Simon Birmingham: The Australia-France relationship is underpinned by the Australia-France initiative, known as AFiniti. And there is no better acronym to describe the depth of the relationship that we have, and are building, between Australia and France. The affinity between our nations is strong across, of course, the defence cooperation realm, committed and underlined by the construction of the new submarines, but also critically in a range of areas — investment, trade relationships, and global cooperation.
This morning I have been thrilled to spend time with my French counterpart talking about the opportunity to take the affinity of our relationship to the next level, to ensure that we grow the trade relationship, grow the investment relationship, explore new areas of cooperation in the realm of space industry, hydrogen and new energy potential, and that we cooperate together in the development of the European Union-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which we hope and trust can be concluded with an ambitious agreement that provides and underpins for that future growth between our two countries.
Question: What did you discuss with the European deal, because I know that the French Minister has actually been critical of Australia’s climate policies?
Simon Birmingham: Well, he's made clear that France wants to see Australia commit to the Paris Accord, as we have. And we are positioned in relation to our commitment to the Paris Agreement, and it’s firm, strong, resolute, and we’re happy to restate that commitment through any discussions that we have. And I think that is well appreciated, and we didn't just discuss the basics of the Paris Commitment, but we also discussed the leadership Australia is showing in relation to development of energy storage solutions; the work we’re pursuing in relation to the National Hydrogen strategy; and the opportunities for us to collaborate and share knowledge that can help with those energy transformations occurring in Europe as well as in Australia.
Question: The Minister was quite critical of Australia's stance in other ways, our reliance on coal especially.
Simon Birmingham: Well, what I think we've seen is that our commitment to the Paris Accord is strong. And Australia is a country that can proudly stand on its track record of having delivered and exceeded Kyoto 1 commitments, and we’ll deliver and exceed Kyoto 2 commitments — and we have not only a strong commitment to our Paris commitments, but also a detailed plan on how we are going to meet those commitments.
So we are very happy to explain that to anybody, and we are confident that those commitments together with our environmental leadership elsewhere and the areas of energy transformation that we are supporting, will help to give a successful outcome in conclusion to the FTA negotiations, and to build our relationship in other ways with France and the rest of the EU.
Question: Have any EU negotiators given any idea of what changes Australia might need to do in relation to climate policies, even though you’d mentioned we’re doing some good things, are there any other sticking points that have sort of come out?
Simon Birmingham: No, and I think what- comments that have been made publicly are purely focussed on ensuring our commitment to, and delivery of, our Paris obligations. And we are completely committed to our Paris obligations, and to meeting them, as we’ve historically done. And we will continue to make sure that that is well understood.
Question: So, how long will this free trade agreement- how long is it likely to take to wrap up?
Simon Birmingham: Our ambitions are to try to conclude negotiations by the end of next year, but that depends upon getting a good deal, and a good deal is one that provides better opportunities for Australian farmers and businesses to access the EU market. A good deal is one that provides mutual benefits on both sides in terms of freeing up the flow of trade and investment. And that has strong support across communities in both Australia and the EU. So, the test is whether or not both sides can rise to the standard of expectations that we each have to making a good deal, but the ambition is to try and conclude by the end of the next year.
Question: I’m just going on by the comments from the French Foreign Minister sort of saying about- publicly in an interview with the AFR. If there are no climate concerns that you say, why did he make those comments publicly, about some of those sticking points with Australia's reliance on coal?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I don't think you should interpret them as either sticking points or criticisms. He was simply stating that the EU wants to see Australia commit to its Paris obligations — obviously there's some global discussion around that at present as a result of decisions made by other countries. Our decision is that we stick by our commitments in the Paris Accord, and we’ll deliver upon them as we’ve always delivered on the climate change commitments.
Question: And what did you have to say about the submarines in South Australia?
Simon Birmingham: We talked about the importance, not just of delivering on the submarine project, but making sure that there are opportunities for business to build into global supply chains, and for Australian businesses to not only be engaged with the Navy group in Adelaide, but also in their international operations in creating more opportunities there, as well as making sure that for all the businesses involved in submarine construction, the use of those skills and technology expands beyond purely the defence capability build into other sectors of the economy. And they’re ambitions that we share, and we've committed to engaging business leadership and our academic and training leadership as well, in mutual exchanges that can ensure we all get the most out of this relationship with
Question: And what’s the next step? Are you heading to France?
Simon Birmingham: The AFiniti commitment and relationship is one to have annual dialogue, and so next year. I will undertake a similar dialogue with the French Government in France, and it will be an opportunity, I hope, to be able to have more Australian industry leaders present and engaged as we take it to the next level of exchange beyond government to government, to make sure that it is truly nation to nation.