LAURENT FABIUS The Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs is on her second visit to France. Our particularly warm conversations have confirmed the excellent – I want to emphasise the excellence – quality of the relations between our two countries, which are linked by an old friendship and, in particular, over the last three years by a strategic partnership.
This visit is taking place in an outstanding moment for the Franco-Australian relationship, with on one hand the State visit of the French President to Australia in November 2014 – I was accompanying the French President and I remember the extent to which he was very well welcomed, it was by the way a historical first – the presence of Australia in the UN Security Council from 2013 to 2014, and its presidency of the G20 allowed us to reinforce the dialogue between our two countries on international issues; commemorations of World War One give us the opportunity to pay a tribute to the 45,000 Australian soldiers who fell on our soil, and this question of shared memory between our two nations and of a community of democratic values is very important, and the news reminds us every day of the importance of those shared values.
In a few days Prime Minister Mister Tony Abbott will be here, and we will welcome him with great pleasure; and the sum of these relations enables us to progress in the concrete application of our strategic partnership. I will expand on three or four points: firstly, the reinforcement of our dialogue on international crises, in which we usually share the same analyses, be it the situation in Iraq, the question of Iran – since Ms Bishop recently visited Iran – the general situation regarding terrorism, and we have highlighted our wish to reinforce our cooperation against terrorism since we are fighting together against the jihadi-terrorist threat.
We also highlighted our cooperation in terms of defence, both on the operational and equipment aspects, and we are very honoured that France has been selected among three countries allowed to make a bid regarding the renewal of the Australian fleet of submarines – and I am convinced that the French bid will match the needs of the Australian army, and we will provide our best, dear Julie.
We also need to increase our exchanges on climate – we praised Australia’s contribution to the Green Climate Fund and Ms Bishop assured me of her country’s intention to contribute to the success of the Paris conference, and our ambassadors on the French and Australian side, will work together, and Australia will have the opportunity to publish its contribution when it seems best to them, in a couple of weeks or months.
On the economic side, we have an enormous common potential, and I have asked Mr Ross McInnes, who is here, who is – it’s in a few days I think – who is the head of Safran, which is a beautiful company, to be my special representative to Australia, and I have no doubt that Mr McInnes – who I think holds both nationalities – will be the best symbol to develop the economic relations which are very important to both Australia and France.
I remind you that Australia is France’s fifth trading partner in terms of surplus, but we can do even better; we are open, as I’ve told my colleague and friend, to the possibility of a Free Trade Agreement – which is currently being discussed with the European Union – we want to increase bilateral investments, and there are considerable opportunities, both in Australia and in France, and Mr Abbott’s visit will certainly help Australian investors to know France even better.
This was in a few words – I have certainly missed important aspects – the meaning of this visit. I welcome Ms Bishop with great pleasure, and I have to say that beyond the excellent relations between Australia and France, it is a great personal pleasure to work with a very talented colleague.
JULIE BISHOP Thank you Foreign Minister Fabius for your warm and generous words about the Australian-French relationship. In the period 2014 to 2018, I believe that our already strong and close friendship and relationship will deepen further as we commemorate the anniversary of the First World War where our soldiers fought side by side against a common enemy, and the commemorative services that will be held in France are very important to Australia. This will be very poignant time for us. Our Prime Minister will be here after attending the 100 year anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli in Turkey on the 25th of April. He will then come on to Paris to meet with the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister to further enhance this deep and enduring relationship.
The Foreign Minister and I spoke about our trade and investment ties, and there is great potential for us to do more. French companies are making a significant impact in Australia with their level of investment across a broad range of industries and sectors of our economy, whether it be in public transport or defence or agribusiness, hotels, infrastructure, there’s a significant French presence in Australia which is deeply welcomed. Likewise, Australian businesses love investing and working here in France. So I believe that, as always, the strength of an economic relationship augurs well for the broader strategic relationship.
We have always shared such similar values as open, liberal, western democracies committed to freedoms; freedom of speech, to democratic institutions, to rule of law and human rights. Yesterday, I was humbled to attend the offices of your irreverent and satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. As I mentioned to the journalists, no one is spared their biting irreverence, but nothing, absolutely nothing, justified the disproportionate and brutal response that occurred on the 7th and 8th of January and we again extend our condolences to the people and Government of France, and Australia stands with you in the fight against violent extremism and terrorism. Indeed, we are both involved in countering and fighting terrorism in Iraq and we are working closely to ensure that our governments are doing all we can to counter the barbaric ideology and narrative that is being distributed and impacting particularly on young and vulnerable people and I appreciate the strength of our security, law enforcement and intelligence relationship in that regard.
I also acknowledge the very strong role that France is playing in the P5 + 1 negotiations, a very principled role. Having just visited Tehran and gained insight into where the Iranians believe these negotiations are heading, it was indeed useful for me to hear the Foreign Minister’s perspective on this issue as we look forward to the successful conclusion of an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that is acceptable to right thinking people and is balanced and has an element of reciprocity about it.
In terms of sharing values, the Foreign Minister and I also spoke of the fact that our citizens, a French citizen and two Australian citizens, are facing death row in Indonesia and neither France nor Australia can tolerate the death penalty being imposed on our citizens at home or abroad. And we will continue to make representations on behalf of our citizens to the President of Indonesia, and respectfully request that he show the same clemency towards the French and Australian citizens as Indonesia seeks other countries to show towards Indonesian citizens who are facing death row in other countries.
We certainly had an extraordinarily successful visit from the President during the G20. It was an historic occasion and so very warmly welcomed by the people of Australia. As we continue the ministerial meetings and the very close dialogue between our countries I feel so very sure that the best days of the Australian-French relationship lie ahead of us. We are looking, in Australia, to conclude a Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the European Union and we certainly look forward to the support of France as we pursue those negotiations.
So Laurent, thank you again for your gracious hospitality, for your time in meeting with me and I look forward to our continuing discussions on climate change, on the threat of violent extremism and terrorism, and, much more positively, the huge opportunities for increased trade and investment between our two countries, and the enhanced people to people links. I must tell you that our Working Holiday Visa has proved very popular amongst your dynamic, energetic, young French people and they are welcomed with open arms. They are welcomed as if they are our own.
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