CANBERRA: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attacked the credibility of French President Emmanuel Macron as a newspaper quoted a text message that suggested France anticipated bad news about a now-scuttled submarine deal.
An Australian newspaper cast doubt on President Joe Biden’s explanation to Macron last week that the US leader thought the French had been informed long before the September announcement that their 90 billion Australian dollar ($66 billion) submarine deal with Australia would be scrapped.
Macron this week accused Morrison of lying to him at a Paris dinner in June about the fate of a 5-year-old contract with majority French state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines. Australia canceled that deal when it formed an alliance with US and Britain to acquire a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines built with US technology.
Morrison told Australian reporters who had accompanied him to Glasgow, Scotland, for a UN climate conference that he made clear to Macron at their dinner in June that conventional submarines would not meet Australia’s evolving strategic needs.
Two days before Morrison, Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the nuclear submarine deal, Morrison attempted to phone Macron with the news, but the French leader texted back saying he was not available to take a call, The Australian newspaper reported.
Macron asked: Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarines ambitions? the newspaper reported on Tuesday.
A journalist asked why Morrison decided to leak the text message after Macron accused him of lying, but the prime minister did not directly answer. I’m not going to indulge your editorial on it, but what Ill simply say is this:
We were contacted when we were trying to set up the ... call and he made it pretty clear that he was concerned that this would be a phone call that could result in the decision of Australia not to proceed with the contract, Morrison said.
Macron’s office on Tuesday rejected this description and gave a different timeline of events. An official in the French presidency said that leaking such text messages between world leaders further breaches trust between governments. The official welcomed Biden’s efforts to smooth relations with Paris, while saying that Morrison has yet to apologise.
The official, who was not authorised to be publicly named, also noted that France makes nuclear submarines and could have renegotiated the contract if asked.
French officials said their government had been blindsided by the contract cancellation, calling it a stab in the back. Macron said this week the nuclear submarine deal was very bad news for the credibility of Australia and very bad news for the trust that great partners can have with Australia.
Morrison said Macrons accusation of lying, which the prime minister denies, was a slur against Australia. Most Australian observers see it as a personal insult against Morrison.
I must say that I think the statements that were made questioning Australia’s integrity and the slurs that have been placed on Australia, not me I've got broad shoulders, I can deal with that but those slurs, I’m not going to cop sledging of Australia. I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians, Morrison said. Sledging is a cricketing term for abusive needling of opponents.
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2021