Australia and France opened a “new chapter” in their relations Friday as the new Australian prime minister seeks to heal wounds from a secret submarine contract that infuriated France.
President Emmanuel Macron warmly shook hands with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese outside the French presidential palace, showing a thumbs-up before putting his arm around the Australian leader’s back as they headed inside for talks.
“Trust, respect and honesty matters,” Albanese told reporters. “This is how I will approach my relations” with France.
Paris responded with fury when the previous Australian government announced in September that it was canceling a 90 billion Australian dollar ($62 billion) contract for French-made diesel-electric submarines.
Instead, Australia had struck a deal with the United States and Britain to provide submarines powered with US nuclear technology, which French leaders said was sealed behind their backs.
France temporarily withdrew its ambassadors from the US and Australia, and Macron accused former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of lying to him, which Morrison denied.
After coming to power in May elections, Albanese’s Labor Party government announced it had agreed to pay France’s Naval Group a 555-million-euro ($583 million) settlement for breaking the contract.
“We are opening up a new chapter in our relationship,” Albanese said Friday.
Macron, too, appeared ready to move on, saying in English, “We’ll speak about the future.” Pointing at Albanese, he added, “He’s not responsible for that.”
Albanese called France a “an Indo-Pacific and global power” through its overseas territories in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.” With the US and allies increasingly worried about China’s growing ambitions in the region, he said, “France’s active engagement in the Indo-Pacific will be critical in overcoming challenges that confront our region.”
Macron also thanked Australia for sending thousands of troops to fight in France in World War I, and for its support for Ukraine as war is again waging in Europe.
After the previous Australian government’s position on climate change complicated relations with the EU, Albanese said Australia “wants to be an active part of the global solution” to fighting it. Albanese has promised to rehabilitate Australia’s international reputation as a climate change laggard with steeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.