Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hasn’t ruled out formally apologising to French President Emmanuel Macron over a submarine furore, declaring “everyone should be able to trust me”.
Mr Albanese will have a one-on-one meeting with Mr Macron over lunch at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Friday (local time) when he will seek to repair the relationship, which was damaged after Australia dumped a $90 billion submarine contract with a French shipbuilder.
On Thursday, Mr Albanese met former Coalition finance minister and current OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann, with the pair warmly shaking hands in front of flags representing its member nations.
He then addressed the OECD council and was asked questions by members, including from the US about Australia’s action on climate change, from Lithuania on Australia’s military aid to Ukraine, and from Japan about international law in the Indo-Pacific.
During a press conference, Mr Albanese didn’t directly answer a question when asked if he would say sorry to France over the cancelled contract.
“I look forward to having a constructive relationship with President Macron,” he said.
“I’ve made it very clear what my position is about the way in which Australia engaged at a leadership level with friends.
“What I want to do though is to make sure that we can move forward … It should be a relationship where we can rely upon each other … in which we can trust each other and mutually benefit.”
When asked if French businesses could trust him after the “betrayal” and “deception” over the submarine contract under the previous coalition government, Mr Albanese said “absolutely”.
“Everyone should be able to trust me, that’s the way I deal with people … that’s how I got to be Prime Minister,” he said.
The Morrison government decided to scrap the contract with Naval Group last year in favour of nuclear-powered submarines, as part of the AUKUS partnership with Britain and the US.
Mr Macron later told Australian journalists “I don’t think, I know” when asked if he thought former prime minister Scott Morrison had lied to him in his handling of the issue.
In his first phone call with his new Australian counterpart after the May election, Mr Macron reminded Mr Albanese of what Paris described as a “severe breach of trust”.
Mr Albanese said it was time for the relationship between Paris and Canberra to “enter a new dawn” after a “breakdown”.
He said he would also discuss a free trade deal with Europe during his meeting with Mr Macron, and that the two leaders would have “more to say” afterwards.
“President Macron wants to have a good relationship with Australia, and Australia wants to have a good relationship with him,” Mr Albanese said.
The fractured relations between the nations are one of two reasons negotiations for the trade deal have stalled, the other being a lack of climate change action by Australia.
Mr Albanese also met members of France’s peak business body, Mouvement des Entreprises de France, to discuss investment opportunities in Australia.
Meanwhile, he is awaiting security advice on whether he can safely visit the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, after an invitation by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.