Prime Minister Scott Morrison has doubled down on calls for an independent review into the origins of COVID-19 despite months of economic pain inflicted by China.
More than 70 per cent of Australia’s adult population have received one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while more than half have had two doses, Mr Morrison told the United Nations General Assembly in a pre-recorded address on Friday.
But he said preventing future pandemics remained a priority and pushed for “accelerated efforts” to identify how COVID-19 first emerged.
“Australia called for an independent review, and sees understanding the cause of this pandemic not as a political issue, but as being essential, simply, to prevent the next one,” Mr Morrison said.
“We need to know so we can prevent this death and this calamity being visited upon the world again.
“That can be our only motivation.”
In what appeared to be a reaction to April 2020’s original call for an independent review, China has targeted Australia’s agricultural and resources sector, with measures affecting export products including wine, seafood, barley and coal, treasurer Josh Frydenberg said earlier this month.
Those trade actions have seen total exports to China fall by around $5.4 billion over the year to the June quarter, Mr Frydenberg said, although most of these goods were successfully redirected elsewhere.
The Prime Minister also said Australia supported calls for a stronger and more independent World Health Organization, with enhanced surveillance and pandemic-response powers.
And he stood by the recent decision to develop nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new security pact with the United States and the United Kingdom, which has drawn pushback from France and China.
The deal resulted in Australia tearing up a $90 billion contract with France for diesel submarines, and will instead see the US and the UK share sensitive technology to allow the development of Australia’s first nuclear-powered submarines.
The Chinese government said the “extremely irresponsible” deal would seriously undermine regional peace and stability, while the nationalistic Global Times tabloid carried an editorial warning Australia not to act provocatively or China would “certainly punish it with no mercy”.
Meanwhile, France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia for consultations sparked by the “exceptional seriousness” of Canberra’s surprise decision.
But Mr Morrison said AUKUS was designed to “further the cause of peace, stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region”.
“It is essential that countries pursue these interests in ways that are mutually respectful and support stability and security,” he said.
“Because we want to maintain an open, rules-based international system that supports peace, prosperity, human dignity and the aspirations of all sovereign nations.”
“A global order where sovereign nations can flourish, free from coercion, because of collaborative and purposeful action.”
Mr Morrison also declared Australia has a “proven track record” in meeting its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Australia, he said, had the world’s highest uptake of rooftop solar and was “well on the way” to exceeding its 2030 Paris commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels.