‘France and Australia: Abiding Values and Common Interests’

Speech

WTS019/2015

16 September 2015

Smart Cities - National Business Forum
French Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry Business Forum Dinner
Level 47, MLC Centre, Martin Place, Sydney

I would like to begin by acknowledging…

  • His Excellency, the President of the New Caledonian Government, Philippe Germain;
  • His Excellency, Christophe Lecourtier, the Ambassador of France; and
  • the President of the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce (CEO of Safran Pacific) Francois Romanet.

I congratulate the French-Australia Chamber of Commerce for launching the Smart Cities—National Business Forum.

Australia is a big country with a small population, but it is one of the most urbanized nations in the world—that's is the opposite of most countires.

The number of people living in cities around the world surpassed those living in rural areas, for the first time, in 2009.

The Forum addresses crucial issues.

The global challenge to develop cities as both productive centres of growth and good places to live is therefore intensifying.

And the need to make our cities smarter in every sense creates particular pressures—for both Australia and France.

But, as developed countries, we are well-placed to resolve them—and this effort is a potentially fruitful area for future French-Australian cooperation.

The French-Australian Relationship

France and Australia share a rich common history—and abiding values and interests.

Our joint history began with the six weeks the great French explorer, the comte [count] deLa Pérouse, spent in Sydney in 1788 at the very start of European settlement in Australia.

Intriguingly, a 16-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte had unsuccessfully sought a place in the La Pérouse expedition!

It is fitting that La Peurouse is commemorated in the name of one of Sydney's suburbs—and that his last voyage symbolised the abiding interests of France and Australia in the Pacific.

Our shared history has since traversed the major sacrifices of two world wars—and today, Australia and France continue to pursue joint efforts to deal with the complex challenges of the early 21st century.

France and Australia's agreement last April to deepen cooperation on security and counter-terrorism is an important joint response to a common threat.

Our mutual values and interests are further reinforced on a daily basis by the substantial economic, cultural and educational links between Australia and France.

Most Frenchmen and women would know that their country hosts more tourists than any other in the world. A recent survey showed Chinese people most want to visit france—our task is to win that title. Some 110,000 Australian travelers made France their primary overseas destination in 2013.

And Australia reciprocates, hosting close to 100,000 French visitors every year.

France is Australia's fastest growing source of working holiday makers—around 24,000 young French people visited Australia under this scheme in 2012-13.

With over 4,000 enrolments in 2013, France is the third largest source of international students from Europe studying in Australian universities, vocational education and training institutes.

And France is an important academic, research and exchange agreements partner—some 38 Australian universities have over 300 active agreements with French institutions.

In the economic sphere, France and Australia are major trading partners, with merchandise trade worth A$5.3 billion in 2013.

Australia's airlines and defence forces are of course good and long-term customers for the Airbus Group's aircraft—which link our domestic network together, and Australia to Europe and North America.

And French car makers like Citroën, Peugeot and Renault have a very enthusiastic Australian following.

Some 457 French companies are present in Australia—employing around 80,000 people and with a combined turnover of A$17.6 billion.

In 2013, Australian investment in France totalled A$34 billion while French investment in Australia reached A$15.7 billion.

The Australian Government is of course pursuing a Free Trade Agreement with the EU—and we appreciate President Hollande's support for this venture.

An Australia-EU agreement is a logical step towards realising the full potential of Australia's relationships with France and her EU partners.

And we regard France's appointment of Mr Ross McInnes as Special Representative for relations with Australia as a very positive step.

Infrastructure development is a key element of our efforts to build better, and smarter, cities—and French firms have been prominent in helping meet Australia's infrastructure challenges.

Like France, Australia has world-class infrastructure and transport systems, but we still face development challenges, not least in our north.

These challenges include:

  • a rapidly growing freight task, with truck traffic alone expected to increase by around 50 per cent to 2030;
  •  funding and financing infrastructure given competing demands on government spending and revenues; and
  • delivering projects in complex, built up, urban environments

French Firms have applied their great expertise to projects which meet these challenges, such as the Northconnex and Westconnex projects here in Sydney, and to Brisbane's Gateway Bridge.

For our part, the Australian Government made a very substantial commitment last year of $50 billion to Australia's infrastructure development, with an emphasis on transport infrastructure.

Much of this investment is directed to major urban projects like Sydney's Westconnex, Perth Freight-Link, Adelaide's South Road and Brisbane's Gateway North—smart cities need to move people and goods efficiently.

We have since deepened these commitments, particularly to the development of Northern Australia, which we see as a major national priority. We have committed $5 billion on the infrastructure and other projects needed to develop Northern Australia.

We certainly welcome the participation of French investors in meeting these challenges, and making the most of the economic opportunities they create. 

European companies are seeking new trade and investment opportunities in high growth markets, such as the Asia-Pacific. 

In this context, Australia is both an excellent market in her own right, and a good base for firms seeking to project into Asia.

Modern aviation of course offers one of the major keys to making the most of these opportunities.  

Unfortunately, however, the outdated, 50 year old air services agreement between Australia and France now stands in the way of reaping the full benefits modern aviation offers. 

No French or Australian aircraft fly the route. Australia is only permitted to land three aircraft a week in Paris.

The Australian Government would welcome liberalisation of our air services agreement, but we can only open up the France-Australia market with the French Government's agreement.

In May, during my visit to Europe, I met with the new French and European Transport Ministers—both of whom promised immediate action, even suggesting we could deliver in 2-3 weeks… but nothing happened.

We hope France will soon join us in agreeing to open up our aviation markets so that we can enjoy the benefits of greater connectivity, more flights, and more tourists and business-people in each other's countries.

I hope to have further discussions with the French Government on these issues when I visit France in October.

I also understand that, despite the opportunities offered by Australian infrastructure development, international firms have identified barriers to entry into the Australian construction market.

The Australian Government is removing these barriers through our infrastructure reform agenda. 

Our reforms include initiatives to improve project selection and tendering processes. The reforms aim to reduce costs, improve competition, and get better value for money from infrastructure projects. 

The Australian Government therefore offers a Major Project Facilitation (MPF) service to eligible projects.

The MPF service coordinates Commonwealth approval processes across different agencies and, wherever possible, with Australia's States. 

Eligible projects must have a capital expenditure of more than $50 million, with national or regional significance relating to development, employment, or export potential. 

Major projects already receiving MPF services are located across Australia, and include resources, petroleum, transport infrastructure, and aquaculture projects.

I certainly encourage French firms to make the most of these services.

Smarter Technology—Smarter Cities

It is also clear that national and international responses to infrastructure challenges in our cities and beyond cannot be limited to traditional measures, and must encompass innovation in all aspects of infrastructure delivery.

This innovation will require multiple efforts—including making the most of some often breathtaking technological advances. 

These are transforming how we use both new and old infrastructure and road vehicles themselves—especially 'Connected' and 'Automated' vehicles.

Connected vehicles, which communicate wirelessly with each other and road side infrastructure to provide safety warnings and travel information, are quickly becoming a reality.

Australian research suggests that a 25-35 per cent reduction in serious casualty crashes could be achieved with complete adoption of connected vehicles and connected infrastructure—and they could also greatly reduce urban congestion.

The Australian Government is working with State governments to establish the systems which will support connected vehicle technology as it becomes increasingly commercially available.

Vehicles with a relatively high level of automation, such as self-parking or autonomous emergency braking, are already commercially available.

Fully automated vehicles, requiring no driver input at all, are expected to be commercially available between 2020 and 2030.

South Australia plans to undertake the first test on-road of an autonomous vehicle in the southern hemisphere later this year.

A trial on Sydney's Harbour Bridge is applying predictive analytics to data from some 2400 sensors to provide early warning of maintenance problems to the Bridge's supports—this project will potentially yield significant cost savings and safety benefits.

Advancing Australia's use of intelligent transport systems requires significant international cooperation, particularly in the alignment technological standards.

I am particularly looking forward to the 22nd World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems in Bordeaux later this year with France's Transport Minister Alain Vidalies. 

The 23rd Congress will be in Melbourne next year.

Cities and their Regions

Finally, when we consider how to make our cities smarter, we should not forget the regions in which they are located.

Cities are not islands, their health and growth depends on that of the regions in which they are located.

As a Chinese expert has pointed out 'Even Shanghai will not be able to compete internationally without the Yangtze River Delta that is its hinterland'.

From time to time, the development of both cities and their regions has been held back by a false distinction between them—as if we somehow have to prioritise one over the other.

So the development of regional Australia is also a major priority for the Australian Government.

Conclusion

I want to again congratulate the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce for engaging with complex—but vital and interesting—issues.

These are matters which will increasingly engage both our countries and, I fully expect, encourage fruitful cooperation between us.

Indeed, I believe that the depth and breadth of the French-Australia relationship has already gone a long way towards creating many of the commercial, technical and other skills we need to build smarter cities, and much else.

Thank you very much.