The Committee recognises that France is an important and significant partner for Australia, both globally and in our region. It is a key partner strategically, economically as well as culturally and socially. The relationship is underpinned by historical ties, shared values as well as shared global, multilateral and regional interests and strong people to people links.
The Committee was pleased to hear of the shared commitment by Australia and France to enhanced high-level bilateral engagement in order to develop a strong strategic partnership and promote cooperation across all of areas of government, industry and civil society. Since the signing of the Joint Statement of Enhanced Strategic Partnership, Australia welcomed His Excellency Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic in May 2018 for an official visit, and engagement at the ministerial level has gained momentum with four ministerial visits to Australia in 2019.
The Committee understands that high level contact and visits are important in promoting cooperation and understanding between the two countries. The Committee agrees with the suggestion that an Australian prime ministerial state visit to France is a valuable way to build goodwill and stimulate engagement in a number of priority areas.
The Committee recommends that the Prime Minister of Australia visit France with a focus on strengthening strategic cooperation and economic engagement, including a business delegation to identify export and joint venture opportunities.
While ministerial contact is increasing, the Committee believes there is potential to explore further ministerial visits and contact as well as parliamentary engagement through delegations.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government explore opportunities to increase the number of ministerial and parliamentary visits to France.
The Committee notes that the 2018 Vision Statement on the Australia-France Relationship (Vision Statement) required the respective foreign ministers to oversee the preparation of a joint report to the leaders on the AFiniti initiative. This AFiniti report was delivered in 2019 but was not released publicly. During the course of the inquiry, the Committee heard of a number of initiatives established under AFiniti which have been enormously beneficial to both nations and sees value in a public report on these to track progress and achievements.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider releasing a progress report periodically on achievements under AFiniti to record the progress and achievements on the planned work agenda agreed between the nations.
Bilateral cooperation on defence is a central element of the Australia-France relationship. With a bond going back to the First World War, the Committee heard evidence that the current partnership is stronger than ever as both nations recognise the opportunities for engagement through shared mutual interests as strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific region. The Committee was informed of the extensive areas of defence cooperation between the countries with joint activities growing in scale and complexity each year, including through multilateral fora, operations, exercises, visits, exchanges and training.
A number of submissions noted the significance of the decision by the Australian government to partner with France for the design and build of the Future Submarine Program (FSP) in elevating the strategic and defence relationship, and which will be a central pillar of the relationship for decades to come. The Committee heard about the enormous potential for deep engagement between our nations and the opportunities for enhanced economic, industrial and cultural ties.
The Committee was informed about a number of initiatives which are supporting the strong defence industry relationship between Australia and France, including the Australia-France Defence Industry Symposium and a presence by Australian defence industry at French international trade shows. The potential benefits to Australian industry through major capability projects was also canvassed and the Committee was pleased to learn about a number of engagements and exports involving the Australian and French defence industry, and/or the French military. The newly established position of Defence and Security Director at the Australian Embassy in Paris is also valuable in identifying and developing priority areas.
Service-to-service arrangements are extensive and longstanding across all defence services of both countries, including the New Caledonian Armed Forces, and were described as mature, strong and trusted. They include regular dialogue, exercises, operations, engagement through multilateral fora, individual training and exchanges. The Committee notes in particular the suggestion by Defence that there are new opportunities for the Royal Australian Navy and the Marine Nationale to refocus the relationship in order to advance shared maritime security interests and objectives in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with the French Government to explore enhanced engagement opportunities between the Defence services in response to the emerging strategic challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly focussing on joint maritime exercises.
The Committee was pleased to hear that Australia's security relationship with France is on a positive trajectory with engagement across a range of complex and challenging issues. The Vision Statement acknowledged the importance of developing partnerships in the areas of information exchange, cyber security, counter terrorism and countering foreign interference.
This relationship is underpinned by arrangements to enable our nations to work cooperatively together in the areas of maritime security, border protection, transnational crime and fisheries enforcement.
The Committee also supports the establishment of the Australia-France Strategic Dialogue on National Security in 2019. The Committee acknowledges the efforts by the Department of Home Affairs to enhance operational collaboration and information exchange with key French maritime and security agencies on maritime security, transnational crime and fisheries enforcement challenges.
Australian Antarctic Region and Southern Ocean
The Committee acknowledges the strong and enduring relationship that Australia and France have on a range of endeavours in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. As leading and influential Antarctic nations, with a shared commitment to the Antarctic Treaty System and significant interests in the region, the Committee heard evidence about opportunities for cooperation for mutual benefit. Priority areas include: cooperation in the science and management of toothfish fisheries; sharing scientific research and innovation; the use of Hobart as the gateway to Antarctica by the French national Antarctic program for resupply of its Antarctic facilities; and the pursuit of shared strategic goals in the Antarctic Treaty System. The Committee notes that these priorities areas align with the Leaders' commitment under the Vision Statement for Australia and France to work together to advance shared policy, science and logistic objectives.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation between Australia and France in logistical and operational arrangements, and pooling of resources, in relation to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, particularly through the use of Hobart as a logistical hub for transportation to Antarctica.
Intergovernmental organisations headquartered in France
The Committee notes the extensive interaction of Australian bodies with intergovernmental organisations headquartered in France, particularly the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The Committee heard about the importance of these bodies as forums for global engagement to progress priority issues across a range of policy areas.
Strategic Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific
The Committee heard evidence that Australia and France have a range of shared strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region. This area was identified by the Embassy of France as a key strategic priority, and has been highlighted in key Australian Government documents including the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and through initiatives such as the Pacific Step-Up. The Committee was pleased to hear that France is looking to strengthen its engagement in the region by enhancing cooperation with Australia and other like-minded partners.
Australia and France have a range of shared interests in the Indo-Pacific region which make strong engagement important to both countries. Both have the objective of a stable and prosperous region and recognise the changing strategic environment encompassing China-US rivalry, the rising influence of China, and to a lesser extent Russia along with a range of other potential security and environmental threats.
Already well developed in the Pacific, there is a focus on strengthening the Indian Ocean region's security architecture and mechanisms to strengthen regional engagement and collaboration.
The Vision Statement includes agreement to involve other strategic partners more broadly in the growing cooperation between France and Australia in the Indo-Pacific where appropriate, including openness to forming trilateral and other high level dialogues.
The Committee notes India and Australia already cooperate in trilateral formats with Indonesia and Japan. In 2018 an India-France-Australia trilateral dialogue was held in New Delhi involving officials and experts from the three countries. The Committee believes that reviving this dialogue and cooperation in accordance with the Vision Statement would be an important and valuable addition to enhancing cooperation in the region. The Committee also sees value in Australia and France engaging with other like-minded countries, for example Japan, in strategic trilateral cooperation.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with the French and Indian Governments, explore reinvigorating the India‑France‑Australia trilateral dialogue to enhance strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government explore and engage other avenues for trilateral engagement in the Indo-Pacific region with like‑minded partners.
Enhancing regional cooperation
The Committee notes the regional organisations which currently provide a platform for cooperation between like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific and sees opportunities for Australia and France to further their involvement in these organisations. Regional organisations such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) are examples of inter-governmental organisations that foster regional cooperation and development.
The Committee notes the IOC observer status of China, India and Japan. It was suggested to the Committee that Australia should also seek observer status. The Committee notes advice that seeking observer status has been under review by the Australian Government.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government consider seeking observer status with the Indian Ocean Commission in order to strengthen Australia's regional engagement in the Indo-Pacific.
Areas to increase cooperation
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
As Australia and France are both fishing nations, they cooperate closely in combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Pacific Ocean.
The Committee recognises Australia and France's experience in bilateral cooperative fishing enforcement activities in the Southern Ocean and believes that this experience can be utilised to promote similar cooperative arrangements in the Indian Ocean. The Committee notes Australia and France's involvement in the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement and supports Australia working with France to strengthen governance arrangements to ensure it becomes a fully functioning regional fisheries management organisation.
Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief
The Committee notes the requirement for substantial involvement and collaboration in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) arrangements in the Indo-Pacific region due to the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters and extreme weather events. The Committee supports the evidence suggesting Australia and France could use their successful experience of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and FRANZ arrangements in the South Pacific to develop disaster preparedness arrangements in the Indian Ocean.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government, in consultation with relevant countries, including the French territories in the region, participate in the development of disaster preparedness arrangements in the Indian Ocean.
Addressing environmental threats
The Committee notes the success of the Pacific Environmental Security Forum in the Pacific Ocean and welcomes the suggestion of a similar body in the Indian Ocean. The Committee heard evidence that Australia and France could join with other like-minded countries to establish an Indian Ocean Environmental Security Forum. This forum would establish dialogue between nations and assist in addressing shared environmental security threats.
The Committee recommends the Australian Government explore options to establish an environmental security forum with France and other like‑minded countries in the Indian Ocean region to address environmental security threats.
Trade and Investment
The Committee was pleased to hear about the strength of existing economic ties between Australia and France and the French territories. The trade in goods and services between Australia and France is highly diversified and has contributed significantly to the Australian economy and job creation. In addition to a thriving bilateral trade relationship, French companies have become significant investors in Australia, exporting Australian products and services, and investing in Australian resource projects. With trade and investment links growing substantially over the last twenty years, the Committee heard about a number of areas with potential to further strengthen and diversify these links between the two countries.
Building on the areas of economic cooperation identified in the Joint Statement of Enhanced Strategic Partnership between Australia and France, the Committee supports the inaugural Australia-France Trade and Investment Dialogue held in November 2019 in Adelaide which identified strengthening links in key areas including: infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific, renewable energy (hydrogen wind and solar), critical minerals and financial technology (FinTech). The Committee notes that a date for the next dialogue has not yet been finalised but that remote options are under consideration. The Committee believes that holding this dialogue on a regular basis, for example annually, would be helpful to discuss progress of these key areas, monitor and address any challenges and identify future areas of engagement.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work to finalise the timing for the next Australia-France Trade and Investment Dialogue as soon as possible, considering virtual options as required.
To complement a regular investment dialogue, the Committee supports the suggestion of a business delegation in conjunction with a Prime Ministerial visit as recommended above. This business delegation would facilitate growth and identify leading export and joint venture opportunities between Australian and French companies. The Committee suggests that key areas for the business delegation could include space, critical minerals, mining and energy. The Committee acknowledges the potential for the other areas of opportunity identified which include: Defence, FinTech, the digital economy and infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific as well as the use of the Industry Growth Centres Initiative.
Key areas of opportunity
Key areas providing opportunities to develop and strengthen economic ties between Australia and France include space, critical minerals, mining and energy. These sectors appear to have the potential to generate new trade and investment flows between the two economies.
Space is a growing sector for Australia with the launch of the Australian Space Agency in 2018 and Australia's vision to triple the size of the space economy to $12 billion per annum and create an additional 20,000 jobs by 2030. As one of the largest spacefaring nations in the world, France is an important partner for Australia to advance its space sector and collaborate with the Centre National D'Études Spatiales (CNES) and the European Space Agency.
State and territory governments are taking advantage of this opportunity and are positioning themselves as competitive options for industry partnerships and expertise. The Committee notes the competitive advantages detailed by the Northern Territory and South Australian Governments and the natural links between the defence and space industries in relation to workforce.
Critical minerals investment and trade is another sector with potential for growth and collaboration between Australia and France. The Committee sees the opportunity for Australia to increase its domestic critical mineral supply and contribute to diversified global supply chains. The Committee believes that Australia can meet France's requirement for high environmental, social and governance standards, and is well positioned as an attractive source of raw, and potentially of processed, critical minerals.
The recently established Critical Mineral Facilitation Office within the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources will enable future collaboration, particularly through combining French rare earths processing expertise and Australian critical mineral projects. The Committee notes the establishment of the US-Australia Critical Minerals Dialogue and sees value in establishing a similar dialogue with France to pursue opportunities to become a key supplier of critical minerals to France.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider establishing a France-Australia Critical Minerals Dialogue to pursue opportunities to become a key supplier of critical minerals to France.
The Australian mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector is well positioned to take advantage of the revitalisation of the French mining sector, having invested in technologies to minimise waste and delivering world leading environmental and safety performance. The Committee welcomes increased French investment in the mining sector and the expansion of opportunities for French companies in Australia.
Energy and renewable technology
Collaboration in the energy and renewable technology sectors was also identified as having potential to increase bilateral trade and investment between Australia and France. The Committee supports the successful collaboration between French companies, such as Neoen and Total in the energy sector, and recognises the potential benefits renewable technology presents as a key area of common interest. The Committee welcomes the opportunity Australia has to utilise its land and expertise with France in order to promote collaboration within the areas of energy storage, renewable energy, hydrogen, electrical engineering and smart systems.
Other areas of opportunity
The Committee supports the exploration of other areas of opportunity identified to build upon and strengthen trade and investment links between Australia and France.
The Committee supports the inaugural Australia-France Trade and Investment Dialogue held in Adelaide in November 2019 and notes that FinTech was put forward as a key sector to enhance bilateral cooperation.
Although the Committee did not receive a great deal of evidence on FinTech collaboration and how it is being progressed, the Committee notes formal FinTech agreements with other countries including the UK and Hong Kong. The Committee sees value in exploring such an agreement with France as a concrete step to facilitate progress in this area.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government explore the development of a formal agreement in the area of FinTech with France to facilitate further links in this area.
Infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific
The Committee notes that infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific was also identified by Australian and French Ministers as a key priority for bilateral trade and investment; however the Committee did not receive evidence on this area. The Committee notes the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment (Support for Infrastructure Financing) Bill 2019 that was passed in April 2019 and supports it as a mechanism to enhance future infrastructure projects in the Pacific.
Industry Growth Centres Initiative
The Committee supports initiatives such as the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources' Industry Growth Centres Initiative which provides the opportunity to promote Australian industry engagement internationally and seek potential collaborative opportunities.
While the Committee notes advice that collaboration activities have helped various Growth Centres to successfully partner with French firms, it also notes that the last year of significant activity with France was 2016.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider delegations to France from Growth Centres relevant to priority areas of engagement to further promote collaboration and investment.
Prospects for further trade and investment links also include the French territories with opportunities in New Caledonia and French Polynesia. The Committee welcomes the French territories' objective of increasing regional economic links, particularly in areas where Australian expertise, technology and investment are already highly valued, including mining, tourism, education and agriculture. The Committee welcomes the recent visit by New Caledonia's Minister for the Economy who came to Australia with a significant business delegation to discuss opportunities for closer engagement in a range of sectors, particularly energy.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider a business delegation to New Caledonia to further connections made during the recent visit from the New Caledonian Minister for the Economy who was accompanied by a business delegation. This delegation could also visit the other French territories to explore additional engagement opportunities.
European Union Free Trade Agreement
The Committee supports the negotiation of the European Union Free Trade Agreement (EU FTA) and agrees with witnesses who recognised this FTA as a further opportunity to build and diversify trade and investment links.
The range of cultural and artistic activities and initiatives currently in place and planned, have created a dynamic exchange between Australia and France. These initiatives have been, and will continue to be, important in building people-to-people ties.
The Committee heard about the valuable contribution of language and cultural exchange through organisations like Alliance Française and the French‑Australia Schools. International cultural and film festivals have been embraced in both countries and are another important avenue in promoting intercultural and people-to-people ties. The Committee notes, in particular, the success of the Alliance Française Film Festival in Australia which is now the biggest festival of French films abroad. The international exchange of artworks between cultural institutions to facilitate exhibitions has also been another area which has attracted significant interest.
The Committee notes that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) premier public diplomacy program, 'Australia Now' will be held in France in 2021 and that this will provide a unique opportunity to promote and deepen bilateral ties in many areas. The Committee notes the intention for the program to demonstrate how contemporary Australia draws on its strong Indigenous culture. It notes the strong interest in this area expressed to the Committee and encourages DFAT to review the suggestions made to the Committee in this and other areas to be considered for inclusion in events.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade review the suggestions made to the Committee in the cultural and arts areas for consideration in Australia Now events.
Another area that offers opportunity for collaboration between Australia and France is through shared historical and cultural ties in marine and underwater cultural heritage. Possible shared projects include the search for potential survivors from La Perouse's voyage, locating and documenting the sites of vessels acting as troop ships which were sunk in the English Channel during the two world wars, as well as collaboration with counterparts in New Caledonia for training in maritime archaeology in the Pacific region.
The legacy of service of Australians in France during the world wars is an important element of the Australia-France relationship. The significant loss of Australian lives on the Western Front in the First World War forms a strong and enduring bond between the nations. The Committee heard of the importance that both countries place on events to commemorate the shared sacrifice; and a commitment to continue to engage on initiatives and activities to perpetuate shared memory.
A program of commemorative services and events, war graves, memorials, museums and historical sites attract many Australians to France each year and the Committee heard of a number of initiatives and activities that provide the opportunity for engagement and people-to-people ties.
It was suggested to the Committee that while these commemorative sites and events remain an important historical record for Australians, they do not necessarily deepen the people-to-people ties between the countries. However, the overwhelming evidence indicated that the commemorative activities and historical sites do promote engagement, but nonetheless the Committee acknowledges that Australia should continue to work cooperatively with France to ensure that the program of commemorative events and development of memorial and historical sites ensure optimal engagement between people of both nations.
Tourism and travel
The Committee notes that the Working Holiday Maker Program Agreement between Australia and France has contributed to the bilateral relationship and people-to-people links, with over 200,000 French citizens vising Australia under the program since its commencement.
The Committee was advised of the popularity of France and the French Pacific as destinations for Australian travellers. However, due to the implementation of travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry has been severely impacted. Although a changing situation, the level of containment of coronavirus in Australia and New Zealand led to the suggestion of a Trans‑Tasman 'travel bubble' to enable resumption of flights and economic activity arising from tourism. Given the success of containment of COVID-19 in both French Polynesia and New Caledonia, it was suggested to the Committee that those territories also be included which could also allow a resumption of defence engagement with French forces based in New Caledonia.
The Committee recommends that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, should the Australian Government progress the establishment of a safe travel zone with New Zealand, the inclusion of French Polynesia and New Caledonia should be considered.
Education and research
The Committee notes the challenges to growing the number of French students in Australia as well as Australians studying in France. The Committee heard that exchange programs between Australia and the French territories in particular have a low uptake and that the cost of living is contributing to this situation.
Consistent with Australia's intention to enhance engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and noting areas of shared research interest including climate, ecological and health challenges in the region, the Committee wishes to ensure research opportunities and collaboration can be facilitated.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade undertake a review of scholarships available between Australian research institutions and those in the French territories to ensure there are opportunities available to facilitate research in areas of shared interest.
The Committee was interested to hear about the CIFRE industry PhD model used in France where a French company sponsors a student to undertake studies where at least one year is spent overseas. The Committee was pleased to hear that the model is quite low cost and has been used with a lot of small and medium enterprises.
The Committee notes the Nicolas Baudin Internships in France initiative which offers students from participating Australian universities the opportunity to undertake a research internship at a French host university in collaboration with an industry partner for three to six months. While this is a welcome development, the Committee sees value in establishing a program at the PhD level for a longer period, noting the joint PhD program (known as 'cotutelle') where a candidate is jointly enrolled at two universities and spends time at each university.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government investigate the establishment of partnerships with industry to support Australian PhD students to undertake industrial work placements and joint 'cotutelle' PhDs with French companies and laboratories for up to a year based on the CIFRE Industry model.
Senator Kimberley Kitching