France’s envoy is set to outline how his nation plans to redefine its relationship with Australia in the wake of the dumping of a $90 billion submarine deal.
Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault and his US counterpart were recalled to Paris in September after Scott Morrison revealed Australia would work with the US and UK on a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS partnership.
Mr Thebault will address the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
The dumped deal torpedoed five years of collaboration between Australia and France on a project to deliver 12 diesel-powered boats to replace the ageing Collins class fleet.
France labelled the decision “unacceptable behaviour” by its allies and partners, and described its impact as “affecting the very concept… of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe”.
Mr Morrison has since had a phone call with President Emmanuel Macron and briefly caught up with him at the G20 summit in Rome on the weekend.
Mr Macron – in a media doorstop with Australian journalists – accused the prime minister of misleading him over the deal with the US and UK.
“I don’t think, I know,” he said, when asked if he thought Mr Morrison had lied to him.
Mr Morrison has denied misleading the French government and insists concerns about the submarine project had been raised for some time.
Communications between the two leaders were also leaked to the media, with the French president reportedly telling Mr Morrison, “I don’t like losing”.
Days before the AUKUS announcement, Mr Macron reportedly messaged Mr Morrison asking, “Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions?”
Deutsche Presse-Agentur cited a source close to Mr Macron as saying on Tuesday that publishing personal text messages from one leader to another was an “inelegant and unacceptable method, to say it politely”.
The source told DPA it was “not up to the standard of a head of government” and a “last desperate attempt” by Mr Morrison to save his honour.
Overnight on Tuesday, former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull again took aim at Mr Morrison over the France furore.
“Oh, he’s lied to me on many occasions,” he told journalists on the sidelines of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.
“I mean, this is shocking, shocking conduct for Scott Morrison and he can bluster as much as he likes, but he’s not fooling anyone.
“I tell you what Scott Morrison has done, he has sacrificed Australian honour, Australian security and Australian sovereignty.”
Former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd said the way to repair the relationship with France would be to allow the country to re-tender for the submarines, based on a nuclear-powered model.
As well, the UK and US should be invited to put in tenders.
“Under those circumstances not only would you maximise best money for value from the Australian taxpayer point of view, you would go some way to repairing the relationship with the French,” Mr Rudd told the ABC.
Mr Rudd said Mr Morrison had not only jeopardised relations with France but “thrown a spanner in the works” of collaboration between the EU and the United States.
“Our national security interest should be attended to by a proper, sober decision-making process, not this series of random political acts by a prime minister who finds himself… increasingly out of his depth on questions of foreign policy,” he said.