Press conference - Paris, France

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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31 January 2023



RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you. Can I just start by saying how delighted Penny and I both are, being here in Paris, to renew my really good friendship with Sébastien and to meet you today, Catherine. Today, we've conducted our meetings on a first name basis, with a high degree of warmth, as we've gone about the important business of the bilateral relationship between Australia and France. And I think the personal warmth between the four of us really characterises in a perfect way, the return of warmth to the bilateral relationship between Australia and France. And that really began last year when Prime Minister Albanese met with President Macron here in Paris, which really began a new era in French-Australian relations, which we are really happy to progress today with our two plus two meeting. And that could not be coming at a more important time, given the fragility of the global rules-based order which we see in the Indo Pacific, but which we obviously also see in Eastern Europe. France is our closest neighbour. France is a liberal democracy in the Indo-Pacific, which shares a vision of a globe which is governed by a global rules-based order. And in that sense, as our closest neighbour, France is really in the very top tier of relationships that Australia has with any country in the world. And that's been absolutely reaffirmed in the meeting that we have had today. And as we have conducted our conversations today, there has been much discussion about how as two countries which stand for the global rules-based order, how we can do more to work together in upholding it. That's very much the case in respect of Eastern Europe, and in supporting Ukraine, in the face of the unprovoked aggression by Russia. And as Sébastien said, we are really pleased to be able to announce today, Australia and France working together in providing a supply of 155mm ammunition to Ukraine. This forms part of the ongoing level of support that both France and Australia is providing Ukraine to make sure that Ukraine is able to stay in this conflict, and be able to see it concluded on its own terms. It is a multi-million dollar project and it represents, as Sebastian said, a novel cooperation between Australian and French defence industry, and we're really proud today to be able to make that announcement. It speaks of the growing and deepening relationship between our two defence forces , which we've seen with high level meetings, as Sébastien said, at the Chief of Defence Force level between our two armed forces, at the level of our Departments of Defence.

We're seeing a much greater tempo of Australia and France, working with each other in exercises in Croix du Sud, in Talisman Sabre, and in Pitch Black last year, where France participated at an unprecedented level. This speaks to a growing military to military relationship. And we're also seeing it in terms of the Reciprocal Access Agreement which we seek to pursue, which will see greater access between Australia and France with our respective defence facilities. This is a step that Australia has only taken with but a very few countries, and to me moving down this path with France speaks to how importantly we regard our relationship with France, and our defence relationship with France. Sébastien mentioned the letter of intent that we signed today in terms of cooperation in respect of space, and we see this as a really important field where we can be working together. And it also speaks to a much greater cooperation, which we both aspire to, in terms of technological cooperation between our two defence forces.

And finally, there is no more important place for this cooperation to be given expression than in the Pacific, where both France and Australia live. And this is not only in deepening the relationship between our defence forces in the Pacific, but working together in deepening our respective relationships with the defence forces of the Pacific Island countries, countries such as Papa New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga. And there is much that we can do together in deepening those relationships and as Sebastian said working, particularly in respect of training, is a real opportunity for France and Australia to work together to build the capability of the defence forces of Pacific Island countries. All of this speaks to a growing level of cooperation between our two countries, not just in respect of defence, but across the board. And what we've really seen today is an ongoing evolution in what really is a new era of cooperation, friendship, and warmth between Australia and France.

PENNY WONG, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thank you very much. Can I start by thanking Catherine and Sébastien for your generous hospitality today in this beautiful setting, and to say how much we appreciate the effort you've made in getting the two plus two on track today, and how much we've appreciated you making so much time available to us. I was very appreciative, Catherine, you called me very early on when I first became Foreign Minister and we've met, I think this is the third time, so I appreciate very much the effort you've invested in this relationship, France, we are deeply invested to in this relationship. As Richard said, we see we have great ambition for this relationship. France is a global power, it's a member of the P5, it's a nuclear power, it's a member of the G7, it is key to the European Union, and critically, it is an Indo-Pacific power. And we share values. I think Sebastian used the phrase strategic closeness. We do. We share values, we share interests, at a time where the world is being reshaped. So we place great emphasis on the cooperation with France, in the Indo-Pacific region. We both share an interest in, a desire for, a world that is peaceful, that is stable, that is prosperous and that is respectful of sovereignty. And the work we are doing together and seek to do together is directed towards that end, a world that is peaceful, stable, and respectful of sovereignty. As Catherine said, We are pleased with the work that has been done, both by officials and also the subject of previous discussions between Catherine and I, for the bilateral roadmap that the President and the Prime Minister described. And we look forward to that being finalised in the near future. It outlines the cooperation that we want to engage with and focus on the Indo-Pacific.

Can I also thank France and Catherine for the indication today of the support for Australia's seeking to host the Conference of the Parties, number 31. Climate change is, as we all know, an existential issue. We respect and are grateful for France's leadership in establishing, or facilitating, the Paris Agreement. We want to, through this bid to host the Conference of the Parties, we want to work with Pacific Island nations to elevate their voices in the international forum on climate change, because they bring to that discussion a very acute and existential understanding of what climate change means. We spoke a great deal about the cooperation over and above climate change in the Pacific. We recognise that the Pacific Island Forum and then at the members of that forum, which includes French territories, is an arena where we want to cooperate very closely and we look forward to continuing to do that. So I want to simply close by thanking you again for your generous hospitality and for the frank and warm dialogue today.

REPORTER: Jacqueline Magnay from The Australian newspaper. America has just revealed some quite gross deficiencies in their naval ship shipyards, and my question to the French ministers is, can you trust Australia? And is President Macron’s offer to supply interim submarines still on the table? And to Deputy Prime Minister Marles on the same thing, how are you looking to bridge that ever widening capacity gap for nuclear-propelled submarines?


MARLES: We're obviously working closely with the United States and the United Kingdom to develop a nuclear-powered submarine capability and to develop the optimal pathway to achieve that capability. And we will be in a position to make our announcements about that soon, which is the schedule that was in fact established 18 months ago. I think the short answer to your question is that there are no plans for any conventional - conventionally powered interim submarine capability, as we move towards gaining the nuclear-powered submarine capability, which we are working towards.

REPORTER: Rob Harris from the Sydney Morning Herald. In the past few days there's been a leaked memo from US General with the Air Force, Minihan, warning of potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait by 2025. Given both interests in the Indo-Pacific here, do you take his view seriously? And secondly, considering the increased military aid to the Ukraine from the West, how well resourced are both nations, or is the West, to undertake a conflict in in the Indo-Pacific?

WONG: Can I start by making this point, and I've made it at the United Nations and also in Washington when I was there, and it's a point about agency and it's a point about guardrails. And the point about agency is this, you know, we all have a choice to make about how we deal with escalating strategic competition. And the choice that we believe we should make is to utilise our efforts to elevate our capability in order to promote peace and stability. And that is the focus of our capability piece. That is the focus of our diplomatic piece. And that is the focus of how we will talk about these sorts of issues. It's critical for humanity that we do not allow the competition between great powers to escalate into conflict. That's critical, because it would be disastrous. And so what I would say is we ought never assume that we have no agency, we should be one; arguing for the sorts of guardrails that President Biden has spoken about to ensure that competition does not escalate into conflict, and we should in relation to Taiwan, as you know, we should be resolute in our view that there should be no unilateral change to the status quo.


REPORTER (VIA TRANSLATOR): Good afternoon. I’d like to know what the (inaudible). You seem to have contracts in the space industry, but when it comes to strictly military matters (inaudible) it seems to us there is nothing new. And then you will be visiting London, a member of AUKUS, do you think there could be a door in this alliance for France, one way or another, at some point?

MARLES: The relationship with the United States and the United Kingdom through AUKUS is not an alliance, it's a fundamentally a relationship which is about the sharing of technology. And obviously, the heart of it right now is the UK and the US working together obviously with Australia to enable Australia to have a nuclear-powered submarine capability. We work very closely with France and that has been the tenor of the conversation that we've had today. Working closely on building our interoperability, working closely on building having a much greater sense of operation between our two defence forces, working much more closely in respect of our defence industry and in sharing technology. And so, you know, we want to see a growing and a building of our relationship with France in a defence context. And that's really been the subject of the conversations that we've had today.


REPORTER (VIA TRANSLATOR): AFP. You don’t want to give more details, but I’m going to insist a bit. I am trying to understand why, for example, these 155 munitions must be produced jointly. The powder that you mentioned, coming from Australia, it’s not available in France? Or is there a resolve to present cooperation within the realm of communication? And President Zelenskyy wants a swiftness, what is the delivery timeframe?

MARLES: So I'll be vague, in line with what Sébastien has said, and that's important in terms of protecting the operational fidelity of what this will be used for. But there are some unique capabilities that exists in Australia, and some synergies that can be achieved by Australia and France working together in relation to the supply of this ammunition. So they're actually complementarities between our defence industrial bases which allow this to happen. So it makes sense. But it's also true that we wanted to act together as a statement about how importantly Australia and France regard the support of Ukraine in the current conflict. And both of us have supported Ukraine, separately in other ways, but we wanted to make it really clear that Australia and France do stand together in support of Ukraine in the face of this Russian aggression. So that there is genuine complementarity between our defence industrial bases, which allows this particular project to happen, but yeah, we unashamedly want to work together. And it's a really important statement that Australia and France is working together in supporting Ukraine.




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