Opinion Piece, Le Figaro, 1 September 2022

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

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4 September 2022

When Australia looks west from our Indian Ocean coast, we see the French Territories of Reunion and Mayotte.  Looking south, we see the French Antarctic Territories, adjacent to our own. And as we look across the Pacific to our east, we see New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

Indeed France is Australia’s closest neighbour. The nearest overseas population to Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra is in France: namely Noumea. France’s longest border is the maritime border it shares with Australia. And all this gives both countries a shared strategic alignment as liberal democracies in the Pacific. For too long this has been underplayed in the bi-lateral relationship.

The Australia-France relationship has deep history dating back to the moment the French explorer Jean-François La Pérouse sailed into Botany Bay in 1788 and met the First Fleet commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip. It has profound connection with more Australian soldiers having lost their lives on French soil than any other place in the world. And they are still there in beautiful war cemeteries which remain sacred for all Australians to this day.

As partners and friends the Albanese and Macron Governments now want to elevate the relationship to its rightful place.

I know the past year has been a difficult one for our bilateral relationship, testing longstanding bonds of friendship and amity.

But given the ever-increasing strategic uncertainty our nations are facing, both Australia and France need strong partnerships more than ever before.

This is why it was so important that, on 1 July this year, Prime Minister Albanese and President Macron returned our relationship to accord, agreeing to rebuild the bilateral relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

As Prime Minister Albanese then emphasised, Australia’s relationship with France matters.

It matters given our deep and longstanding people-to-people links and cultural ties.  It matters given our important economic and trading relationship. 

And importantly, it matters given our common strategic outlook and shared security interests.

That is why I am pleased to be visiting France today to meet with my French counterpart, Minister Sébastien Lecornu, where I will further reinforce the importance to Australia of our partnership, and our intent to deepen practical cooperation between our militaries.

This cooperation is vital, given the world today is facing the most complext set of strategic circumstances since the end of the Second World War.

These include intensifying strategic and geo-economic competition, growing climate risks, and enduring pandemic impacts, all of which are driving inflation, supply chain shocks and de-globalisation.

These are momentous challenges, and we can only prevail if we work together.

That is why Australia stands with Europe to condemn Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, and why Australia, alongside France and our other partners, is supporting Ukraine to defend itself.

We know – as do our European friends – that acquiescing to the demands of authoritarian regimes will only lead to further bullying.

What happens in Europe has repercussions in the Indo-Pacific, and vice versa, so now is the time for all of us to invest in strengthening relationships and standing up for our shared interests and values. We can achieve more by working together.

That’s why I’m committed to more collaboration with France in our military activities in the Indo-Pacific, building from our already sizeable cooperation. French fighter jets are currently participating in Exercise Pitch Black, Australia’s flagship multinational air exercise in the Northern Territory. I visited the exercise before I left Australia, meeting with French aviators who had flown more than 18,000 kilometres from their home bases in Metropolitan France.

And we will strengthen our military partnership with France in response to the impacts of climate change – a national security issue as well as an environmental one, especially for our shared Pacific family.

We are also working to grow our military ties with other European partners, recognising Europe’s increasing security role in the Indo-Pacific region.

France seeks an Indo-Pacific that is open and inclusive, free of all forms of coercion and governed in accordance with international law and multilateralism.  

Australia seeks that too. And as neighbours, friends and partners, we are committed to partnering with France in the shared pursuit of this goal.

In Europe and in the Indo-Pacific, we both seek the preservation of the rules-based international order that has allowed sovereignty to flourish, peace to be the norm and economies to thrive.

If we want that order to survive, then we must work together to protect it.

This opinion piece was first published in the French paper, Le Figaro on Thursday, 01 September 2022.

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