Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed he will visit French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris next week to formally “reset” diplomatic relations, which were frozen after the Morrison government scrapped a massive deal to build 12 submarines.
- Anthony Albanese will travel to Europe next week to attend the NATO summit
- He says Australia’s relationship 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, Albanese said Macron invited him to France and he expected to receive a warm welcome.
“We need to restart. 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 canceled deal.
In all, $3.4 billion was spent on the program, a figure Albanese called an “extraordinary waste” of taxpayer money.
“France, of course, is central to power in Europe, but it is also a key power in the Pacific, also in our own region,” Albanese told Leigh Sales.
“What we can offer is a relationship between our respective leaders that will not be filtered down to make an opportunistic headline in the newspaper, one of respect and honesty in the way we treat each other.”
The submarine deal with France came at a time when Macron was talking about the country’s future as an “Indo-Pacific power” fully committed to the region.
On a visit to Sydney in 2018, the president said the submarines were just the “start” of a closer relationship with Australia that would play out over “the next 50 years”.
France is seen as a key partner in efforts to limit China’s expanding power and influence in the Pacific.
Albanese is ready to attend the NATO summit and is also urged to visit Ukraine
Albanese will be in Europe next week for a larger-than-usual NATO summit, where the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be top of the agenda.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Canberra, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, is hopeful that the prime minister can use the trip to offer more military assistance to his war-torn country.
“We need more heavy weaponry,” Myroshnychenko said, adding that he hoped Australia would send more Bushmasters, a Bendigo-built troop carrier.
“We have 40 Bushmasters…it would be great to have another 20,” he said.
“I think it’s getting closer that we’ll have a young [Ukrainian] boy named Bushmaster.
“I think it comes because Bushmaster is probably the most recognizable Australian brand in Ukraine right now, because if you mention Australia, the next thing you hear is ‘Bushmasters.'”
Mr. Albanese has also been invited to visit Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. However, as is often the case with travel near conflict zones, he declined to confirm whether he would accept the offer.
“We’re getting national security tips on that,” Albanese said.
“We do not want to cause a circumstance where there is a risk to Australian personnel in making such a visit.
Although much of the discussion at NATO will be about invading Russia, 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 and coerce us into our region of immediate strategic interest,” said Paul Dibb, a highly regarded analyst.
Mr. Dibb had an extensive career in Australian intelligence and defence, and was the lead author of the 1987 Defense White Paper.
“Our Prime Minister, our Foreign Minister and our Defense Minister must keep it deeply etched in their minds that their first priority is the defense of this country and ensuring that our immediate region is not dominated by a powerful power.” aggressive expansionist,” he said.
“That has to be his first priority and it must not be eroded by being excited, if I may, about Europe and NATO.”
The Government will put a ‘brake’ on spending in the October budget
Faced with a host of international and domestic challenges, the new government has also inherited a budget that is on track to be over a trillion dollars in debt within a few years.
With inflation and interest rates on the rise, the Prime Minister has said that some things he would like to do in the government’s first budget in October will have to wait.
“We’re going to have to really rein in some of the spending that’s out there,” Albanese said.
“I’ve made it very clear that there are a variety of things we’d like to do that we won’t be able to do in our first budget.
“We will also be going through, line by line, looking for debris.”
Several economists predict that the government will have to start a difficult conversation about how the nation pays for the services Australians expect.
“I hope the October budget is just about delivering on the promises they made in the election,” said Danielle Wood of the Grattan Institute.
“I think by the time we get to next May, those fiscal challenges are really going to start to bite.”
Labour’s electoral commitment was not to raise or have new taxes, except on multinationals, although, in the longer term, broader reform may be required.
“I think taxes should be on the agenda,” Wood said.
“That may be justifying the changes that the government could bring to the next elections.”
Catch the interview at 7:30 tonight on ABC TV and ABC iview.