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Copyright LE COURRIER AUSTRALIEN 2016
HomeNewsAustraliaBrendan Berne, Australian ambassador to France: “Australians love France”

Brendan Berne, Australian ambassador to France: “Australians love France”

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Brendan Berne, Australian Ambassador to 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!”

 

Perfect timing…

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”

Beverage Coffee Caffeine Breakfast Cappuccino

Flat White

In addition to these essential missions, Mr. Berne is also keen to modernise the image of Australia.
“Australia is not limited to kangaroos… although they are very beautiful! It is a modern, western country, in the Asia-Pacific region: a very exceptional position that gives it a complex role in the world.”
Australia is also connecting with France in other areas:
“The coffee culture is one of the points we have in common, the Australians and the French. I happily discovered that the ‘flat white’ has arrived in France!”  he rejoices. “But this is not the only similarity between our two countries: as in France, cooking is also very important in Australia. The ingredients – fruits, vegetables – are of excellent quality and we have managed to merge several gastronomies,”  he says, adding that, “at a sporting level, our two countries are also connected, notably through their passion for rugby.”
Finally, would Australians have a way of life more similar to the French than the British, their ancestors?
“I do not know if we are closer to the British or French, but it is certain that Australians love France.”
In this respect, the figures speak for themselves: 5000 Australians are permanent residents in France, all ages and for various reasons: studies, work, and also for a different style of retirement, preferably in the south of the country. Regarding tourist data, it’s even more impressive: 1 million Australians spend a holiday in France every year!
“This is a huge number that always surprises us,” confirms the Ambassador.

33,000 Australians died in France

A visitor walks through the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux, in northern France, November 11, 2013. The year 2014 will mark the centennial commemoration for the soldiers who fought in the First World War. REUTERS/Charles Platiau (FRANCE - Tags: MILITARY ANNIVERSARY SOCIETY) - RTX159FM

Villers-Bretonneux Memorial

The historical links between the two countries are equally very strong although often lesser known. The year 2018, marks the centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.
“33,000 Australian soldiers died in the Somme, 16,000km from their home. It’s something that few people know. With the commemorations, which will gather a lot of officials, and 8000 people at the next ANZAC Day, the 25th of April – I hope to help more French become aware.”

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

cate-blanchett

Cate Blanchett

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.

As Australia is obviously not limited to cities, he then advises visitors to go on an adventure to experience the outback – with a stopover in Uluru, considered a “must”. Also to discover the alpine culture in Australia, which is lesser known, Mount Kosciuszko for example. Mr. Berne admits that few Australians roam their own country, unlike the French, whose audacity he admires.
christophe vissant

Christophe Vissant

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?

 “I’m very impressed. Christophe Vissant is an extraordinary person, and I cannot wait to meet him. We will do our best to promote his tour.”
 
Franco-Australian friendship and the co-operation between our two countries have decidedly taken on many forms.

 

Karine Arguillère
Original article in French here.

Translated by Kiara Casey

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