US Vice President Mike Pence has reassured Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull all is well between the US and Australia.At the start of bilateral talks in Sydney with Mr Turnbull today, Mr Pence said he and US President Donald Trump were keen to reaffirm America’s strong ties with Australia during his official two-day visit.
“I bring greetings this morning from the president of the United States. I spoke with him first thing and he wanted me to pass along his very best regards,” Mr Pence said.
“The president wanted me to be here early in this administration to reaffirm this strong, historic alliance between the United States of America and Australia.
“My presence here today at the president’s direction is about a reaffirmation of the strong ties in both our security and our prosperity.”
PENCE TALKS TRADE WITH BUSINESS LEADERS
Mr Pence held talks with a select group of 10 businessmen and women late on Saturday, including Westfield boss Steven Lowy and the head of Macquarie Group Nicholas Moore. Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos, Trade Minister Steven Ciobo and Australia’s Ambassador to the US Joe Hockey were also at the brainstorming session at Sydney’s Intercontinental Hotel.
In his opening remarks to the meeting, Mr Pence said he and US President Donald Trump regarded the free trade agreement signed by Australia and the US in 2005 as an excellent model and a “win-win” for both countries who share a $US1.5 trillion relationship.
But he said he wanted to listen to the Australians to hear their ideas on what could be done to break down any remaining trade barriers to help make trade smoother between the two countries.
“The question before all of you is where are the opportunities and where are the barriers, in what ways could the United States work with the leadership here in Australia to create an even better environment for investment and trade ...,” Mr Pence said.
The meeting between Mr Pence and the Australian business leaders comes a few months after Mr Trump tore up the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive regional trade deal backed by Australia and other regional neighbours.
US Vice President Mike Pence has begun talks with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at Sydney’s Intercontinental Hotel where the vice president will later meet Australian and American business leaders. Mr Shorten said Mr Pence’s two-day visit to Sydney was timely.
“My party values the alliance. It’s a point of common policy between the government and the opposition that the American alliance is a bedrock of our foreign policy,” he said.
“We are very interested, of course, as a new administration on your thoughts on a range of issues.”
US Vice President Mike Pence has been given a guided tour of Sydney’s Australian Museum where he came face to face with some of the country’s deadliest animals.
Mr Pence was greeted by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the museum’s executive director Kim McKay for the brief tour about 2pm on Saturday. Fresh from bilateral talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the visit represented a lighter side to Mr Pence’s weekend trip to Australia. Ms McKay and Ms Bishop escorted the vice president through two displays, including a cast of an estuarine crocodile — the largest of all living reptiles and one of the most iconic Australian creatures.
Ms McKay told Mr Pence the reptiles can grow as large as four metres in length. The museum is also custodian to one of the largest Pacific cultural collections in the world and Mr Pence was shown a cape of netted fibre known as “Captain Cook’s Cape”.
The carefully-constructed piece of fibre and feathers was given to Captain Cook by Hawaiian King Kalani’opu’u in 1788 and acquired by the museum in 1895. Mr Pence was then treated to a traditional Papua New Guinean highlands welcome by Dr Michael Mel, the manager of the museum’s west Pacific Collection, which featured sung and spoken greetings.
Ms Bishop joked about the number of deadly animals kept on display in the museum prior to Mr Pence’s arrival.
“If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger,” she said.
The nuclear threat from North Korea has dominated the talks.
Mr Turnbull said the “reckless and dangerous regime puts the peace and stability of our region at risk”.
He said China has a leverage to influence North Korea.
“The eyes of the world are on Beijing,” the PM said.
North Korea’s latest missile test fizzled last weekend, but it conducted two nuclear test explosions and 24 ballistic missile tests last year.
REFUGEE DEAL WILL GO AHEAD
Mr Pence reaffirmed the Trump administration will resettle refugees in limbo on Nauru and Manus Island.
The US President blasted Mr Turnbull over the settlement plan during their now-notorious phone call shortly after his inauguration in January.
Mr Pence reassured Mr Turnbull during their bilateral meeting the US intends to honour the agreement, struck with the former Obama administration.
“The US intends to honour the agreement — subject to the US vetting process,” he said.
He then added: “It doesn’t mean we admire the agreement”.
HEAVY SECURITY SHADOWS PENCE
The VP kicked off his official visit to Sydney with a half-hour morning tea with the PM, before the pair sat down for business.
Mr Pence arrived at Kirribilli House shortly after 9am AEST with his wife Karen and their daughters Audrey and Charlotte, who joined the Mr Turnbull and his wife Lucy.
Security was tight for Mr Pence and his entourage, with a large police contingent patrolling the streets while police helicopters hovered overhead.
The Harbour Bridge was closed so Mr Pence’s motorcade could make the short trip from his luxury hotel in the city’s CBD to Kirribilli.
Governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove welcomed Mr Pence at Admiralty House ahead of the talks with Mr Turnbull and government officials from both Australia and the US.
“The relationship between our two nations is as strong today as it has been since the first time we saw each other on the battlefield,” Sir Cosgrove said.
The pair will be joined by senior government ministers and business leaders including Qantas boss Alan Joyce for a lunch in the gardens of Admiralty House.
Mr Pence will end his day of official engagements by meeting Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and business leaders in the city.
He was greeted at Sydney airport by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
Welcome @mike_pence. Australia & US: Not just allies and trading partners, but true friends with shared values proven by the test of time. pic.twitter.com/x9F0Y5tF2i
— Barnaby Joyce (@Barnaby_Joyce) April 21, 2017 Australia’s Ambassador to the US Joe Hockey was also there to greet the VP.
Pleasure to welcome @VP Pence @SecondLady @charlipence on their first official visit to Australia #VPInAUS #VPinASIA #100YrsMateship 🇦🇺🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/EPeeR1EFkq
— Joe Hockey (@JoeHockey) April 21, 2017 Mr Pence’s visit is part of a 10-day tour of the Asia Pacific, during which he has visited South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.
During his first official tour to the region, Mr Pence has been keen to emphasise the commitment by the US to its alliances and partnerships in the region.
“The truth is President Trump’s election has created a need to reassure allies about Mr Trump’s intentions,” Lowy Institute executive director Michael Fullilove told AAP.
“The reason to do that is we have a president who for three decades has held to a very different world view, who has basically decried the global liberal order, who’s shown himself to be hostile to free trade, someone who is sceptical of alliances and suspicious of institutions like the United Nations.”
Sydneysiders will witness “substantial” motorcades and rolling road closures during Mr Pence’s visit to the city, which has prompted a major security operation.
Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch says residents will notice a “large number” of resources being deployed for Mr Pence’s trip.
“We do apologise in advance for what we see will be some disruption for people’s activities.” Clearways in the city began at 10am yesterday and will last until Monday morning.
Traffic police, mounted units, general duties officers and tactical experts will be part of the operation.
Visit to Sydney by Vice President of the United States of America - Operation Ambience https://t.co/9eYuKhnonV
— NSW Police (@nswpolice) April 20, 2017 Motorcades will also be granted “secure road corridors”, meaning roads in the city will be shut down swiftly as the US team moves from one engagement to the next before reopening just as fast.
Mr Pence is expected to take a harbour cruise during his visit.
PENCE VISIT SPARKS ANTI-WAR PROTEST
Ahead of his arrival yesterday, an anti-war protest took place at Sydney Town Hall, calling for Australia’s foreign policy to be independent from that of the US.
NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said the US should “back off threatening countries”, and bombing Afghanistan and Syria.
“Surely world leaders should be working to reduce the threat of war, not increase it.”