefing every Committee we could, the bipartisan leadership of both the House, there was massive support throughout the US system in the Executive and the Legislature and, of course, within the defence institutions themselves. Same is true in the UK. 

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: PM, I have a question from Andrew Kaldor, and Andrew asks as follows - the invasion of Ukraine has triggered a massive wave of people fleeing to Australia, fleeing to safety, I should say. Will Australia increase its quota of refugees to allow a larger number of these desperate people to resettle here? 

Prime Minister: Well, just like with Afghanistan, if we need to, we will. And, as I said, the first thing we did is we immediately put to the top of the pile all Ukrainian visa applications. Now, at that time, there was, this was two weeks ago, there was about 430 outstanding. They were quickly resolved, and over that two-week period we’ve now processed and granted some 1,700 visas already. Now they’re 1,700 visas in the normal migration program. And this is, I think, one of the points of difference with a Ukrainian migration. And that is, we are more likely to see them use many more points of our migration program - the family program, the skilled program, the student program, and so on. And there'll be a mixture of both temporary and permanent visas, because particularly in my discussion with the Polish Prime Minister the other night and other members of the European Union, their expectation is that one and a half people, million people have left Ukraine. But the overwhelming almost entirety of those will want to return to Ukraine if they can. And so that's why I I highlighted the potential role of an arrangement like the Kosovars arrangement, which was highly successful. We provided a temporary safe haven, and they were then able to return to their homeland, which is what they wanted to do. Now I expect we’ll see the same thing here with Ukraine. But, you know, we are preparing those options, but we are also not stepping back on on the commitments to our Afghan humanitarian program, which continues [inaudible].

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: PM just finally, PM just for the final question, let me go back to where we started with Ukraine. How do you think this dreadful event will end, and how confident are you that at the end of it, Ukraine will be sovereign, independent and whole?

Prime Minister: Well I’m not confident of that outcome at this point. But nor can Mr Putin be confident of the outcome he thought would come so easily. And I think this is a very important point. I think there has been an overestimation of Russia's capability. And that has been made more broadly. And I think that has been made in Russia. And I think that forces a recalibration of what some people think they can do. It might look all good on paper, it might look like what can be achieved from what the Generals and others tell you, but few strategies survive contact with the enemy, as our Defence Force Generals will tell you. And I think that has been lived out in a, in a very candid way in Ukraine. And what we will certainly see in Ukraine is a prolonged resurgence. I think what we'll see is a resistance in the Ukraine, which will only grow over time. I think any gains that will, that are potentially made will be very hard to hold. And this all goes to our view about what our response should be. And that is impose the heaviest possible price for as long as possible to deter any other autocrat from thinking they can go down a similar path, and it can be done easily or quickly.

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: Well, that's all we have time for this afternoon. Prime Minister, thank you again for joining us today. We know you have many commitments. These are very important issues and we're grateful to hear your thoughts on them. 

Prime Minister: Well, thank you, Michael, for the opportunity again, and thank everybody for their patience. There was a lot to get through today and I appreciate your attention. 

Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director, Lowy Institute: Thanks again.

Source: E&OE

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