Scott Morrison acknowledges Macron’s anger, defends submarine drama handling

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hit back at French President Emmanuel Macron’s accusation of lying, saying he won’t “cop sledging” of Australia over the submarine saga.
Speaking in Glasgow on Monday night ahead of COP26, Mr Morrison once again defended Australia’s decision to abandon the contract with France in favour of buying nuclear-powered submarines from the US as part of the newly formed AUKUS coalition.

The Prime Minister said he would not “personalise” the dispute after French President Emmanuel Macron called him a liar on Sunday in the latest fallout from the scrapped submarine deal.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media at a doorstop interview in Glasgow. (Alex Ellinghausen)
Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media in Scotland to attend the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). (Alex Ellinghausen)

“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,” he said.

“But those slurs, I’m not going to cop sledging at Australia.

“I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians.”

Mr Macron has taken umbrage at the way the announcement was handled and the process that led to Australia abandoning the $90 billion deal with France.

Asked by journalists on Monday whether he thought Mr Morrison lied to him about the deal, Mr Macron said: “I don’t think, I know”.

US President Joe Biden has admitted the handling of the landmark AUKUS agreement that will allow Australia to buy nuclear-powered submarines using US and UK technology was “clumsy”.

“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through, honest to God,” Mr Biden said on Friday, sitting alongside Mr Macron in the French Embassy to the Holy See.

Mr Morrison on Monday reiterated a timeline of events that led to the French deal being scuppered and insisted in the days leading up to the announcement it was “very clear they were aware” the contract was in jeopardy.

“You’ve gotta have the strength to stand up to the offence that (abandoning the French deal) might cause,” Mr Morrison said.

Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Rankin.
Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Rankin. (Australian Defence Force via Get)

“I’m very confident about the decision I’ve made in Australia’s interest.”

Australia eyeing alternative subs for many months

Mr Morrison said he had ordered an investigation after the 2019 election to investigate potential alternatives to the French deal, which he described as “project that had few friends”.

Following the G7, Mr Morrison said he then had dinner with Mr Macron in Paris, where he made the French president aware Australia was considering alternatives to the French deal.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during his visit to BAE Systems in Scotland. (Alex Ellinghausen)
Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits BAE Systems for a tour of Type 26 HMS Glasgow while in Scotland to attend the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. (Alex Ellinghausen)

“I needed to share with him where Australia’s thinking was,” the Prime Minister said, noting Mr Macron had also invited him to the Élysée Palace before the G7.

“… only at that point had it then escalated to the possibility and likelihood of us potentially going down another track.”

Mr Morrison said he made it clear to the French President that Australia was looking at alternative options. He argued that message was clearly received because the next day “the French defence system swung into full action”.

He said he did not share specifics of those alternatives because they were confidential but insisted Mr Macron understood Australia’s intentions.

Mr Morrison said the key issues he raised with Mr Macron about the existing contract were the technology of the submarines that were being provided and the fear of even further delays that would render the submarines “obsolete almost the minute it got wet”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media at a doorstop interview in Glasgow. (Alex Ellinghausen)

Mr Morrison said Mr Macron and French authorities disputed the claim that the subs would not meet Australia’s requirements, and on that point they would have to “agree to disagree”.

Nuclear submarines generally have longer range and can run less detectably than the diesel-powered vessels the French were building for Australia.

The Australian government says while the French were capable of building nuclear-powered submarines, the US design had the advantage of a reactor that lasted the entire life of the vessel.

That sidesteps domestic opposition to a nuclear industry being developed in Australia.

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