• Defence figures are set to front an inquiry into the future of Australia's shipbuilding industry. (AAP)
The prospect of a French change of government pulling out of a submarine deal with Australia is highly unlikely a parliamentary committee has been told.
Source:
AAP
14 Mar 2017 - 12:46 PM  UPDATED 14 Mar 2017 - 12:46 PM

Senior foreign affairs and defence officials have played down the risk an uncertain political landscape in France poses for Australia's next submarine fleet project.

Federal parliament's joint treaties committee is examining a submarine co-operation agreement between France and Australia at a hearing in Canberra on Tuesday.

Government-owned French shipbuilder DCNS won the contract to design Australia's 12 new submarines, which will be built in Adelaide.

The treaty has an out clause of two years notice if France or Australia decide to withdraw, the hearing was told.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute defence and strategy program director Andrew Davies, who appeared in a private capacity, noted France had a much more nationalised approach to defence industry compared to Australia.

"We should not convince ourselves that sharing submarine technology with Australia is entirely an act of altruism towards a strategic partner," Dr Davies said.

"We should keep our eyes open and beware of the economic imperative at work."

The first round of voting for the French presidential election will be held in late April and far right candidate Marine Le Pen has strong support.

Asked about growing nationalism and protectionist sentiment in Europe and how that might affect the submarine agreement, Dr Davies said a potential French exit from the European Union might change the landscape.

Foreign affairs department official Andrew Todd said the Australian embassy in Paris was monitoring the French election and he was not aware of Ms Le Pen or her party commenting on the agreement.

"It would be highly unlikely, except in extremist examples (such as invading another country) that could possibly lead to France, with a change of government, wishing to abrogate this treaty," Mr Todd said.

He argued it was a mutually beneficial agreement and would be good for employment and industry in both countries.

Mr Todd acknowledged that Ms Le Pen had a close policy association with Russia but said leaders sometimes changed their views in office.

"Whilst the French presidency has a particular responsibility for defence and foreign policy, passing laws in France requires parliament, he said.

"There are significant checks and balances in the system."

Defence department deputy secretary Rebecca Skinner said the treaty did not require parliamentary approval in France so it would come into effect once it was ratified in Australia.

A delegation of French MPs from different political parties visited Canberra in February to show multi-partisan support for the submarine project, she said.

The first steel for the submarines is expected to be cut by 2022 and the first vessels will enter service in the early 2030s.

A group of Australian personnel is due to travel to France to start working alongside designers in June or July.