Press conference, New York | Australian Foreign Minister

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Penny Wong, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Thank you very much for waiting. And I’m sorry it’s a little cold. May I say it was a great honor and privilege to make a national statement to the General Assembly on behalf of Australia. I must admit that I was quite nervous because it is a real privilege to speak on behalf of your country. Today is the culmination of a fairly long day. Obviously, some of you may have attended the QUAD meeting, the QUAD foreign ministers’ meeting this morning and a series of other bilateral and trilateral meetings during the day. . But the most important thing to do was to articulate what we consider to be Australia’s national interest in the statement to the General Assembly. A national statement making the very important point that we have agency, which small and medium powers should not leave to big powers to settle. And we must work together to create the world we want. A peaceful, stable, prosperous world that respects sovereignty. Happy to answer questions.

Journalist: Mr. Minister, you talked a lot about small nations and large nations. This is a clear case with Russia. But to what extent is your message extended to China?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: I was very clear in the speech, in the statement, and I have said it before, that the world looks to China as a great power and as a permanent member of the Security Council, to exert the influence it a on Russia to end an illegal and immoral war. And we will continue to urge China to show leadership.

Journalist: Solomon Islands’ prime minister complained about what he said was unwarranted criticism of his country’s relationship with China. Did you take that to be headed to Australia?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: No, I didn’t. What I would say about Solomon Islands is that I had very good meetings with Minister Manele and I was very grateful and touched by the representatives of Solomon Islands and Samoa who approached me after the speech and gave me a flower garland as I walked away from behind the stage, and I’m very grateful for their friendship.

Journalist: Minster, what do you think of [indistinct].

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Probably not.

Journalist: [Indistinct]. They came back and said yes, war crimes had been committed in Ukraine. People from the age of [indistinct] were raped and tortured. What do you think of this report and how is the West, how is Australia now responding to these allegations?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, the world should react. The world should react and the world in this place and before an international court should react. Obviously, I’ve spoken quite a bit today and haven’t watched all the media, so thanks for bringing this to my attention. We have been saying for some time that there appears to be credible evidence of war crimes. We have talked, and we should talk more, about the use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war and how unacceptable this is. And what I would say is that the international community can choose to work together to hold Russia to account and we should. This is something we would like – I’m really sorry?

Journalist: Should that include something like removing Russia’s veto rights?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, these are questions entirely for the UN. We talked about the importance of expanding the Security Council. I made the point in there tonight, though, and this one is important. When the right of veto has been granted. It was never envisaged, it would be given in order to allow a state with a right of veto to abrogate the UN charter. If you ever wanted an example of why Russia flouts the international system, rejects the international system, it is the fact that it itself uses its veto power to violate the UN charter.

Journalist: Why does Australia want a non-permanent seat on the Security Council?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Look, this was something Ms. Bishop used to advocate. We must ensure that we participate in international security arrangements. We must ensure that we assume an appropriate leadership role within the United Nations. It’s a bit of free time, and obviously there’s a lot more room for the campaign. But I would say we are a player. We are a country that has played its part in the international system from Doc Evatt until today, and we must continue. And why is that? Same thing I’ve been saying all week. We are interested in the multilateral system, in the work.

Journalist: minister, having had the benefit of talking to other foreign ministers and other diplomats [indistinct]what is your opinion on the dangerousness [indistinct] with regard to Russia and its threats [indistinct]. What is your assessment of this threat?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: I assessed Mr. Putin’s words as showing a degree of desperation and a degree of weakness. We all know that such words are unthinkable. Such actions are unthinkable.

Journalist: Return to the Solomon Islands. Have the criticisms, questions and concerns about the security pact with China been unfair?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: We have simply argued, and like other members of the Pacific Islands Forum, that we believe that security is the responsibility of the Pacific family. And that is Australia’s position.

Journalist: Back to Russia [indistinct], he said earlier this week that he was not bluffing. Do you think he’s bluffing? You expect him to be bluffing?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: We have heard many words from Mr. Putin, we have heard many words from Mr. Putin over several weeks, months and years. And what we do know is that his bragging about what would happen in Ukraine did not materialize. The Ukrainian people and the international community have stood their ground and we must continue to do so.

Journalist: Minister, the White House said today that it is preparing enhanced sanctions in response to possible annexation of territory.

Minister of Foreign Affairs: The fictitious referendums?

Journalist: Yes. Do the current sanctions need to be strengthened in the current environment, do you have any idea what they could be?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: We will always examine the possibility of improving or strengthening the sanctions, if necessary. Australia has already, with bipartisan support, I also recognize the work of the previous government, put in place extensive sanctions, but we are always open if there is a need to tighten them further. We are always ready to examine this. Thank you very much everybody.

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