Nicole is a first year GLEP student studying a Bachelor of Laws.
The world we live in is so diverse and unique where every individual has a story, a culture and a shared history. Meeting the Consul General of France, Eric Berti, helped me to see that the world and France in particular, is not as far away as I once thought. Rather, Monsieur Berti as a French ambassador and as an individual, stood before me as a bridge between my nation and his. I was utterly amazed at his in-depth knowledge of Australian domestic affairs and I was acutely aware of my own lack of knowledge regarding France and what is important to her. Whether you are interested in diplomacy, economics, history, defence or any other field, everyone can learn something valuable from this event.
I had no idea that this brotherhood between the people of Australia and France dates back to 1788, when the French Laperouse expedition arrived days after Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet. I couldn’t believe that such a brotherhood could develop further in war, where French and Australian troops fought side by side during WW1 and WW2, and now 200,000 Australians travel to France each year to pay their respects at the war cemeteries. For me a truly heart-warming moment that Monsieur Berti touched on, was when France’s President Francois Hollande met with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Canberra November 2014. Did you know he is the first French president to do so? Together they planted an oak tree at the War Memorial Park using a combination of Australian and French soil. This was a significant and symbolic gesture made by the French President to thank Australians for their sacrifice during WW1. This has really inspired me to consider the power of partnership in building connections and shaping the world in a positive way.
I discovered that Australia and France have enjoyed bi-lateral partnership for many years. They signed a joint statement on Strategic Partnership in 2012; Australia sat alongside France as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from 2013-2014; and both nations are members of the G20. As part of the Strategic Partnership, both nations have an interest in the Pacific region and collaborate in areas such as humanitarian aid, economic development, defense and politics.I discovered from all this that Australia can learn a great deal from France, as France seeks to have a comprehensive view of the world, whereby they extend their efforts and attention beyond their own soil to areas in the Middle East and Africa, as well as forming alliances with many other nations. Through listening to Monsieur Berti, I became acutely aware that there are needs out there that we as developed nations are able to address. Monsieur Berti highlighted the potential of education in schools to teach tolerance, respect and cross-cultural understanding. This is an idea that really inspires me, as I would love to see social paradigms change to embrace freedom, equality and mutual respect. Individuals as well as states can initiate a new social paradigm that will echo throughout the international community. Imagine the kind of world shaped by these values that we could create.
Economic trade between France and Australia has also proven beneficial to the partnership. I never realized how important French economic trade and investment was for Australia. For instance, after 1880 the French were the first to buy wool from Australia, which assisted with the stimulation of Australia’s economic growth as a new country. In 2013, Australian investment in France was valued at A$34 billion, while French investment in Australia was A$15.7 billion. These are large figures! Not to mention the large levels of tourism between France and Australia. It is estimated that 1/8 of Australian travellers go to France each year and 110,100 French tourists visited Australia in 2013, a figure that is predicted to increase. Clearly the Aussies are just as excited about posing with a baguette in front of the Eiffel Tower as the French are about getting a selfie with a kangaroo, or braving it on top of the Harbour Bridge.
Learning about foreign nations such as France has opened my eyes to see that individuals play a part in the joining of nations in friendship. For me, I now realize that Australia and France have demonstrated that partnership and collaboration is integral to global leadership. Whether I support a particular organization or simply initiate a conversation with a student of a different cultural background to mine, this consular event has taught me that changing the world and making a difference ultimately begins with partnership.