The Australia-France row over the collapse of a submarine deal reached an “unprecedented new low” when a text message from the French president to Australia’s leader was leaked, France’s ambassador to Canberra said Wednesday.
Emmanuel Macron sent the message to Prime Minister Scott Morrison two days before Australia announced that it had torn up a decade-old multi-billion-dollar contract with France to build a new fleet of submarines.
Paris reacted furiously, and Macron added to the furore at the weekend by accusing Morrison of lying to him, a charge the Australian has batted away.
In a fiery speech on Wednesday, French ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault said the leaking of the private text was an “unprecedented new low”.
“You don’t behave like this on personal exchanges of leaders who are allies. But maybe it is just confirmation that we were never seen as an ally,” he told Australia’s National Press Club.
“Doing so also sends a very worrying signal for all heads of state: beware, in Australia, there will be leaks.
“And what you say in confidence to your partners will be eventually used and weaponised against you one day.”
In the message, Macron had asked Morrison: “Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions?”
Reports said the leak could have been engineered by Morrison’s office in retaliation for the “lying” charge.
‘Proof of love’
Australia announced in mid-September it was abandoning the French diesel submarines in favour of nuclear-powered submarines as it joined a new defence alliance with Britain and the United States dubbed AUKUS.
The pact is widely viewed as an attempt to counter rising Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Thebault said Canberra’s suggestion that dissatisfaction with the French conventional submarines had been communicated was “fiction”, saying Paris could not be expected to interpret “ambiguous attitudes”.
He pointed to an August joint communique underlining the importance of the sub deal — just two weeks before it was ripped up — adding “the deceit was intentional”.
Thebault, who was briefly recalled to Paris over the dispute, said it was now “up to Australia” to suggest ways to repair the damaged relationship.
“We won’t buy on promises of love. Love is good. But proof of love is much better,” he said.
Speaking to Australian reporters in Dubai, Morrison attempted to draw a line under the episode, saying it was now time to “move on”.
“I don’t think there is any further profit for anyone in continuing down this path,” he said. “Claims were made and claims were refuted, what is needed now is for us to all just get on with it.”