Scott Morrison has been accused of putting his personal political interests ahead of the whole of Australia’s diplomatic rift with France, following the leak of a text message from Emmanuel Macron to the Prime Minister.
The release of a text received two days before the Aukus announcement – when the French president asked Morrison if he could expect good or bad news about the submarine project – was “very unconventional behavior between heads of state,” said a leading foreign analyst.
The Morrison government also pushed back the US government on Tuesday, with Defense Secretary Peter Dutton saying Australia’s main security ally was “kept informed of all our movements” in a “no-surprise strategy” in the run-up to the agreement between the two countries and United Kingdom.
The Australian newspaper reported on Tuesday details of a 15-page confidential agreed timeline, which the article said undermined claims by US President Joe Biden that he did not know Australia had not previously informed France of the cancellation of the French submarine contract.
The extraordinary rift between Australia and France stems from Macron’s accusation that Morrison lied to him about plans with the United States and Britain to acquire nuclear submarines. Morrison dismissed the claim, saying he “did not intend to police Australia”.
The Sydney Daily Telegraph and Australian Financial Review reported that Macron had texted Morrison two days before the Aukus announcement in mid-September, saying, “Should I expect good or bad news for our common submarine ambitions?”
The leaked message – shared to strengthen Australia’s position that France was not blind to the cancellation of A $ 90 billion. the submarine deal – also seemed to confirm that Macron did not know which way Australia would go shortly before Aukus was revealed.
It was also reported that Macron told Morrison in June, “I do not like to lose”, after the Australian Prime Minister raised concerns in Paris about whether the 12 planned conventionally powered submarines were still suitable for Australia’s strategic needs.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman Penny Wong said Morrison was “willing to discard alliances and partnerships for personal political interests, instead of simply admitting that this could have been handled better”.
“Mr Morrison has to explain how selective text messages between him and the French president and the contents of a confidential 15-page document secretly negotiated between President Biden’s National Security Council and Australian and British officials ended up in Australian newspapers,” said Wong. .
“Mr Morrison has to rule out that this background came from him, his office or his government. His furious attempts at damage control will only make world leaders trust him less.”
Morrison’s office on Tuesday declined to respond to Wong’s comments, pointing to the prime minister’s comments a day earlier.
Morrison was asked in Glasgow on Monday: “Why did you decide to leak that text message?”
The prime minister did not directly challenge the claim, but said he did not intend to “indulge your editorial staff about it”.
Morrison told reporters that Macron “was concerned that this would be a phone call that would result in Australia’s decision not to proceed with the contract”.
Morrison said the French defense system “flew into action” the day after his dinner with Macron at the Élysée Palace in June to seek to resolve issues with the project – including sending a French admiral to Australia “to try to save the contract”.
The French embassy in Canberra did not comment on the release of the text message, although the ambassador, Jean-Pierre Thébault, is due to speak to the National Press Club on Wednesday.
A comment from the US Embassy and the White House has also been sought.
Earlier, a senior White House official declined to clarify who Biden was referring to when he told Macron in Rome last week: “I was under the impression that France had been informed long before the agreement did not go through. I knew , honest to God, not that you had not been. “
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan – when asked on Monday about Morrison’s handling of the case – replied: “We should look ahead and not back.”
Hervé Lemahieu, research director at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, said Australia had every right to decide to terminate the French contract and enter into Aukus, but communication with France “could have been handled with a little more dexterity and diplomacy”.
Lemahieu said the alleged release of the texts was “very unconventional behavior between heads of state” and reflected “how personal the altercation has become”.
“I think the key variable here is that both President Macron and Prime Minister Morrison are two men facing elections in 2022, and they both see the case as a blow to their prestige and their personal status, and they speak primarily to a domestic audience. here instead of to each other. “
Lemahieu said he had been watching French news stories in recent days, “and this is a bigger story in Australia than it is in France”.
He said the handling of communications with France was “as much an American mismanagement as an Australian” – as the United States is a formal treaty ally with France.
Lemahieu said Biden had “basically decided it was worth pushing Australia under the bus to save” US relations with France.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – who announced the partnership with France to acquire submarines in 2016 – said Morrison “should apologize” to Macron, “because he very elaborately and doubly deceived France”.
Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the situation had become an “extraordinary mess” where “we have now got heads of government effectively leaking towards each other to establish what happened in these informal text messages between heads of government.” .
“Mr Morrison is now digging an even bigger hole for himself, not only in relation to the French, by in fact himself accusing the French president of lying, but also (i) an extraordinary background briefing on the error in Mr Morrison’s view of American officials to properly inform the U.S. president about the nature of the cancellation of the French deal, ”Rudd told ABC.