Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed he will visit French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris next week to formally “reset” diplomatic relations, which were thrown in the freezer after the Morrison government scrapped a massive deal to build 12 submarines.
- Anthony Albanese travels to Europe next week to attend the NATO summit
- He says Australia’s relations with France must be “nurtured, not damaged”
- Albanese has refused to confirm whether he will meet with the Ukrainian president
In an interview on ABC’s 7.30, Mr Albanese said he was invited to France by Mr Macron and expected to receive a warm welcome.
“We have to reset. We have already had very constructive discussions,” the prime minister added.
Earlier this month, the new Labor government announced that it had agreed to pay French shipbuilder Naval Group $ 835 million in compensation for the scrapped agreement.
A total of $ 3.4 billion was spent on the program, a figure that Mr Albanese described as an “extraordinary waste” of taxpayers’ money.
“France is, of course, central to power in Europe, but it is also a key power in the Pacific, also in our own region,” Mr Albanese told Leigh Sales.
“What we can offer is a relationship between our respective leaders that will not be leaked to create an opportunistic headline in the newspaper, a headline of respect and honesty in the way we treat each other.”
The submarine agreement with France came at a time when Mr Macron was talking about the future of the country as an “Indo-Pacific power” fully committed to the region.
During a visit to Sydney in 2018, the president said the submarines were only “the very beginning” of a closer relationship with Australia, which would be developed in “the next 50 years”.
France is considered a key partner in efforts to curb China’s growing power and influence in the Pacific.
Albanians wanted to attend the NATO summit and also called for a visit to Ukraine
Albanese will be in Europe next week for a larger-than-usual NATO summit, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the agenda.
The Ukrainian ambassador to Canberra, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, hopes the prime minister can use the trip to offer more military assistance to his war-torn country.
“We need more heavy weapons,” Mr Myroshnychenko said, adding that he hoped Australia would send more Bushmasters, a Bendigo-built troop ship.
“We have 40 Bushmasters … it would be great to get another 20,” he said.
“I think we’re getting a youngster [Ukrainian] boy called Bushmaster.
“I think it’s coming because Bushmaster is probably the most recognizable brand name in Australia in Ukraine right now, because if you mention Australia, the next thing you hear is ‘Bushmasters’.”
Albanese have also been invited to visit Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev. But as is usually the case for trips near conflict zones, he declined to confirm whether he accepted the offer.
“We’ll get national security advice on that,” Mr Albanese said.
“We do not want to cause a circumstance whereby there is a risk to Australian staff by making such a visit.
While much of the discussion in NATO is going to be about Russia’s invasion, some defense and intelligence experts are urging the prime minister to use his trip to remind allies of China’s growing goals for our region.
“They are trying to push us around and force us into our region of immediate strategic concern,” said Paul Dibb, a highly regarded analyst.
Sir. Dibb had an extensive career in Australian intelligence and defense and was the lead author of the 1987 Defense White Paper.
“Our Prime Minister, our Foreign Minister and our Minister of Defense need to keep in the center of their minds, deeply engraved, their first priority is the defense of this country and to ensure that our immediate region is not dominated by an aggressive expansionist power.” he said.
“It must be their first priority, and it must not be eroded by being enthusiastic, if I may, about Europe and NATO.”
The government will put “brakes” on spending in the October budget
Faced with a number of international and domestic challenges, the new government has also inherited a budget that is set to be more than a trillion dollars in debt in a few years.
With inflation and rising interest rates, the prime minister has said some things he would like to do in the government’s first budget in October have to wait.
“We’ll have to really put the brakes on some of the spending that is there,” Mr Albanese said.
“I have made it very clear that there are a number of things we would like to do that we will not be able to do in our first budget.
“We will also go through line by line and look 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 simply be about living up to the promises they made at the election,” said Danielle Wood of the Grattan Institute.
“I think when we get to next May, these fiscal challenges will really start to bite.”
Labor’s electoral obligation was not to raise taxes or have new ones – except on multinational companies – although in the longer term broader reforms may be needed.
“I think tax should be on the agenda,” Ms Wood said.
“It can just be the basis for change that the government can take for the next election.”
Watch the interview at 7.30 tonight on ABC TV and ABC iview.