Press conference with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese MP, Washington

Press conference
Critical minerals; visit to the United States; Australia's relationship with the United States; AUKUS; Hamas-Israel conflict

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: When I met with President Biden in Hiroshima in May, we signed the Climate, Critical Minerals and Alean Energy Transformation Compact. Yesterday, the Taskforce that was established on critical minerals under that Compact met for the first time with the Minister, Minister King, and Amos Hochstein, who's the Principal Advisor to the President on energy. This follows, as well, the Energy Committee that we established meeting with Minister Bowen just last week with his US counterpart.

Today, we announced the next steps in this Compact. This builds on the announcement from Microsoft just yesterday about a $5 billion investment in our digital infrastructure, and in the skills that will be required for the jobs of the future. Shortly, Minister King and I will address the Critical Minerals Industry Roundtable with industry and government representatives from both Australia and the United States, including the Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo.

We want to move Australia up the international value chain in critical minerals, energy and manufacturing. And I'm pleased to announce today a doubling of our investment to $4 billion for the expansion of the Australian Government's Critical Minerals Facility. This will drive investment into the sector and deliver benefits, both domestically but also globally with our partners.

This is about creating secure, well-paid jobs. It is about cheaper, cleaner energy. And it's about making the most of our natural advantages a supplier of critical minerals. But also, because we want to move up that value chain, supporting Australian manufacturing jobs as well. Supply of critical minerals is absolutely vital for the Australian economy. But it also very much supports the objectives of the United States under its Inflation Reduction Act. We want to maximise the benefits in Australia for a future made in Australia.

The Australian Innovation Showcase, as well, that we'll hold this afternoon is about taking the best ideas and converting them into new products, into jobs and investment. And there we will be bringing together industry leaders from Australia and the United States to engage, as well, with a showcase showing how good Australia has always been in innovation and new ideas and scientific breakthroughs. What we haven't always been good at is commercialising those opportunities. My Government is determined to do that.

It's something I spoke about during the pandemic, that we need to be more resilient, we need to be able to stand on our own two feet and we need to move up that value chain. And that's where the theme of my Government, of a future made in Australia, very much arose from. It is through collaboration and innovation with the United States and other partners that we advance our shared objectives, we connect ideas with investment, but we also connect products with customers. And I'm very much looking forward to today. Firstly, the Roundtable that we'll conduct this morning, but then the Showcase where we will also have some further announcements on issues this afternoon. Now, I will turn to Minister King. And then happy to take questions.

MADELEINE KING, MINISTER FOR RESOURCES: Thank you, Prime Minister. It is really an honour to be here in Washington as the Minister for Resources for Australia with the Prime Minister and to reiterate the announcement that we will be extending the Critical Minerals Facility, the $4 billion in low-risk loans to be able to de-risk some of the rare earth elements and critical minerals projects that our country needs to progress its critical minerals and rare earths industry. But of course, our partners here in the US need to decarbonise their economy by the content that it puts into clean and green energy technologies.

I met yesterday with Amos Hochstein. We, together, work on the Australia US Critical Minerals Taskforce which was set up under the Compact signed between President Biden and Prime Minister Albanese earlier. It is very much an action-focused Taskforce about having our two nations work together to secure those critical minerals and rare earth elements supply chains that we know will be needed for both our nations, but also for the rest of the world to transform and decarbonise our economies, so we can reach net zero by 2050. As I said, it is really a very much an action-focused Taskforce. And we will keep getting on with the job. We are meeting later today again, at the Roundtable, which the Prime Minister referred to, with the Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, who is also part of that Taskforce. The increase in the Critical Minerals Facility will enable more projects to get off the ground. Sometimes they are hard to finance. And that is entirely a good thing for the Australian Government to be able to step in and help these projects get off the ground. We know that rare earth elements and critical minerals projects are low volume, highly technical, and complex. And we need all shoulders to the wheel to make sure that they happen for Australia to decarbonise the economy, but also to make sure the rest of the world can get to net zero. As I said many times before, the road to net zero will run through Australia's resource sector, moreover our rare earth elements and critical minerals sector. With that, I will hand over to the Prime Minister for questions.

JOURNALIST: Some of the key players in the industry have said they don't need finance, they need grants and tax credits, like what the US is offering. Obviously, doubling the financing facility will be welcomed by some but not all. Is this the extents of your response to the IRA, is there more to come? Are we looking at those sort of grants and tax credit type things?

PRIME MINISTER: There's always more to come when it comes to my Government when it's working with industry to provide support. But what we know is, already, Australia is the largest supplier of lithium. We have in Western Australia, when you go there, you sit around a table. And the sort of issues that were, frankly, not raised a decade ago, when I met with President Biden when he was Vice President, if you had have come here and spoken about lithium, it would not have created the same excitement it does today. Lithium, vanadium, cobalt, copper, nickel are all products in which Australia has an advantage. Rare earths and critical minerals. There are massive profits to be made. And yes, every single company will always, will always, prefer a grant to a loan. We know that that's the case. But what we are doing here is providing what is needed. But we continue to engage. There are a range of programs. This is just one. In addition to this, of course, we have our National Reconstruction Fund. In addition to that, we have a range of other programs that are available in this area. But what we know is that we'd already had the $2 billion announcement that we provided funding for in our Budget. That was already pretty close to being built, essentially. So, this is a sensible move forward, a doubling that was considered through our budgetary process in recent weeks, that we thought was appropriate at this time. But we'll continue to do what is necessary to not just look at providing support for extraction, if you like, of our resource, but value adding as well. That's the big next step that we need to do. Because that's where the jobs really come from. And I want to see us move up that value chain.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the conversations Donald Trump had with Anthony Pratt were appropriate and were you one of the people briefed by Anthony Pratt after those conversations


JOURNALIST: How far up the value chain? Is it still your plan to have electric vehicle batteries made in Australia or are we just talking about mining and processing. Would battery making be in competition with countries like the United States? Can I ask is Chinese investment possible through the minerals facility?

PRIME MINISTER: This facility is aimed at Australian companies, Australian investment and Australian jobs. We, in terms of your first question, as well about batteries, we absolutely see a future in Australia for us making batteries. I'll have more to say about that during this visit, as well. We are talking with our US counterparts. What we see through the Inflation Reduction Act isn't competition. Our United States counterparts agree with us as well, that together, looking at what we can provide, you can have win-win, where you have components, potentially, for electrical vehicles, but some looking even further than that, but certainly, at a minimum, components for electric vehicles including batteries being something that Australia should be in a position to take advantage of. I make this point. In Southeast Queensland today, the fastest electric vehicle charging stations in the world have been discovered, if you like, the technology, the innovation, manufactured and exported there through Tritium. Australia has always been very good at innovation. What we need to get good at is commercialising those opportunities. And the size of the US market means there's a real potential for partnership, is what we are looking at, collaboration. And that's what the Compact is really about between Australia and the United States that President Biden and I signed.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just got back on Anthony Pratt. The revelations about Anthony Pratt show that he is highly active in US politics, using money to gain access, possibly to gain information about defence and other matters from the former President here. Does that raise any concerns for you at all about the activity in American politics in that way?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to comment on US internal politics.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, SBS has spoken to a number of families, including very young children at the Rafah Crossing trying to flee Gaza. What are you doing diplomatically, or your Government, to try and assist them to get out?

PRIME MINISTER: We're working very hard on that. That's our priority has been getting both people in Israel, but also people in Gaza, who want to leave who are Australian citizens out. We've also continued to emphasise the importance of humanitarian support for people in Gaza. We've made our position very clear. Our officials will continue to work, including with our counterparts here in the US Administration, to provide that support. We have engaged with Egypt as well, very directly. Because Australian citizens need that protection. In addition to that, I continue to emphasise that Australia's position is for the protection of innocent lives. We mourn, as a nation, every innocent life which has been lost in this conflict, whether it be Israeli or Palestinian. Every innocent life is valued. And there is a need to make sure that international law is respected and upheld.

JOURNALIST: On AUKUS, Prime Minister, you've foreshadowed Australia will move reciprocal legislation to enable the sharing of military technology, weapons systems, and the like. I assume to remove further impediments on the US side. But what is the nature of military secrets and protected assets that will be included or covered by Australia's legislation?

PRIME MINISTER: We'll be introducing legislation by the end of the year is certainly our hope. We're going through the process now through the Cabinet process of developing that legislation. And it's about streamlining what is available for Australian information and technology sharing arrangements with the United States consistent with the AUKUS arrangements. So, just as the United States Congress and Senate is dealing with half a dozen pieces of legislation, something that I've had discussions with US legislators on already while I've been here, we want to make sure that we're in a position, as welly, for those reciprocal arrangements. So, it's a matter of having complimentary legislation passed in both jurisdictions. At the moment, one of the impediments has been, in a practical sense, it's been there for a long period of time. Where for Australia using some US defence technology, and it requires a path, to put it simply without going into any of the detail, often that couldn't be given directly to the Australian Defence Force, it has to go through the US system. Sometimes meaning delays. And delays mean costs as well as inefficiency.

So, we want to make sure that the process is streamlined between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom when it comes to the interoperability issues, when it comes to technology and information sharing, that it is clear. Because each of the nations, understandably, has its flaws of information as well. If we're operating the same equipment, and also giving Australians the skills which Australians embedded already here, I was discussing with Mark Hammond, our Chief of Navy, about there are already Australian submariners here and people working here. That's a big plus. And we want those skills that they're learning here, as well, to be able to be applied to the operations in Australia, both in manufacturing, in our build, which will come down the track. But also, of course, the steps, the three steps that are here. One, the increased visitation of US and UK submarines, including, particularly through Western Australia, that requires maintenance, and for that work to occur. Secondly, when we receive our Virginia submarines. And then thirdly, the third step, Australian manufacturing of the SSN AUKUS both here and the United Kingdom. So, these are all really important.
And I make this point as well, something that is very significant. There's clearly a linkage there, if I could put it that way, between the legislation that is before the Congress and the Senate, and the $3.5 billion of additional investment that President Biden is forwarding for their submarine industrial capacity. There's a link there. That shows the extent of the commitment of President Biden for AUKUS. And it shows the extent to which both our nations, as well as the UK, but both our nation specifically while I'm here, that is forming, very much, a ballast for our argument of why this legislation is required to be passed by the Congress and the Senate. And that is one of the things that gives me confidence. Because what President Biden's $3.5 billion is about is building confidence in the US political system that any support for Australian industry is not at the expense of US industry, but it's about building up both. And that is what AUKUS is about. A plus for both of our nations.

JOURNALIST: One of your big asks when you met the President earlier this year was listing as Australia's domestic source under the Defence Production Act, that had been previously looked at by Congress last year and rejected then. So I'm just interested, if you have a sense of whether that will progress this year?

PRIME MINISTER: We're continuing to work on that. We think that's important. At the moment, as you would be aware, Canada has some access under those arrangements. We think that is important. One of the points that I've made when meeting with US counterparts, whether it be here or in Australia, during the Leadership Dialogue in August when I met with legislators is that, and it is understood here, that the US can't view the Inflation reduction Act as an island, if you like. That they get a plus as well if other nations are building up capacity, will actually not take away from what the US can achieve but add to it. So, that's critical.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I ask your response to the letter from Indigenous leaders criticising the results of the Voice referendum?

PRIME MINISTER: I haven't received any letters because I'm here. I'll respond back in Australia at an appropriate time.

JOURNALIST: Emmanuel Macron has just suggested that the international group set up to fight Islamic State be (inaudible) to fight Hamas, given that Australia is part of that international group, I was wondering if you have any response to the French President?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I haven't seen the detail of any such proposal. It is important. And certainly, we agree with the United States that it's important that we avoid spillover on this issue, which would be bad for Israel, bad for the region. These are difficult times. Things are fast moving, the changes which are there. We are working with our international partners. And our priority is the one I gave to a previous question, which is humanitarian assistance. We want to see the people of Gaza have access to water and essentials. It's really important that innocent civilians be provided with that support. And our priority, as well, is providing support for Australians who are wanting to leave.

JOURNALIST: Most world leaders who come to the White House would come with a long list of requests for the US. This is your ninth meeting with President Biden. What does he ask of Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: What he asks for from Australia is what he gets, which is friendship, honesty and integrity. President Biden and I have developed over the nine meetings now that we'll have, including over the next day. Friends, talk to each other very directly. And we do. And we also are equals as partners, as well. Australia, of course, defends our sovereign position, as does the United States. It is a relationship, as well, based upon our common values, our commitment to democracy, our commitment to economies where both President Biden and I have a very similar position. We support market economies, but we're not frightened of government intervention where it makes a difference. We agree that climate change is now the third pillar of this alliance. First, of course, is defence through our arrangements. Second is our economic relationship through our free trade agreement. But the third pillar is really important. Because what we're dealing with here is an economic transformation that is as significant as the Industrial Revolution. The shift to clean energy economy is absolutely critical. President Biden and I both understand that this is not just a challenge, it's an enormous opportunity. An enormous opportunity to have an inclusive response that brings the population with us. That means more manufacturing, more jobs, more sovereignty, greater wealth, cleaner skies, as well as reducing emissions and taking action on climate. And we know what the alternative is because we've seen it, whether it be wildfires in North America, or whether it be floods and bushfires and the increasing frequency of events. So, I very much look forward to the one-on-one discussions I have with President Biden. We're able to speak very openly and clearly with each other. And that's what friends do. Thanks very much.