Prime minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed he will visit France to meet President Emmanuel Macron, and is considering travelling to Ukraine, during next week’s trip to Europe for the Nato summit.
Albanese said he was also looking forward to “having further dialogue” with the Chinese government, but admitted the relationship would remain “problematic” for some time, despite a recent end to the freeze on diplomatic relations.
“Already there have been some improvements but it’s a long way to go,” the prime minister told the ABC’s 7.30 program.
Albanese will on Monday travel to Madrid for the Nato summit, and as widely tipped, he will add a short detour to Paris to smooth over the acrimony around Australia’s scrapping of the submarine deal with French builder Naval Group. Albanese confirmed a fortnight ago that the government would pay the shipbuilder $835m in compensation, after the former Coalition government tore up the contract in favour of nuclear-powered submarines under the Aukus agreement.
“I’ve been invited by President Macron to meet with him in France. I’ll be doing that in a week’s time. We do need to reset. We’ve already had very constructive discussions,” Albanese said.
“It is important that reset occur. France, of course, is central to power in Europe. But it’s also a key power in the Pacific, in our own region as well … Next week’s visit is a very concrete sign of the repair that’s been done already.”
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, invited Albanese to visit the country. The prime minister has not confirmed his decision, but hinted that the offer was still being considered, saying that he was “getting national security advice on that.”
“We don’t want to cause a circumstance whereby there’s risk to Australian personnel by undertaking such a visit, but we’ll take that advice and we’ll act accordingly,” Albanese said.
Ukraine’s ambassador Vasyl Myroshnychenko on Wednesday encouraged Albanese to take up the invitation, saying it would send a “strong message of solidarity” in the country’s war against Russia and that Zelenskiy would be “delighted” to host him.
Asked about China, Albanese again called for Beijing to lift sanctions on Australian produce, and indicated he would welcome a further thawing of diplomatic relations.
“It will be a problematic relationship, I said that before the election, regardless of the outcome. China has sanctions against Australia that should be removed,” he said.
“They’re damaging the Australian economy and jobs, but they’re causing damage to the Chinese economy. So common sense tells us that you need to have dialogue between countries. They’re our largest trading partner.”
Albanese said it was “a good thing” that defence minister Richard Marles had recently met his Chinese counterpart, the first ministerial dialogue between the two countries in two years.
“I look forward to having further dialogue between ministers of our respective governments … But it is China that has changed and China needs to remove the sanctions and that will go a long way towards restoring improved relations,” he said.
The prime minister also gave some indications towards the tone of the 25 October budget that treasurer Jim Chalmers will hand down, admitting there would have to be spending cuts.
“We’re going to have to really put the brakes on some of the spending which is there,” Albanese said.
“I’ve made it very clear, there are a range of things we would like to do that we won’t be able to do in our first budget. We will also be going through line by line, looking for the waste which is there. Already, we’ve identified a range of measures that were made by the former government that, frankly, don’t stack up.”
Albanese nominated reducing waste, fulfilling election commitments on childcare and jobs, and Labor’s climate and energy policies as the key themes of the budget.
Asked about financial pressures on the budget bottom line, the prime minister firmly ruled out the prospect of repealing the stage three tax cuts for higher-income earners, which have been legislated but are not due to begin until 2024.