France's Ambassador to Australia Pierre-Andre Imbert
France's new Ambassador to Australia Pierre-Andre Imbert was the president's deputy chief of staff. Image by Dominic Giannini/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Water under the drydock: French ties more than sub spat

Dominic Giannini March 31, 2024

Australia’s relationship with France is not defined by a scrapped submarine contract that caused a deep rift between the two nations, its new ambassador says.

Pierre-Andre Imbert has taken up the mantle of France’s man in Australia.

His priority is to strengthen co-operation in the Indo-Pacific, especially on climate change, after a new road map for the relationship was signed when then-foreign minister Catherine Colonna visited Canberra in December.

“We are two important nations of the Indo-Pacific,” the Parisian told AAP.

“We are very aware of our joint responsibility.”

The 54-year-old former economist has worked as deputy chief of staff to the French president and as a chief of staff and advisor to several labour employment ministers.

His predecessor Jean-Pierre Thebault was infamously recalled to Paris in 2021 after the then-coalition government pulled the pin on a $90 billion contract for diesel submarines in favour of US nuclear-propelled ones.

Mr Imbert stressed that the bilateral relationship could not be seen purely through this lens.

“What I want to underline is we have a longstanding relationship with Australia,” he said. 

“The story didn’t start with submarines.

“We are focused on the future.”

The relationship improved after the Albanese Labor government took office in 2022.

France's Ambassador to Australia Pierre-Andre Imbert
 Mr Imbert foresees Australia-France co-operation on climate change, defence and security. Image by Dominic Giannini/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Imbert said the allies could partner in key areas such as climate change, defence and security.

Working to help Pacific Islands nations that suffered the immediate impacts of climate change and intense natural disasters was also a priority, he said. 

South Pacific defence ministers are working towards a unified force to respond to natural disasters in the region.

The chiefs and heads of the defence forces have been asked to develop the initiative and the stationing of humanitarian aid stockpiles on island nations has been floated as a potential way to improve response times given scarce resources.

“We have learned from past disasters the more we can pre-position on the islands, the faster the response will be,” Mr Imbert said.

He also remained hopeful Australia and the European Union could restart negotiations on a free trade agreement after talks broke down.

“We want a balanced agreement,” he said.

“We have common interests, we share values, we share history – it’s good for both regions to have an FTA, so we will do our best to achieve that.”

The father of five handed over his credentials on January 31 after arriving in Australia just before Christmas.