Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sensationally rebuked Emmanuel Macron after the French president called him a liar.
Mr Morrison told reporters in Glasgow on Monday night he would not “cop slurs” about Australia’s integrity and that he made no apology for his decision to abandon a $90 billion submarine contract with France.
Mr Macron accused Mr Morrison of lying by not revealing that Australia had been in talks with the UK and US over the acquisition of nuclear submarines before he pulled out of the French deal.
Mr Macron made the extraordinary comment to Australian reporters at the G20 summit in Rome, after weeks of escalating diplomatic tensions between France and Australia.
“I have a lot of respect and a lot of friendship for (Australian) people,” he said.
“I just say when we have respect, you have to be true and you have to behave in line and consistently with this value.
When asked if he thought Mr Morrison had lied to him, he said: “I don’t think, I know”.
In response, Mr Morrison said he did not wish to “personalise the spat” but would not accept “statements questioning Australia’s integrity”.
“I don’t wish to personalise this,” Mr Morrison said.
“There’s no element of that from my perspective. 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 at Australia. I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians.
“I can deal with whatever people throw at me. But Australia has a proud record when it comes to our defence capability. That’s why we will be building these. We’ll be building others. And Australia’s service record, I think needs no elaboration. And so that’s where we are.”
He said the conventional diesel submarines that would have been built under the deal with France would not have met Australia’s strategic needs.
“I have to put Australia’s interests before any interests that involved potentially offending others,” he said.
“The (French) submarine contract was a significant investment decision taken five years ago. At that point, given the strategic circumstance, time and technology available to Australia the attack class submarine was the right decision.
“But there have been significant changes that have occurred in our strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific, which completely changed the game.”
Mr Morrison laid out a timeline about when Australia pulled out of the deal, saying the French failed to meet key deadlines stipulated in the submarine contract.
“There were quite a few issues that went to following through on the commitments on Australian industry content,” Mr Morrison said.
“There was a lot of issues in relation to delays in the project and of course, the costs.
“These were matters that we raised quite regularly and indeed I raised with President Macron at each opportunity when we either spoke over the phone or we had our bilateral meetings going over a number of years.
“Those delays and those concerns led me to take a decision early on about 18 months ago or thereabouts, to ensure that if we did have concerns about how this project might proceed, then we would need to have an alternative.
“And in my view, we had to have a better alternative. I didn’t want Australia to settle for less.”
Mr Morrison said he acted to abandon the deal in Australia’s national interests, and Mr Macron was given some advance warning the French deal was not working.
He said French officials had attempted to appease Australia’s concerns, without success.
Both leaders have been at the G20 summit and are now in Glasgow for the United Nations COP26 Climate Change conference.
There was no mention of climate change in Mr Morrison’s Monday press conference, which he dedicated entirely to responding to Mr Macron.