Townsville Bulletin

Relations with France will survive this diplomatic spat

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AS he was led to the guillotine in January 1793, after asking the time, French King Louis XVI enquired, “Has anything been heard yet from Lapérouse?”

That question marked perhaps the first indirect interest in métropolit­aine France about Australia’s South Pacific affairs navales.

Modern Australia’s naval relationsh­ip with France began a few days after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1988, when Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse sailed into Botany Bay as the colonists were about to depart for the more promising Port Jackson to the north.

It was a harmonious encounter, with la Lapérouse entrusting his extant journals to HMS Sirius for despatch to Paris.

Lucky he did, for later that year la Lapérouse’s expedition disappeare­d in a storm in the Solomon Islands.

That did not auger well for French ship building but it was the beginning of regional cooperatio­n with the French, which has survived tempest, war and petit diplomatiq­ue difference­s.

In 1853 France took formal possession of New Caledonia to add to its Pacific territorie­s.

It began French life as a penal colony, was a rich source of nickel deposits and labour but in World War II it was a major allied naval base.

It remains a critical remnant outpost of France’s former colonial possession­s, and a cooperativ­e ally in southwest Pacific security.

Australia’s relationsh­ip with France has been many things, sharing tragedies and equally triumphs.

Villers-bretonneux and countless other villages, memorials and cemeteries stand testimony to Australia’s World War I 53,00 dead now lying in French soil, and France’s eternal gratitude.

Apart from some minor unpleasant­ness in southern

Lebanon, then French Syria, in 1941, the two nations have usually fought on the same side, as lately as Afghanista­n.

Snippets of French have permeated Australia’s vernacular from words and phrases brought home by our Diggers.

For six decades Australian defence procuremen­t agencies have maintained a Paris branch, a sinecure for mostly RAAF personnel, which has resulted in some questionab­le and not always fit for purpose equipment acquisitio­ns starting with the Dassault Mirage fighters and until recently cancelled, a questionab­le submarine proposal. France is unlikely to withdraw from the Pacific anytime soon, so it is reasonable to assume our mutual regional defence cooperatio­n will continue, albeit without French supplied capital equipment.

It is not time, as the late Louis XVI may have noted, to sever diplomatic relations over a minor commercial triviality.

C’est la vie.

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