Brendan Berne, Australian ambassador to France: “Australians love France”
In Paris for four months as Australian Ambassador, Brendan Bern is well acquainted with France, after having spent three years as Deputy Head of Mission for the OECD over a decade ago.
Speaking with Le Courrier Australien, this man of only 47 years, looks back on his career and the relationship between our two countries. He speaks entirely in French, with just a hint of a charming Australian accent; he learned French from a very young age, a language that he particularly enjoys and practices daily …even with his cat!
Is he happy to return to France?
“I am delighted! I love France, for its culture, its language, its way of life. The only thing that weighs on me is the weather. It’s been four months of cloudy skies! I’m told it’s the worst winter in fifty years, I hope it’s true!”
In addition to his personal desire to return to France, Mr. Berne is pleased that his role has begun at this precise moment:
“This is a very exciting period in Franco-Australian relations. Never have the ties between our two countries been so strong in all areas. This is partly due to the excellent relationship that exists between Emmanuel Macron and Malcolm Turnbull.”
This includes advancing ongoing strategic partnerships. These are numerous, in fields as varied as cyber-security to the response to climate change and defence, a crucial point on which the Ambassador dwells:
“France is a key partner in defending a global system based on rules, to which Australia is very attached.”
Currently the figurehead of co-operation between the two countries is the huge contract for the construction of submarines, worth 50 billion euros, signed in 2016. In 2018, the Australian embassy will need to support the arrival of their citizens in Cherbourg.
“33 families are already there. I visited recently and was impressed by the enthusiastic reception they received from the Mayor and residents, and by their involvement in local life.” More arrivals are expected soon.
Finally, 2018 will be dedicated to launching negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the European Union.
“Our priority is to start negotiations with Brussels as soon as possible. Despite Brexit, which was a shock for Australia, this remains to be our first goal.”
Australia needs France’s support in these discussions: Turnbull’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Stephen Ciobo, was recently received in Paris.
“Australians love France”
33,000 Australians died in France
Mr. Berne has already met the prefect of the Somme and previewed the memorial to be inaugurated during the commemoration ceremonies. He says he is, “impressed by the investments to bring alive the memory of the Australian soldiers and their contribution” in this conflict.
Cate Blanchett and the #MeToo movement
On a cultural level, our borders are also permeable. The choice of Cate Blanchett to chair the next Cannes Film Festival is evidence of that. How did the Ambassador respond to this announcement?
“I was sick in bed with the flu when I found out. I thought it was great news! The next day, Cate Blanchett was on all the French media and I could see how much she was admired here. And for once, the French knew that Cate Blanchett is Australian! We Australians are often frustrated that the French mistake our national stars as American or British.”
Delighted with the choice of the festival, Mr. Berne goes on to add, “Cate Blanchett also represents the #MeToo movement which will, I hope, restore a form of balance between men and women and eradicate the ongoing drifts in this environment.” This position statement could not be clearer.
Australia, a country to discover
As a ‘super VIP’ of Australia, the Ambassador has agreed to list the unmissable destinations he would recommend to the French desiring to travel to Australia.
“Australia offers an incredible range of experiences. I would tell them to start with the cities because ours are very special.”
He mentions Melbourne, for its laneways, which he particularly admires, and for its European atmosphere. Of course Sydney, with a special affection for Potts Point, a district created between the ’20 and ’30s by an artistic community with a Parisian spirit that is still very noticeable today. As for dining, he reveals his favourite address: The Bathers Pavilion, north of Sydney, where you can enjoy spectacular views of the ocean.
Among them, Christophe Vissant. Fascinated by Australia, this Franc-Comtois embarked on the amazing challenge of running around Australia, a distance of 15,000km. The Ambassador will meet him soon.
What does he think of Mr. Vissant’s Australian Challenge Tour?
Original article in French here.
Translated by Kiara Casey
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