This chapter examines the political, defence and security cooperation between Australia and France, including the agreed priority areas in key strategic documents, the evidence received about the current status of the relationship in these areas, and identification of opportunities for enhanced cooperation. Engagement between Australia and France in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean is also examined and considers the extent of current cooperative arrangements the between nations under the Antarctic Treaty System and areas of focus for future collaboration.
Political cooperation through high-level bilateral exchanges and dialogue was identified in the 2017 Joint Statement of Enhanced Strategic Partnership between Australia and France (Joint Statement) as an important area of focus for future engagement between Australia and France. The governments agreed to a number of measures in order to meet this objective, including conducting regular consultations between respective ministers and senior officials; exchanges between the Australian and French parliaments; enhanced engagement between senior officials, expert groups and research bodies in Australia and France; stepped up exchanges between the policy planning areas of the respective Foreign Ministries; and increased exchanges of diplomatic personnel.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) also noted the importance of high level contact between the countries in promoting cooperation and understanding. DFAT detailed progress on this element of the relationship:
In the Vision Statement, leaders agreed to launch the Australia-France Initiative (AFiniti) "to establish a lasting and prosperous relationship across all fields of human endeavour". Under AFiniti, Australia and France have increased work across government, industry and civil society. Ministers from a range of portfolios are directly engaged with this work, and there is a particular focus on the Indo-Pacific region.
His Excellency Mr Christophe Penot, the French Ambassador to Australia, described Australia and France as having 'built a very impressive political relationship' over the past five years. The Embassy of France noted the value of recent visits of senior government leaders:
There is a very high degree of political commitment on both sides to develop a strategic partnership which extends to all significant areas. President Macron's visit to Sydney in May 2018 was a great accelerator and it opened up new areas of cooperation in our bilateral partnership. In 2019 alone, there were four French ministerial visits to Australia. The Australian Prime Minister was invited by President Macron to the G7 Summit in Biarritz. We also started in 2019 a bilateral dialogue on national security and a ministerial dialogue on trade and investment.
High level visits and dialogues
Official visits and high level contact by national leaders are important in bilateral relationships. The Committee notes the historic visit to Australia by His Excellency Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic, in May 2018, his first visit to Australia, and the second by a French President. During this visit, President Macron held formal talks with the then Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, where the leaders agreed to the Vision Statement on the Australia-France Relationship (the Vision Statement), and launched the Australia-France Initiative (AFiniti).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have been in contact with their French counterparts. Other recent contact has included the Australian Prime Minister attending the G7 summit in Biarritz in August 2019 at the invitation of President Macron. Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP and President Macron also met at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires in late November 2019.
Mr Peter Jennings PSM, Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, appearing in a private capacity, advised that prime ministerial visits are seen as an important way of boosting bilateral relationships. He suggested that a visit by the Australian Prime Minister to France, with an accompanying business delegation, would update and add more substance to the 2018 Vision Statement. He saw this as an effective way to 'kickstart the relationship to another level because prime ministerial visits can do that if they're designed well'.
He suggested that such a visit could focus on three key areas:
First, strengthening our economic engagement by building trusted supply chains between the two countries in areas like rare earths, defence technology, space and cyber technology. Second establishing a deep discussion on China in order to align our approaches on how to engage with a more assertive Beijing. Finally, the PM should take a business delegation minded to identify export and joint venture opportunities.
The DFAT website includes details of 13 high-level visits between November 2014 and February 2019 at the Presidential, Governor-General, Prime Ministerial and Ministerial level. DFAT advised the Committee that Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, hosted the inaugural Australia-France Trade and Investment Dialogue in November 2019 with his French counterpart, Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Senator Birmingham underscored the significance of the meeting taking place in Adelaide:
South Australia is a key pillar of our bilateral relationship with France as home to the partnership that will build the French designed Attack Class Submarines, which will provide our navy with effective capability for decades to come and generate thousands of skilled Australian jobs.
I look forward to meeting Minister Le Drian again in France next year to continue to build on the 2018 Australia France Joint Vision Statement and the Australia-France Initiative that underpins Australia’s close partnership with France.
Ambassador Penot spoke to the Committee about the importance of dialogue across policy areas:
Our bilateral defence and security dialogue involves not only our ministers but also our military and defence officials at all levels. The cooperation between our forces, particularly between our two navies, is extremely close. Let me also mention that we have also established a new dialogue on national security, with Home Affairs, which covers cybersecurity and counterterrorism, among other things.
DFAT advised that Australia is broadening cooperation with France and the autonomous governments of New Caledonia and French Polynesia under the Pacific Step-Up, noting in particular the opening of a new diplomatic post in Papeete, French Polynesia, in early 2021.
Mutual support during crises
Mr Dougal McInnes, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Europe and Latin America Division, DFAT, observed that there has been close engagement between the nations during recent crises, namely COVID-19 and Australia's devastating bushfires:
During COVID the Prime Minister and foreign minister have been in contact with their French counterparts during the pandemic, and officials have worked closely with French and European officials to help Australians return home during the crisis and to help French citizens return home from Australia and around the Pacific. There was a similar show of solidarity during the 2019-20 bushfires in Australia, which saw the French send a reconnaissance team to Australia to consider how they could assist.
Ambassador Penot reiterated the importance of close high level engagement at this difficult period as both nations respond to the impact of COVID-19:
Our political leaders have had a lot of contact during the crisis—I believe that your Prime Minister and the French President will talk very soon. Our foreign ministers, our defence ministers, had bilateral talks also in May, and I think it is essential that we maintain the strong coordination between our two countries, because this is very much part of our strategic partnership. And of course we have worked together successfully in Geneva. It's very important. The Australian engagement was welcome. I think, in the future, we'll have a lot of opportunities to strengthen our partnership in the multilateral institutions.
Australia's defence and security cooperation with France is a central element of the Joint Statement. On signing the Joint Statement, the then Minster for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, and HE Jean-Marc Ayrault, the then French Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development, described this area of cooperation between the countries as 'the bedrock of our relationship for over a century'.
Underpinning the strong defence cooperation between the nations is a mutual commitment to the peaceful settlement of conflicts around the world, in accordance with international rules and norms, and the strengthening of international peace and security, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Vision Statement, in setting out a broad work agenda for bilateral cooperation, identifies bilateral defence cooperation as an important area of shared interest between with the two nations:
Reaffirming their mutual commitment to deepening bilateral defence cooperation, the two leaders note with satisfaction the strong and abiding engagement between our two nations in ensuring shared approaches to global security challenges and collaboration on key capabilities.
The Vision Statement welcomed the partnership in developing Australia's Future Submarine Program, noting the opportunities, not only for defence industry but across a range of sectors. The leaders also welcomed the signing of the Provision of Mutual Logistics Support Agreement between the Australian Defence Force and the French Armed Forces on 2 May 2018 to enhance interoperability. The Vision Statement also included agreement to organise a defence industry symposium to support defence industry cooperation, and development of an appropriately trained and skilled workforce to support close collaboration in the Australian naval industry.
The Embassy of France stated that France sees Australia as a major defence partner and that defence cooperation was central in building the strategic partnership:
The quality of our Defence relationship stems from a remarkable similarity of strengths, challenges and interests. Our strong bond of friendship was forged in the trenches of World War One. Since then, Australia and France have shared the same values and have both greatly contributed to building a stable rules-based international system. Both countries devote a large part of their budget to Defence and are ready to project their forces into high‑intensity operations, involving deployment of troops on the ground. France and Australia are strong allies of the United States, and show a commitment to ensure the stability and security of their respective adjacent region (sub‑Saharan Africa in the case of France, South Pacific in the case of Australia).
Department of Defence
The Department of Defence (Defence) described France as an important and significant partner for Australia both regionally and globally and noted in particular the historical ties, geographic proximity to French Territories in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and shared values and interests as significant factors underlying the relationship. While the defence relationship was formed over a century ago and has evolved through a changing global environment, Defence advised that the contemporary relationship continues in a 'positive trajectory':
… with activities growing in scale and complexity each year. There is a shared intent to continue deepening and broadening our partnership, including into new areas of cooperation such as security, science and industry collaboration.
The 2016 Defence White Paper noted the importance of engagement with like‑minded countries to 'generate and sustain defence capabilities with a far greater reach' than what could be achieved alone. It identified France as an important international defence relationship:
Australia and France share a longstanding and close defence relationship with a shared commitment to addressing global security challenges such as terrorism and piracy. We are strong partners in the Pacific where France maintains important capabilities and we also work closely together to support the security of our respective Southern Ocean territories. Under the FRANZ Arrangement between France, Australia and New Zealand the three partners coordinate humanitarian and disaster relief operations in the Pacific. Australian and French defence forces worked alongside each other to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to Vanuatu in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Pam.
It was noted by Defence that:
Political and Defence leaders from both nations have expressed a shared intent to continue deepening and broadening our defence partnership, including into new areas of cooperation such as security, science and industry collaboration.
Defence continues to be focussed on improving interoperability to allow for increased cooperation and a collaborative approach to new and emerging geostrategic challenges, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.
Defence advised that cooperation on defence and security matters is extensive and includes operations, exercises, visits, personnel exchanges and training.
Defence advised that in addition to the Mutual Logistics Support agreement noted above, Australia also has in place the 2009 Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic Regarding Defence Cooperation and Status of Forces on broader defence cooperation.
The Committee received evidence that the Indo-Pacific region is an area of growing strategic importance to Australia and a number of its international partners, including France (this is covered in detail in Chapter 5). In recognition of the strategic importance of the region, Australia and France engage in a range of defence activities in the Indo-Pacific.
Defence advised that it currently undertakes a number of activities with Pacific Island neighbours and regional partners, including France, as part of the government's enhanced engagement under the Pacific Step Up program which was announced in November 2018. The Embassy of France confirmed France's support of Australia's step up in the Pacific, advising that it 'plans to take part in the Blackrock project, the Pacific Fusion Centre and the Australian Pacific Security College'. Some of the current activities in which Australia and France cooperate in the Pacific includes training, combined exercises, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities.
Defence advised that:
Australia is committed to continue working with France in the Pacific bilaterally, as well as through other important regional mechanisms, such as the South Pacific Defence Ministers Meeting, to strengthen information‑sharing on respective regional capacity building activities and programs. This will be important to maximise the effectiveness and efficiency of our respective security investments in the region, particularly following the Australian Government’s Pacific Step Up … Close and enduring collaboration between our representatives and forces deployed in the region, in particular with FANC [French Armed Forces New Caledonia] and French Forces in French Polynesia (FAPF), will be critical in this effort.
Australia participates in the French Armed Forces New Caledonia's (FANC) biennial Exercise CROIX DU SUD, which it was noted is the region's largest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise.
Defence also noted that Australia works closely with France in the South Pacific through multilateral fora, including the FRANZ arrangement, signed on 22 December 1992, with New Zealand, to respond to natural disasters in the region. This is a civilian-led arrangement supported by defence forces where the three partners agree to coordinate disaster reconnaissance and relief assistance in the Pacific when requested by partner countries. Ambassador Penot commented on the effectiveness of this arrangement, noting the recent assistance provided to Pacific island nations impacted by Tropical Cyclone Harold.
Another important forum for regional security in the Pacific in which Defence participates is the Pacific Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group (QUAD), comprising Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States, in relation to maritime surveillance coordination. The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) advised of the important work the QUAD undertakes in relation to combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Pacific Ocean:
This group participates in an annual, multi-national fisheries surveillance operation called ‘Operation Nasse’, aimed at deterring IUU fishing and identifying operators that are not complying with the international fisheries rules in the Pacific.
Defence also advised of the participation of Australia and France in the biennial Western Pacific Naval Symposium.
Exercise LA PEROUSE is an example of Defence multilateral engagement with France through participation in combined exercises. This first iteration of this French-led multilateral exercise led, which also included Japan and the United States, took place in the Indian Ocean in 2019.
Defence advised that the FANC were planned to participate in Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2020, the annual Australian Defence Force activity comprising military force elements based around a major amphibious unit conducting operations, activities, and actions in the Indo-Pacific region. However, this was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region is covered further in Chapter 5.
Industry, science and materiel cooperation
Defence advised that Australia and France have a strong bilateral defence industry relationship, which is supported by a number of initiatives, with potential for new opportunities.
The Australia-France Defence Industry Symposium, one of the first initiatives to be delivered under the AFiniti framework, reinforces the defence industry ties between the two nations:
The Symposium provides an opportunity for industry and government representatives from each country to identify complementary capabilities and opportunities for cooperation.
The inaugural symposium was held in Adelaide on 24 and 25 September 2018 and Defence advised that the next was tentatively planned for 2020 in France.
Other initiatives to enhance defence industry cooperation, included support to Australian industry to attend French international trade shows and through targeted trade missions:
The Australian defence industry’s presence at French international trade shows under the Team Defence Australia banner continues to grow. In 2018, Team Defence Australia took 38 companies to Eurosatory and 46 companies to Euronaval. As an outcome of these trade shows, Australian and French companies have committed to progress joint ventures, collaborations and partnerships. Furthermore, Australian companies have progressed export opportunities at these trade shows, including securing export contracts.
The Committee was informed about the potential benefits to Australian industry through major capability projects:
Major capability projects such as the FSP [Future Submarine Program] not only build Australian defence industry capability, but also help partner nations, such as France, meet its defence needs by recognising Australia’s industry and its capabilities.
For Australian industry, participating in major acquisition programs has the potential to lead to greater access to global markets through the supply chains of defence primes. This is particularly true for the French market, and Defence has already seen Australian companies achieve success in France. For example, W&E Platt, a business based in Sydney that specialises in weapon mounts for the military vehicles and naval vessels, has had success in exporting weapon mounts to France. Australia remains committed to working with France to maximise Australian industry involvement in key capability projects with French companies.
Some further examples of engagement/exports involving Australian defence industry, French defence industry and/or the French military, were provided to the Committee:
Memko (headquartered in Victoria) is a provider of industry specific Products, Technology, Training and Engineering Solutions.
In 2018, Memko and French company Ingeliance formed a joint venture (Ingeliance Australia).
CableX (headquartered in Victoria) is a globally recognised manufacturer of custom cables and harness assemblies. In 2018, CableX was awarded an Airbus global supply chain contract for the manufacture and supply of electrical harnesses and bays for ARH Tiger and NH90 Taipan helicopters.
CableX has previously secured an Airbus Award for Best Global Supplier Airbus Helicopters 2016 for Industrial Performance across Quality, Schedule and Total Costs.
EM Solutions (headquartered in Queensland) is a trusted technology developer of innovative microwave and on-the-move radio and satellite products, and has become an integral part of the Thales supply chain.
EM Solutions was awarded a contract in 2012 to provide key Ka band components for a satellite terminal being developed by Thales in France.
EM Solutions has continued to supply Thales with components for a range of products for global customers.
W&E Platt (headquartered in New South Wales) specialises in the design, testing, prototyping, manufacture, installation and Integrated Logistics Support of weapon mounts and ordnance parts for law enforcement and military entities.
W&E Platt Weapon Mounts have been exported worldwide, including to France.
DroneShield (headquartered in New South Wales) is a worldwide leader in drone security technology.
DroneShield’s DroneGun Tactical has been trialled by the French Army and featured as part of their display during the 2019 Bastille Day parade in Paris. DroneShield are continuing to work with the French Armed Forces on further trials.
Defence also advised the Committee about the beneficial working relationship with of the newly established position of Defence and Security Director at the Australian Embassy in Paris, where it 'works closely with the newly established position … to identify and develop priority segments in the French market place'. Mr Peter Tesch, Deputy Director, Strategic Policy and Intelligence Group, Defence, elaborated at the hearing:
… the exchanges, both structured and, if you like, organic, as a matter of the daily intercourse through our embassies and across services afford great insights into our respective thinking. One of the areas of particular interest of course is the resilience of our respective societies, of our political systems, of our democratic systems and of our industrial bases. There is very good access that both embassies enjoy in each other's country to decision-makers and to policymakers that helps us better understand the scale and nature of the challenges, our respective policy responses to those and where in fact we can share lessons and identify patterns, perhaps, of behaviour.
Defence sees collaboration on science and technology projects as a potential area for producing significant mutual benefits for both countries. It noted the signing of an arrangement in 2019 to facilitate increased cooperation on a number of possible areas such as hydro-acoustics, fluid-structure interaction, lasers, high frequency radar, and nano-satellites. It also advised that Defence and the Direction Générale de l'Armement (DGA) will soon commence a joint research project on hydrodynamics.
The Committee also heard that representatives from Defence's Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group and France's DGA meet annually for the AUS-FRA Bilateral Armaments Committee which promotes information exchange and identifies future opportunities for cooperation in defence equipment procurement.
In addition to the Future Submarine Program (FSP), the Embassy of France informed the Committee of other significant defence acquisitions from France:
Australia has also acquired significant Defence equipment from France such as the Airbus Tiger/Armed Reconnaissance and Taipan/Multi-Role Helicopters, the Airbus KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport, the Thales sonars of the Collins submarines, the Thales One Sky aerial surveillance system, the Safran IRST [Infraread Search and Track]. Australian Defence equipment manufacturers linked to French groups such as Thales, Airbus, Safran, MBDA and Naval Group employ thousands of Australians with AIC [Australian Industry Capability] as a major focus.
The Northern Territory Government noted that they are building the largest ship lift in Northern Australia to position Darwin as a leading player in the marine services industry. This is discussed further in Chapter 2.
Future Submarine Program
The importance of the selection in 2016 of French shipping company Naval Group (previously DCNS) as Australia's international design and build partner for the FSP in elevating the strategic and defence relationship with France was noted by a number of submissions. Under the FSP, Naval Group will deliver 12 regionally superior Attack Class submarines for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).
Defence advised that the FSP would have a significant impact on strengthening the defence relationship over the coming years:
Defence views the Attack Class Submarine Program as a central pillar of the long-term relationship between Australia and France. The objectives of the Program, which include a regionally superior submarine capability, sovereignty and the maximisation of Australian industry involvement, require deep engagement between our nations at Government and industry levels.
As the largest defence procurement in Australia's history, Naval Group noted that the FSP will enhance not only the defence relationship between Australia and France, but rapidly expand the economic, industrial and cultural ties between the countries. Naval Group views the partnership under the FSP as:
… providing ballast to the France-Australia relationship and will result in extensive industrial and technical cooperation and considerable scope for growth in joint naval and military engagement between the two countries for decades to come.
The Embassy of France reiterated the above in describing the FSP as:
… a massive undertaking that provides a strong framework for 50 years of close industrial collaboration and ambitious research and training programs. This created a tremendous momentum for strengthening our cooperation across the whole spectrum of defense and security and in other areas as well.
Agreements and contract arrangements for the Future Submarine Program
A number of agreements and contracts have been entered into to support the delivery of the FSP. The Framework Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic concerning Cooperation on the Future Submarine Program (Framework Agreement) (signed, Adelaide, 20 December 2016) concerns cooperation on the FSP:
The Agreement formalises the assurance and commitments provided by the French Government for the development of a sovereign operational and sustainment submarine capability in Australia. These assurances and commitments include transfer of knowledge, skills and technology. Further, the Agreement defines the principles, framework and initial means of support and cooperation between the Australian and French Governments to help Australia achieve a sovereign operational and sustainment submarine capability.
Naval Group advised that:
The agreement commits Australia and France to a long term strategic partnership, recognising the two countries’ enduring commitment to the success of the program and the importance of maximising Australian industry involvement.
The French State acknowledges as part of the agreement that it is critical for Australia to achieve an enduring, self-reliant capability for the Future Submarine, and to independently operate, sustain and maintain the capability over the decades ahead.
The Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic regarding the Exchange and Reciprocal Protection of Classified Information (signed, Paris, 7 December 2016) facilitates the sharing of classified information and strengthens existing protections. While a stand-alone treaty action to strengthen arrangements for sharing classified information between France and Australia, it was tabled at the same time as the Framework Agreement to support collaboration and sharing in relation to the FSP.
On 3 May 2017, Defence, Naval Group and Lockheed Martin Australia (combat systems integrator) signed a Tripartite Co-operative Arrangement with a purpose to set out agreed operating principles for the three entities, although it is not a legally binding document and does not create a partnership of joint venture.
The Strategic Partnering Agreement (SPA), signed by Naval Group in February 2019, sets out the principles for cooperation over the life of the program; and the design contract was signed by Naval Group in March 2019. These contracts superseded the Future Submarine Program Design and Mobilisation Contract signed in September 2016. Naval Group advised that through the SPA:
… a fit-for-purpose strategic partnership framework with Naval Group has been achieved and addresses the Government's objectives for the Program.
These objectives include delivering a regionally superior submarine capability and maximising Australian industry involvement through all phases of the program.
Australian industry engagement and workforce
The engagement of Australian industry is a critical element in the delivery of the FSP. The Framework Agreement requires Naval Group to maximise Australian industry involvement. On signing the Agreement, the then Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, and the then French Minister for Defence, Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, noted that:
… the agreement … recognises the importance of maximising Australian industry involvement in the Future Submarine Program, including through deepening partnerships between Australian and French defence suppliers. This will drive innovation, jobs and economic growth right across Australia.
Defence advised that Naval Group has committed to spending at least 60 per cent of the Naval Group contract value in Australia, noting that this:
… commitment does not displace Naval Group's contractual obligation, to maximise Australian industry involvement in the Attack Class Program, but does reflect the growing understanding between Defence and Naval Group that at least this level of spend in Australia will be possible, as efforts continue to be made to maximise Australian industry involvement during the design and delivery of the 12 Attack Class submarines.
Naval Group explained the limitations on engaging Australian companies for elements of the FSP where some critical equipment are generally not produced in Australia. However, Naval Group advised that the tier 1, overseas companies awarded subcontracts for five major subsystems:
... have undertaken to establish industrial capacity in Australia and will engage local industry to supply components along with opportunities for assembly, test and installation.
Naval Group provided the Committee with an update on the progress in engaging Australian industry at this stage of the FSP. It advised that:
As at February 2020, Naval Group Australia has sent 3,207 requests for information and 1,495 Australian companies have responded to an Expression of Interest for critical, main and standard equipment, direct services and submarine construction yard equipment.
Naval Group also noted that two Australian suppliers, Berendsen Fluid Power and H H Machine Tools Australia, will partner with international companies for the procurement of submarine construction equipment. At the time of signing the contracts in November 2019, it was advised that they were the largest contracts signed by Naval Group Australia and would see Australian industry share in around $20 million worth of work:
These are huge and complex pieces of equipment and these partnerships will result in the creation of an enduring Australian capability, not currently in existence. The Australian companies will be transferred the knowledge, skills, documentation and tools to ensure they become in-country sustainment partners for at least the next 50 years.
In relation to workforce, Defence advised that at this stage of the program there is a sizable presence of Australians in France focussing on the preliminary design and the development of skills of Australians; but will see continued migration of activity back to Australia during the detailed design phase. More specifically, Naval Group advised that it currently employs over 200 people in Adelaide within its Australia subsidiary, and 500 people in France; with the projected direct workforce to grow to 1,800 in Naval Group Australia in 2028‑29.
Transfer of technology
As noted above, the Framework Agreement includes provision for the transfer of technology, and asserting Australia's sovereign operation and security of supply. Naval Group's submission explained that the transfer of technology is progressing in a number of forms, including:
person-to-person knowledge transfer via Australian engineering teams travelling to France in order to return home to form the design authority and implement the build program in Australia;
firm-to-firm exchange through partnerships between Naval Group's existing suppliers, international suppliers and Australian firms;
French and Australian businesses joining forces to support in-country development and production of primary and secondary equipment, for example through Australian subsidiaries; and
opportunities for competitive Australian firms to win work and become part of Naval Group's global supply chain.
Opportunities for collaboration on design enhancements/modifications
Mr Jennings suggested the need for consideration of nuclear propulsion for the Attack Class submarines:
It is inevitable that at some point Australia will need to look seriously at nuclear propulsion for our submarines. Our geography and the range requirements for our submarines make it sensible to start to explore the technology and the intellectual and physical infrastructure needed to sustain propulsion reactors. My expectation is that France will be open to this discussion.
Mr Jennings elaborated on this proposal at the hearing:
I actually think there are opportunities we could pursue not just with France but with the US and the UK, all of whom have nuclear-propelled submarines—the Americans exclusively so. I think it would be smart for us to spread our interest across those three countries with whom we have very close relationships. The first thing we have got to do, if we go down this path at all, is demonstrate that we are serious about it and that we are prepared to invest in the time and effort that will be necessary to give ourselves the capabilities that we will need to manage nuclear propulsion in the Navy.
The way we will have to do that is as those three navies have—the French, the Brits and the Americans—to develop a cadre of trained officers inside the Navy who understand nuclear systems and know how to operate them. And I think the only way we can do that is to lean on our relationships with those three navies and to start posting significant numbers of people into their navies—to sea ride on their submarines and to start to learn how these systems operate. Then there is the safety infrastructure and the maintenance infrastructure that will have to be built.
Frankly, I'm amazed that there is now what I would describe as an almost‑universal view that we should perhaps have looked at this a little earlier but that we definitely need to look at it now. I think that once government finally decides it can do that that a good place to start will be with the relationship with France, not forgetting the UK and the US at the same time.
Noting the current research underway at the University of Adelaide on autonomous systems, in collaboration with two other South Australian universities, CNRS International Research Laboratory, with Naval Group as industry partner, Mr Jennings saw this as an opportunity to commence a joint project on submarine autonomous systems:
The reason I'm identifying that … the future of submarine warfare is going to involve a range of autonomous systems which will be essentially floated off our Future Submarine to provide a distributed network of systems operating all at sea under the command of the submarine but making better use of autonomous systems. If you have, as we do, a project which is now going to last for half a century, we've got to be thinking about the weapons and the sensors that will be used on that submarine and how they will evolve over time.
Let's do a collaborative project with the French on this. They certainly have substantial interests and capabilities in this area, and I think we'd be able to move that along with government support. Much as I have great regard for the Defence department, the tendency for Defence is to focus on the major platform and let the weapons and sensors look after themselves.
Defence outlined extensive and longstanding engagement across the services of both countries, and including the FANC. Defence described the bilateral relationship between the services as 'strong', 'mature' and 'trusted', with engagement occurring through regular dialogue, exercises, operations, multilateral fora, individual training and exchanges.
This was reiterated by Defence at the public hearing:
They are very seized of the shift in geostrategic dynamics, and this is something that we are very keen to encourage. We are very actively engaged at the service-to-service level and also in ministerial and other senior official dialogues in being able to share our thinking and our planning and to look for synergies that also will manifest themselves in, perhaps, joint maritime exercises in the first instance.
Noting the shared maritime security interests, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, Defence suggested that there are new opportunities for the RAN and the Marine Nationale (MN) 'to refocus and enhance our relationship in order to further advance our shared objectives'.
Since 2007 the RAN and the MN have engaged in regular strategic talks:
… then, the two Navies have continued to grow closer at all levels and with after a decade of bilateral discussions, remain committed to strengthening and deepening this important relationship.
Annual Navy-to-Navy talks, co-chaired by the Major general de la Marine and the Deputy Chief of Navy, provide an important forum for wide-ranging discussions:
It is a forum in which to discuss future initiatives and opportunities and, in an environment of trust, to also discuss any aspects of our relationship on which we can improve.
Defence advised that the Australian and French armies hold annual talks and there is annual dialogue between Australian Special Operations Command and its French counterparts. The Committee was provided with information that the tactical engagement between the armies is mostly through French units on rotation as part of the FANC, where for example, contingents participate in shooting and military skills competitions, and field training exercises in Australia, while Australian engagement in Europe focusses on individual training and exchanges.
Defence advised that the Royal Australian Air Force and the French Air Force (FAF) have a strong relationship and the FAF is a key partner in Europe and the Pacific. Additionally, it was advised that both nations support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and participate in combined exercises in Australia and New Caledonia. The FAF also participates in the biennial Exercise PITCH BLACK, for training in high-end air combat capability.
The Embassy of France also commented on the level of personnel engagement between the services:
… an Australian Navy Captain is embedded in the French Chief of Navy’ staff, a French Army Liaison Officer is posted to Defence Headquarters in Russell and has an Australian counterpart in the Army staff in Paris. Another French officer is flying Australian KC-30A aircrafts based at RAAF Amberley.
The Joint Statement noted that security, and in particular counter-terrorism, plays a central role in the strategic partnership. The two Governments reasserted the importance of close bilateral cooperation to address major international security issues of common concern.
Priority areas in bilateral cooperation on security and intelligence matters were also set out in the Vision Statement:
The two leaders underlined the deep and reciprocal trust between the two countries and recalled the importance of developing our partnerships on information exchange, cyber security, counter terrorism and countering foreign interference.
Department of Defence
The Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic regarding the Exchange and Reciprocal Protection of Classified Information (General Security Agreement), entered into force on 4 May 2017, provides for the policies and practices for the exchange and reciprocal protection of classified information between the parties. Defence advised that it understands France intends to update its security classification system, thereby necessitating an update to the General Security Agreement and welcomes this as an:
… opportunity to further enhance and streamline our information sharing, important both in support of the FSP and our wider strategic relationship.
Defence also advised that the security relationship with France is supported through the FSP Bilateral Security Working Group, established under the FSP Strategic Partnering Agreement. This working group provides oversight and guidance in relation to physical security, counter-espionage and cyber security arrangements for information and technology exchanges.
Department of Home Affairs
The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) works to protect Australia and Australians from key national security and criminal threats with responsibility for:
… immigration and customs border policy, as well as national security and law enforcement policy, emergency management (including crisis management and disaster recovery), counter terrorism policy and coordination, cyber security policy, counter foreign interference policy and coordination, critical infrastructure protection, multicultural affairs, countering violent extremism programs, and transport security.
Home Affairs advised the Committee of the importance of working with both domestic and international partners in carrying out its work to protect the safety, security and national interests of Australia. It noted that it continues to build relationships with likeminded partner countries, including France, in support of common interests.
Home Affairs advised that its security relationship with France is 'increasingly positive' and set out for the Committee the wide-ranging engagement with France on key initiatives which are supported through people-to-people links, dialogue, established and enduring arrangements, and participation in regional and global fora:
Home Affairs sees the contemporary relationship with France, and relevant multilateral organisations based in Paris, as one that is maturing towards sophisticated and deep engagement across a range of complex issues.
Home Affairs also advised that the AFiniti program:
… has effectively removed any further barriers to building a close, collaborative relationship with key security agencies within the French Government.
Home Affairs advised on the arrangements in place to enable Australia and France to work cooperatively on maritime security, border protection, transnational crime and fisheries enforcement challenges, including the following:
Treaty between the Government of Australia with the Government of the French Republic on Cooperation in the maritime areas adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and the McDonald Islands which came into force in February 2005.
An Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement of Fisheries Laws between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic in the Maritime Areas Adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and the McDonald Islands which came into force in January 2011.
A Memorandum of Understanding between the Customs Administrations of Australia and France on Customs Co-operation and Mutual Assistance in Customs Matters, which came into force in 2002 and was updated in 2014.
Australia-France Strategic Dialogue on National Security
Within the AFiniti program, Home Affairs has established the Australia-France Strategic Dialogue on National Security (AFSDNS) which it co-chairs with the French Secretariat-General for National Defense and Security, and is supported by respective security and border management agencies. This initiative focusses on a number of mutually agreed approaches, including in relation to:
sharing best practice on counter-terrorism, foreign terrorist fighter policies, and programs to combat violent extremism;
exchanging information on strengthening cyber security;
enhancing operational collaboration and information exchange with key French maritime and law enforcement agencies on efforts to combat the trafficking of illicit substances and narcotics, human trafficking and illegal foreign fishing in the Indo-Pacific region; and
exploring opportunities for greater collaboration on critical and enabling technologies and civil protection and disaster management related capabilities, processes and support arrangements.
Home Affairs noted that the AFSDNS would also provide a forum for Australia and France to share lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and opportunity for collaboration on responses to future global pandemics.
Home Affairs provided some examples of initiatives that are supported under the AFSDNS.
Sharing best practice on counter-terrorism
The Committee was informed by Mr Chad Hodgens, Assistant Secretary, Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa, International Policy Division, Homes Affairs, that Australian agencies, led by Home Affairs, collaborated closely with France on the second No Money for Terror Ministerial conference in November 2019, building on the inaugural event in Paris in 2018:
The event brought together over 60 nations in Melbourne to build a more detailed understanding of the evolving terrorist threat and of terrorist financing risks, trends and methods, in particular the use of emerging technologies to finance, radicalise and recruit their members; to highlight best practice across participating nations, regions and the private sector; and to reaffirm our collective commitment as nations that respect and uphold the rule of law to work collaboratively to more effectively counter terrorism and violent extremism.
Enhanced operational collaboration and information with French maritime and law enforcement agencies
Home Affairs advised that it has enhanced operational collaboration and information exchange with key French maritime and law enforcement agencies, including:
i. As part of the Pacific Step-up, Home Affairs is working closely with the French Government and the governments of New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna to enhance the Pacific’s regional security cooperation, particularly on transnational crime and maritime security.
ii. Home Affairs Portfolio agencies and French maritime and security agencies are collaborating to reinforce multinational cooperation to combat transnational organised crime in the Indo-Pacific, including efforts to enhance engagement and cooperation in the Pacific and Indian Ocean French Territories.
iii. Engagement in the Indo-Pacific will be further enhanced in late 2020 through the possible posting of a French Police Law Enforcement Attaché to Canberra. This position is still pending confirmation from French authorities given the impact of COVID-19 and associated travel restrictions.
iv. The AFP continues to encourage French law enforcement to increase joint operational engagement in the Pacific, through:
- participation in the Pacific Transnational Serious and Organised Crime Taskforce comprising representatives from Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand and Australia;
- development of a Statement of Conclusions between the AFP and the French National Gendarmerie to reinforce cooperation on transnational organised crime;
- greater collaboration between the AFP and French Law Enforcement in the field of forensics best practice and technology;
- increased French law enforcement engagement in the Pacific Transnational Crime Network; and
- encouraging the establishment of additional Transnational Crime Units in each of the French Pacific territories.
v. AUSTRAC’s recently established, and DFAT-funded, Pacific regional capacity-building program. This program provides opportunities for burden sharing and collaboration with France on areas of mutual interest – particularly for programs in Pacific island countries with longstanding French equities or cultural ties.
Greater collaboration on disaster management related capabilities
Home Affairs advised that France has invited Australia to attend the next fire‑fighters' congress in Marseille in October 2020. This follows on from assistance provided to Australia during the bushfire crisis in 2020.
Enhanced maritime cooperation in Indo-Pacific
To enhance maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, Home Affairs, alongside DFAT, are working closely with the French government. More information on maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific is detailed in Chapter 5.
National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator
The National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator position, within Home Affairs, was established in 2018 to coordinate Australia's whole-of-government efforts to respond to acts of foreign interference. The Coordinator and senior French officials hold regular discussions on policies and strategies to counter foreign interference.
Home Affairs also noted its active involvement with multilateral international bodies headquartered in France, including INTERPOL on law enforcement issues; the Financial Action Task Force to develop and implement international standards to combat money laundering and terrorism financing; and the OECD to address transnational security threats.
Indian Ocean environmental security
Environmental stresses and the impact of climate change have contributed to transnational security challenges in the Indian Ocean. More detail is included in Chapter 5.
Antarctic and Southern Ocean
Australia and France are geographical neighbours in Antarctica, with the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT) bordering France's Antarctic territory on both sides, and the French-Italian station Concordia located in the AAT. Both nations also possess neighbouring island territories in the sub-Antarctic region; for France, the Kerguelen and Crozet Islands, and for Australia, the Territory of Heard and McDonald Islands.
The Vision Statement reaffirmed the enduring cooperation and engagement between Australia and France in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean region:
The two leaders renewed their commitment to the Antarctic Treaty System and its role in guaranteeing freedom of scientific investigation, reserving Antarctica exclusively for peaceful purposes and the protection of its environment, including the prohibition of any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research.
The Vision Statement outlined priority areas and opportunities for enhanced engagement to advance shared policy, science and logistic objectives.
DFAT was positive in regard to Australia's engagement with France in the Antarctic and South Ocean region, describing France as a key partner in governance and management of Antarctica:
Australia and France were instrumental in the negotiations on the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which is important in prohibiting mining in that region. So I think we are very like-minded with our French partners in that respect. More recently, we've been working closely with France on conservation in the Southern Ocean around marine protected areas. That has certainly been a key part of our collaboration.
Australia and France have significant interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and share a history of engagement through the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). The ATS refers to the set of agreements between nations which govern activities in Antarctica and its surrounding seas. Australia and France are both parties to all instruments of the ATS. It is made up of four major international agreements which form an international governance framework for the region:
the 1959 Antarctic Treaty
the 1972 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals
the 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)
the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.
In noting the strong shared history on engagement, DAWE stated that both countries were original signatory nations to The Antarctic Treaty and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources; and were the lead proponents of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.
Dr David Brewster from the National Security College raised concerns about how effectively the ATS is currently working:
… the Antarctic Treaty system is under significant stress. One of the reasons for that, I suppose, is that the agendas of some of the new entrants into that system aren't necessarily the same as the agendas of some of the older members of the system. In some ways that could be expected, and it's not unreasonable. But, with countries like China and Russia, there does appear to be a long-term agenda to extract resources from the Antarctic.
While noting a strong and cooperative program with China, Dr Brewster pointed to recent tensions as a reason for Australia to diversify its Antarctic partnership:
I think that will somewhat balance what some might argue is a potential for reliance on China, and France is one of the key candidates. It has significant interest in the Antarctic but also, importantly, in the subantarctic islands owned by France.
On the operation of the ATS, Dr Rob Wooding, General Manager, Policy and International, Australian Antarctic Division, DAWE, reassured the Committee that:
… it is Australia's view … that the treaty is a very robust treaty indeed. It has stood the test of time, for almost 61 years now. It has actually preserved and protected Antarctica as a place for peace and science. We believe it continues to work very effectively in that way. Obviously, there are still issues that are being explored. I mentioned issues under CCAMLR, around the east Antarctic marine protected area. There's more to be done, but we strongly believe that the treaty system is working extremely well, as it was intended to work, and it remains robust.
DAWE described France as a key partner of Australia in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean with deep engagement in the governance and management of the region through the international agreements and fora of the ATS:
Australia is well placed to continue to cooperate on science, coordination, data-sharing, and efficient sharing of logistics with France in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Australia's cooperation with France has meant we are viewed as a trusted partner, our expertise experience is valued, and Australia's interests in Antarctica and the Southern Oceans are protected.
DAWE outlined a range of areas of cooperation between Australia and France in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean region and saw opportunities for enhanced engagement in these areas. For example, both nations work closely on fisheries matters, including fisheries surveillance and monitoring for certain external territories, such as Kerguelen Islands and New Caledonia to manage the toothfish fisheries.
The Committee was also informed of Australia and France working together as 'leading and influential' Antarctic nations to pursue shared strategic goals within the ATS. For example, DAWE advised that since 2012 Australia and France (together with the European Union) have been seeking the adoption of the East Antarctic Marine Protected Area in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
DAWE noted Australia's and France's 'shared interest in scientific excellence and innovation' which presents opportunities for strengthening cooperation in scientific research and innovation. For example, DAWE advised that France and Australia have contributed to scientific ventures, including ice coring projects in cooperation within the International Partnerships in Ice Core Sciences which were described as highly collaborative; and both nations undertook cooperative glaciological work on an Antarctic traverse from Concordia station towards the South Pole.
The Committee heard evidence about the benefits from France using Hobart as a node of logistical support. In addition to the opportunity it creates for interaction and collaboration with French scientists, administrators and operational staff moving through Hobart, DAWE also noted the significant economic benefits from France's use of Hobart as an 'Antarctic gateway':
The French national Antarctic program delivers most of the resupply and personnel changeover for these three stations from Hobart each summer through 4-5 voyages of its icebreaker L'Astrolabe. Consequently, most of the supplies and much of the equipment used by the French national Antarctic program are purchased from Tasmanian businesses. French scientists, administrators and operational staff frequently visit the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) in Hobart en route to and from Antarctica, and this has promoted a significant amount of collaboration between the two nations.
Dr Rob Wooding, General Manager, Policy and International, Australian Antarctic Division, DAWE, reiterated that a key priority for collaboration between France and Australia is the opportunity for cooperation in the operational arrangements around aviation and shipping, that is, 'helping each other getting to and from Antarctica'. He also identified working together to achieve a marine protected area in eastern Antarctica, and research in the area of glaciology and climate science as key priorities for cooperation.
Dr Brewster also outlined areas for cooperation between the countries in the region:
I think we've seen some heartening cooperation between Australia and France, including the sponsorship of the three marine protected zones around the Antarctic to prevent fishing in those zones. That has been opposed by China and Russia. If those zones are to continue then the partnership with France will be really quite essential.
In the subantarctic islands, as the committee may well know, there's an arrangement for the sharing of resources between Australia and France for the maritime surveillance of areas around Australia's Heard Island and McDonald Islands and France's Kerguelen Island. This is really quite innovative in terms of each country allowing the other to have sea riders on their vessels or planes so that there is a sharing of resources…
… Also, I think the development of a new runway at Davis station has opened a whole raft of potential new cooperative arrangements in terms of logistics and scientific research involving France. France already puts much of its logistics through Hobart, and I think that's the start of what could be a really significant partnership between the two countries, in the Antarctic and subantarctic regions.
The National Security College suggested there was scope for enhanced cooperation between Australia and France through a joint logistics exercise focussing on environmental management in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.
Both Home Affairs and DAWE noted the arrangements in place to support maritime security and facilitate cooperative enforcement activities between Australia and France to address fisheries enforcement challenges and encourage scientific research on marine living resources:
a Treaty between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic on Cooperation in the Maritime Areas adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and the Macdonald Islands (entered into force in 2005); and
an Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement of Fisheries Laws between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic in the Maritime Areas adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and the McDonald Islands (entered into force in 2011).
DAWE noted the benefits derived from the non-binding 2012 Memorandum of Agreement on Antarctic Cooperation between the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) within DAWE and the French Polar Institute Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV) for cooperation on Antarctic science, coordination, data-sharing and sharing of logistics:
The AAD and IPEV share Antarctic logistical capabilities on an annual basis through collaborate "quid-pro-quo" arrangements. For example, previously France has provided shipping support to Macquarie Island while Australia has provided aviation access through Wilkins Aerodrome. In 2019-20 IPEV requested, and was provided, assistance from the AAD to resupply Dumont d'Urville and the two joint French-Italian stations following damage to its icebreaker L'Astrolabe.