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Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has joined French President Emmanuel Macron in calling Scott Morrison a liar over the cancellation of a $90 billion submarine contract, saying the Prime Minister had a reputation for being dishonest.
In a fierce criticism of his former colleague, Mr Turnbull said Mr Morrison had lied to him when they worked together in government but had committed a graver mistake by being dishonest on an international level.
Malcolm Turnbull, who is in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, said Scott Morrison had lied to him when they worked together in government.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Mr Macron branded Mr Morrison a liar on Monday by saying “I don’t think, I know” when a journalist asked him if he thought the Prime Minister had lied to him.
Mr Turnbull, who is in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, said he had no doubt the French leader had been deceived and said he had the same experience as prime minister from 2015 to 2018 when he worked with Mr Morrison.
“Oh, he’s lied to me on many occasions,” Mr Turnbull said when journalists asked him about the events on the sidelines of the summit.
“Scott has always had a reputation for telling lies.”
Mr Turnbull, who has fallen out with Mr Morrison since losing power in a leadership spill three years ago, said the French leader had been misled because the Australian government had tried to keep its options open while it explored a deal with the United States and the United Kingdom.
“When a prime minister behaves disingenuously or dissembles or is dishonest, it will reflect on his or her credibility, it will reflect on the credibility of their party and the government,” he said.
“But when you do that as leader of the nation, internationally, it reflects on us all.
“Deceiving people is bad wherever you do it but when you do it at an international level it has much graver ramifications.”
Australia struck a landmark deal with French company Naval Group in 2016 for a fleet of submarines to be built in Adelaide but dropped the deal on September 15 this year and announced a nuclear submarine alliance with the US and UK.
Scott Morrison and French President Emmanuel Macron, who called the Australian Prime Minister a liar.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Mr Morrison has confirmed he received a text from Mr Macron on about September 13 asking whether there would be good or bad news about the contract, but this did not lead to a conversation.
The new alliance, called AUKUS, was announced two days later as a plan to build nuclear-powered submarines, in a statement that also meant the French contract was cancelled from that point.
The AUKUS announcement came only two weeks after Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton issued a statement with their French counterparts on August 30 emphasising the “importance of the future submarine program” and agreeing to strengthen military research between the two countries.
“Morrison created the impression to the French that everything was going ahead at the same time he was planning to pull the plug if he got a better deal,” Mr Turnbull said.
“That would be regarded as sharp practice in the property development sector, let alone between nations.”
Mr Morrison has denied lying to Mr Macron and argued that he chose to have a private dinner with the French leader in Paris in June to give him a clear warning that Naval Group might lose the contract because Australia was looking at alternatives.
The dinner was held a few days after Mr Morrison agreed on the AUKUS plan with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but the Australian leader did not tell the French President that the US and UK were the alternative options for Australia.
Turnbull, pictured, said Scott Morrison had lied to him “on many occasions”.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
“Only at that point had it then escalated to the possibility and likelihood of us potentially going down another track,” said Mr Morrison of the June talks.
“Now, at that point I made it very clear that a conventional diesel-powered submarine was not going to meet Australia’s strategic requirements. We discussed that candidly.
“I did not discuss what other alternatives we were looking at. They were in confidence and they were subject to the security arrangements we had about those other discussions.”
Mr Turnbull said it was wrong for Mr Morrison to claim that Australia had gained access to UK and US nuclear submarine technology it had been denied in the past. He said Australia could have sought this technology in the past but did not do so because it chose conventional submarines.
Mr Turnbull also argued the submarine deal with France, which was decided when he and Mr Morrison were in federal cabinet as prime minister and treasurer respectively, could have been converted into a nuclear submarine program over time because Naval Group built nuclear submarines.
And he rejected the government’s argument that the US and UK submarines were better than French options because they used a single nuclear reactor fitted to a submarine for life with no need to be refuelled. Mr Turnbull said it was wrong to say this would not require a civil nuclear industry of some kind in Australia unless the submarines were maintained in the US or UK.
He also warned that the Australian plan could trigger problems with nuclear proliferation because it required access to highly enriched uranium and could lead to countries like Iran demanding they could do the same.
Mr Turnbull, who said he had spoken to Mr Macron about the matter, said the events had revealed “shocking conduct” by the Prime Minister.
“He can bluster as much as he likes but he’s not fooling anyone,” Mr Turnbull said.
“He has sacrificed Australian honour, Australian security and Australian sovereignty. Now that is a shocking thing for an Australian prime minister to do.”
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