A conversation with H.E. Gillian Bird PSM, Australian Ambassador to France on 10 November 2020

Australia’s new Ambassador to France, H.E. Gillian Bird PSM could not have taken up her new post at a more testing time: the country had just gone into lockdown, making formal in-person meetings impossible.

However, her message went out clearly at a virtual meeting at the start of the ‘French-ANZ Business Days’ on the 10th November: “The Australian Embassy is open for business”, Ambassador Bird said. “And Australian-French relations have never been better.”

Referring to President Macron’s landmark visit to Sydney in May 2018, she noted that Australian-French values were closely allied, and in a post-Covid world the two countries would be playing critical roles in ensuring that trade played a critical role in the economic recovery.

“We want to work with France in the context of the EU, seeing that it concludes an ambitious and comprehensive FTA, with France playing a real part.” 

In a wide-ranging discussion with interviewers Jason Collins, CEO of the European Australian Business Council, and Zoe McKenzie, principal of Trade and Investment Advisory Australia, Ambassador Bird touched on many of the vital trade interests that draw France and Australia together. She cited cybersecurity, renewable energy, which she described as being critical to both countries, Fintech, where Australia is positioning itself as a hub for French companies, critical minerals, and the huge possibilities for hydrogen, a sector in which French companies are at the forefront.

On the Future Submarine Program, she highlighted the fact that Naval Group had recently launched its first ‘Local Manufacturing Package’ Expression of Interest (EOI) to Australian industry that will see the manufacturing of specialised submarine equipment take place in Australia – part of a package expected to be worth almost $900 million.

The Ambassador also pointed out that Australia was developing trilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region between France, Australia and India. In a meeting between the three countries in September, there was an expressed common desire to cooperate in the maritime field, protecting the environment and biodiversity while preserving a free and open space. 

It is interesting to note that France’s former Ambassador to Australia, H.E. Christophe Penot, has recently been appointed France’s first ambassador to the Indo-Pacific.

In a concluding remark on the topic of doing business in the time of Covid, Ambassador Bird stated that “work is continuing across the board, the Embassy [is] working remotely, we are still open for business and the French government is still open for business”.

The French-ANZ Business Days four day series of online conferences, interviews, keynote addresses, site visits and networking evenings, which ran from the 10th to the 13th of November, was organised by the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FACCI), with which ABIE France was pleased to partner. This very successful hybrid event attracted over 1,100 attendees.

To view a recording of the interview, click here.