Press Conference - Adelaide, South Australia - 31/05/2024

31 May 2024



Subjects: Energy and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine; verdicts in the Hong Kong NSL47 cases; Hamas-Israel conflict; migration; US alliance; assistance in response to Papua New Guinea landslide.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you very much for coming. First, I want to announce this morning the next step in Australia's unwavering support for Ukraine. All Australians want a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine, and we continue to stand with Ukraine and their struggle to end this war on their own terms.

The Albanese Government will provide a further $31 million of assistance to meet Ukraine's energy and humanitarian needs. I'll just go what that 31 comprises.

We'll provide $20 million to the Ukraine Energy Support Fund. This was a fund established by the Europe Commission and Ukraine's Ministry of Energy. It's an efficient and effective way for Australians to provide support for electricity and heat to the people of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Prime Minister recently described how the Support Fund is assisting in the purchase of generators, transformers, spare parts and to carry out intensive repairs on Ukraine's energy network, which as you know has been substantially damaged by the Russian attack. We continue to stand with Ukraine.

In addition, we are providing from emergency humanitarian funding to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of $10 million to increase access to essentials such as water, food and shelter.

Finally, we will also provide $1 million to improve services for people with disabilities in Ukraine, including those needing rehabilitation from war injuries.

Australia's support for Ukraine totals more than a billion dollars, including $880 million in military support. You may recall the Deputy Prime Minister recently announced another $100 million in military assistance.

We've remained steadfast in our support for Ukraine's sovereignty. We remain steadfast in our support for Ukraine's territorial integrity, and we will continue to consistently condemn Russia's invasion as an abrogation, an attack on the UN Charter, a Charter which protects oil nations, including Australia. We stand with the people of Ukraine.

I also want to make some comment about recent verdicts in Hong Kong. We're deeply concerned about the verdicts handed down for some members of the National Security Law 47, including a guilty verdict for Australian citizen Mr Gordon Ng.

Australia has expressed our strong objections to the Hong Kong authorities and the continuing broad application of National Security legislation. It enables the arrest and pressure of pro democracy figures, opposition groups, media, trade unions and trade unionists and sovereign society.

We also know that these laws, the application of these laws has implications for individuals outside of Hong Kong, including here in Australia. The systematic erosion of Hong Kong's rights, freedoms, autonomy and democratic processes is something Australia consistently raises with Hong Kong and with China. We have called on the Hong Kong authorities to uphold those elements that are so crucial to the basic law, to Hong Kong's success, including the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law and Sino-British Joint Declaration.

I'm happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Why are we sending money and not coal as Ukraine asked?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, the advice to me is that support for the Energy Fund is a more efficient and effective way of providing assistance to Ukraine. As you know, we have been working through quite a number of requests from Ukraine over this year, and I might just take you through some of the things we've done just this year.

On 15 February I announced $50 million to the International Fund for Ukraine.

On 24 February I announced additional sanctions on entities, Russian entities, 55 persons, 37 entities.

On 27 April the Deputy Prime Minister announced $100 million in military assistance.

On 17 May I announced additional sanctions on North Korean entities trading with Ukraine.

So we seek to via both assistance and sanctions, both military assistance and humanitarian, to respond to the various requests that Ukraine has made, and I note that the Ambassador has made a statement very supportive of this announcement and we appreciate that.

JOURNALIST: But in this instance wouldn't the resource be more valuable than money?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well actually if you ship coal from Australia you have shipping and insurance costs. In fact this amount of money, should Ukraine wish to spend it for coal, would yield an equivalent amount of coal to what we saw previously.

But this enables Ukraine to make its own decisions about where it best applies this funding, including for example on the energy network, which has been, as I said, substantially damaged by Russia.

JOURNALIST: With this 31 million, does this bring the total investment to Ukraine one billion or is that in addition to the one billion already given?

FOREIGN MINISTER: It's approximately $1 billion plus, obviously there's ongoing assistance, but it does demonstrate the commitment we are making to Ukraine, and we'll continue to assess requests. But we understand there is a war, we look at all the ways in which we can provide support for that. Sanctions are an important part of that because we want to make sure we do what we can to punish Russia and Russian entities for what they're doing.

JOURNALIST: And we understand that your offices have been targeted by pro Palestinian protesters, can we just get your comments around that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well the first thing I'd say is in this country workers have a right to be safe and to feel safe. Workers everywhere. And what we have seen are protests which go beyond peaceful protests. We have a right to peaceful protest in this country, but we should rightly condemn protests which are violent, and which are hateful and aggressive.

What I would say to Adam Bandt, as leader of the Greens which has been part of these protests, that he should condemn the sort of violence we have seen, including the smashing of windows. That's not acceptable in this country.

I understand and I share the depth of concern, the depth of feeling that Australians have about what is occurring in Gaza and what is occurring in Rafah. And I have made on behalf of this country very strong statements, as has the Prime Minister. We have said to Israel, do not go down this path. We have taken diplomatic efforts in the United Nations and bilaterally to pressure Israel to not go down this path and to continue to put pressure on Israel to ensure it does comply with international humanitarian law. Civilians should be protected.

But the depth of the feelings that people have does not justify in this country a resort to violent protest. And Mr Bandt should act as a leader and make that clear.

JOURNALIST: Beyond the smashing of windows, what else makes this action violent and threatening?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I think if you speak to many workers who are being confronted with what they have seen over a long period of time, including the occupation of offices and the destruction of property, I think people have felt unsafe. I think all we have, all workers have a right to feel safe. We have a right to peaceful protest and people should exercise that responsibly.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the New Zealand Prime Minister has contacted Anthony Albanese to raise great concern about Direction 99. Will the Government take his concerns into account in drafting the new Direction?

FOREIGN MINISTER: First, you know, we are we have a very close partner in New Zealand, and we have such a they are family to us and, you know, we have a special enduring relationship and, you know, people to people, shared values, economic ties and historically we have always stood together, and we'll continue to do so.

So, you know, we are deeply appreciative of our friendship and closeness with New Zealand. Of course we will always consult with New Zealand on all such issues, and we understand the concerns that have been raised publicly for some time and, you know, we will consult.

JOURNALIST: Just a couple of questions on Trump.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Did you finish? Did you have anything on New Zealand before I move on or was that done?

JOURNALIST: I was going to ask is Minister Giles performing up to standard?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, you know, he has a very difficult portfolio and I think he's doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. Obviously we see, you know, the reports of Peter Dutton releasing some 1,300 people, 1,300 offenders while he was in the same portfolio. So I make the point this is a challenging area of policy.

JOURNALIST: How would the election of a convicted felon as US President impact Australia's relationship with the United States?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, you wouldn't expect the Foreign Minister of Australia to engage in commentary about the legal processes of another country, including our most important strategic partner and ally, and I won't.

We have a the United States of America is our most important strategic partner. We have a relationship that goes back decades. We have an alliance which is enduring. We have a friendship, and we have a very strong relationship across people and institutions and that will continue.

JOURNALIST: David Cameron met with Donald Trump on his latest trip to the US, will you be doing the same?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I would always seek to engage with both sides of politics appropriately and if I go to the United States, you know, that will be something I'd take advice on. Our relationship goes beyond partisan politics, and it always has.

JOURNALIST: Minister, there's still huge uncertainty about the death toll in last week's landslide in PNG. What's Australia's assessment on that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, I'm not briefed yet on what our assessment of the damage is and the loss of life. I'd start by saying we express our deep condolences and sympathy for the people of Papua New Guinea and particularly in the Enga Province in the face of this tragedy. The Prime Minister expressed that in the Parliament this week. I have expressed that to my counterpart Foreign Minister Tkatchenko.

We're engaging with Papua New Guinea on assistance. We've seen the first humanitarian assistance and the arrival of a team from Australia to assist with assessing damage, assessing what more is required and how best to provide it. And what I would say again publicly is they are our closest neighbour, and we stand ready to do what is required to assist them at this time of need.

JOURNALIST: Have there been any decisions made about what that further aid might look like?

FOREIGN MINISTER: No, we announced an additional humanitarian contribution and the arrival of personnel. The purpose of that team is to assess damage and to provide advice both to us, but also we will liaise with the Papua New Guinean Government about what is the best way in which Australia can assist going forward beyond this initial contribution, but we stand ready to provide them.

Anything more? Thank you very much.


Media Contact:
Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500

Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.