French president Emmanuel Macron has accused Scott Morrison of lying to him over a now-cancelled submarine deal but Morrison denies the suggestion, as tensions simmer at the G20 summit in Rome.
When asked by reporters if he thinks Morrison lied to him over the deal, the French president responded saying: “I don’t think, I know [this to be the case]”.
“I think it’s very bad news for [the] credibility of Australia and very bad news for the trust that great partners can have with the Australians,” Macron said.
“This is detrimental to the reputation of your country and your prime minister.”
The Australian government scrapped a contract with France in September to build 12 diesel-powered submarines, instead pursuing nuclear-powered submarines in a deal with the US and UK — coined AUKUS.
Australia’s change in direction led to immediate repercussions from France, which withdrew its ambassadors in Australia and the US but has since reinstated them.
Morrison responded to Macron’s comments saying: “it’s not true”.
“I’m quite conscious of the disappointment that’s there. And I’m not surprised,” the prime minister said.
“But I’m not going to put that interest higher than Australia’s national interest, and I don’t think any Australian would expect me to do the same — would expect me to surrender that interest for the sake of another.”
He said that at a meeting with Macron in France in June, he had told the French president conventional submarines were “not going to meet our strategic interests”.
But Morrison did not go into further detail about whether France had offered nuclear vessels.
“At that stage, we had not concluded any other arrangement with any other parties,” Morrison said of the June meeting.
Penny Wong, opposition leader in the Senate, said the display was damaging Australia’s reputation internationally.
“[US] president [Joe] Biden showed leadership. He accepted that the French felt deceived and now their relationship is back on track,” Wong said on Monday morning.
“If you want to ask how we diplomatically resolve this it really comes back to a simple proposition — if someone tells you that they feel misled, simply denying it is not going to help. You have to try and deal with the fact that is their impression.”