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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to visit Paris to 'reset' Australia's relationship with France

ABC Business logoABC Business 23/06/2022
Emmanuel Macron has invited Anthony Albanese to meet with him in France.  (ABC News/AP Photo) © Provided by ABC Business Emmanuel Macron has invited Anthony Albanese to meet with him in France.  (ABC News/AP Photo)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed he will visit French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris next week to formally "reset" diplomatic relations, which were flung into the freezer after the Morrison government scrapped a massive deal to build 12 submarines.

In an interview on the ABC's 7.30, Mr Albanese said he was invited to France by Mr Macron and expected to receive a warm welcome.

"We do need to reset. We've already had very constructive discussions," the Prime Minister added.

Earlier this month, the new Labor government announced it had agreed to pay French shipbuilder Naval Group $835 million in compensation for the scrapped deal.

In total, $3.4 billion was spent on the program, a figure Mr Albanese labelled an "extraordinary waste" of taxpayer money.

"France, of course, is central to power in Europe, but it's also a key power in the Pacific, in our own region as well," Mr Albanese told Leigh Sales.

"It's just one of the reasons why this needs to be a relationship that's nurtured, not damaged.

"What we can offer is a relationship between our respective leaders that won't be leaked in order to make an opportunistic headline in the newspaper, one of respect and honesty in the way that we deal with each other." 

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton welcomed the meeting but said he stood by the former government's decision to scrap the French contract in favour of nuclear submarines. 

"The previous government made a decision that was in our national security interest, on all of the advice we had … the submarine the French provided wasn't going to provide the security and the defences that we needed … and so I don't make an apology for the decision we made," he said. 

The submarine deal with France came at a time when Mr Macron was talking up the country's future as an "Indo-Pacific power" fully committed to the region.

On a visit to Sydney in 2018, the President said the submarines were just the "very beginning" of a closer relationship with Australia that would be developed for "the coming 50 years".

France is considered a key partner in efforts to limit China's expanding power and influence in the Pacific.

Albanese set to attend NATO summit and also urged to visit Ukraine

Mr Albanese will be in Europe next week for a larger-than-normal NATO summit, where the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be the main item on the agenda.

The Ukrainian ambassador in Canberra, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, is hopeful the Prime Minister might use the trip to offer more military assistance to his war-torn country.

"We need more heavy weaponry," Mr Myroshnychenko said, adding he hoped Australia would send more Bushmasters, a Bendigo-built troop carrier.

"We've got 40 Bushmasters … it would be great to get another 20," he said.

"I think it's coming that we'll get a young [Ukrainian] boy called Bushmaster.

"I think it's coming because Bushmaster is probably the most recognisable brand name of Australia in Ukraine right now, because if you mention Australia the next thing you hear is 'Bushmasters'."

Mr Albanese has also been invited to visit Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. However, as is usually the case for trips near conflict zones, he declined to confirm whether he was taking up the offer.

"We're getting national security advice on that," Mr Albanese said.

"We don't want to cause a circumstance whereby there's risk to Australian personnel by undertaking such a visit.

"We'll take that advice and we'll act accordingly."

Even though much of the discussion at NATO is going to be about Russia's invasion, some defence and intelligence experts are urging the Prime Minister to use his trip to remind allies of China's growing aims for our region.

"They're trying to push us around and coerce us in our region of immediate strategic concern," Paul Dibb, a highly regarded analyst, said.

Mr Dibb had an extensive career in Australian intelligence and defence, and was the primary author of the 1987 Defence White Paper.

"Our Prime Minister, our Foreign Minister and our Defence Minister need to keep at the centre of their minds, deeply etched in, their first priority is the defence of this country and making sure that our immediate region is not dominated by an aggressive expansionist power," he said.

"That has to be their first priority and it must not be eroded by being excited, if I may so, about Europe and NATO."

Government to put 'brakes' on spending in October budget

Faced with a number of international and domestic challenges, the new government has also inherited a budget that is on track to be more than a trillion dollars in debt in a few years' time.

With inflation and interest rates rising, the Prime Minister has said some things he would like to do in the government's first budget in October will have to wait.

"We're going to have to really put the brakes on some of the spending which is there," Mr Albanese said.

"I've made it very clear there are a range of things we would like to do that we won't be able to do in our first budget.

"We will also be going through, line by line, looking for the waste."

A number of economists predict the government will have to start a difficult conversation about how the nation pays for the services Australians have come to expect.

"I expect the October budget will be simply about delivering on the promises they took to the election," Danielle Wood from the Grattan Institute said.

"I think by the time we get to next May, those fiscal challenges are going to be really starting to bite."

Labor's election commitment was to not raise taxes or have new ones — except on multinationals — though, in the longer term, broader reform may be required.

"I think tax has to be on the agenda," Ms Wood said.

"That may just be making the case for changes that the government might take to the next election."

Watch the interview on ABC iview.

Video: Albanese ‘moving forward’ with France relations (Sky News Australia)


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