Press conference with French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius

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Minister Bishop: Thank you Foreign Minister. I'm delighted to have this opportunity to meet with you this morning. The purpose of my visit has not only been to hopefully enhance and deepen our already warm and long-standing relationship, but also to visit Villers-Bretonneux on Anzac Day, the 25th of April, to pay our respects to those who died for the cause of freedom during World World I. We note that this year will be the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the First World War and that there will be many Australians who will no doubt be visiting France over this year and next year - the commemorative year for the landing at Gallipoli, which gave rise to the ANZAC narrative in Australian political and social history.

As Foreign Minister Fabius said, Australia is active on the UN Security Council at present as a temporary member, and in that role we have worked closely with France and other like-minded countries to address a number of significant international issues, including Syria. Australia has co-authored a resolution in relation to the humanitarian crisis that is continuing to evolve as a result of the conflict in Syria.

As the Foreign Minister said, I have recently been in both Lebanon and Jordan, two countries in the region that are bearing the burden of the outflow of refugees and people who are seeking to leave Syria as a result of the conflict. They have called upon the international community to do more to recognise the role that they are playing in seeking to absorb millions of refugees who are leaving Syria at this time.

Australia yesterday announced a further $20 million on top of the $110 million we've already provided in humanitarian assistance. $20 million for the United Nations' 'No Lost Generation' initiative which is to focus on the educational needs of the children of the Syrian refugees, about 70 per cent of whom are not attending school at this time.

We also discussed the situation in Ukraine, of course another issue that has occupied the thinking and activities of the UN Security Council, and we are very liked-minded in our views about what's happening in Crimea and Ukraine. We join with our friends in France in condemning the activities that have taken place. But we certainly look forward to some kind of dialogue and de-escalation of the activities in Ukraine.

As the Foreign Minister pointed out, Australia is hosting the G20 this November in Brisbane. The focus of the G20 will be on global economic growth, job opportunities, trade liberalisation, productivity-enhancing infrastructure that is so desperately needed across the globe, and other issues that will arise in the context of that agenda.

Australia very much looks forward to hosting the French President during the G20 and we look forward to that opportunity as a way to enhance, deepen and broaden this already strong relationship. Australia and France have a very good trade and investment relationship but we believe there is potential to do more. The visit of the French President will be another opportunity to explore ways that we can enhance our trade and investment relationship.

We are so alike in so many ways. We have a common world view on most issues. The cooperation with France is fundamental to Australian foreign policy. For example, we have agreed to pool our respective resources in our respective geographic spheres of influence. So Australia is looking forward to working with France in Francophone Africa, where you have significant capability, and hopefully we'll be able to share our resources in the Pacific, particularly on consular crisis responses. Australian mining and resource companies, for example, are working in Francophone African nations and yet we don't have the consular coverage that France does. So, in this way, in the south Pacific, where France has political and commercial interests and we have the consular coverage, Australia can support French companies and individuals who are in that region should there be a need for a crisis response. In this way our two countries, which have so much in common and yet are so far apart, can complement each other's activities in our spheres of influence.

We also discussed matters in the Asia-Pacific – China, Japan and South Korea. We discussed the Indonesian elections – of course, there'll be a new President in Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest Muslim democracy in the world; it's a country of great importance not only to Australia and the region but globally. We also discussed other opportunities for us to cooperate on the world stage, regionally and bilaterally.

So Foreign Minister, thank you again for your gracious hospitality and you are always welcome in Australia. I hope that you will be able to join your President in being in Australia for the G20 in Brisbane so that we can further this already warm and strong relationship.

Journalist (in French): The people of New Caledonia know well the role of Australia during the First World War, including at Villers-Bretonneux; the people of metropolitan France do less so. What do you envisage to remedy this knowledge gap?

Minister Bishop: Recently the Australian Prime Minister announced that he would like to see the Australian Government fund an interpretive centre on the Western Front - possibly at Villers-Bretonneux. One of the matters that I will be looking at when I visit there on Friday will be the opportunity for us to have an interpretive centre on the Western Front as an opportunity to educate the many thousands of people who make the journey every year on ANZAC Day to pay tribute to those who died in the name of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. So I think in that way, Australia will be able to bring our history to France. Of course, in Australia we have a very fine War Memorial in Canberra that sets out the history of Australia's involvement in World War I in significant detail and I would encourage any of our French friends who visit Australia to visit the War Memorial in Canberra. It's quite a spectacular display depicting Australia's role as a very small nation in 1914-1918, of maybe five or six million people, committing so many resources, so many soldiers, to a fight so far away.

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