Morrison on the defensive over French subs deal, after brief tête-à-tête with Macron

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has crossed paths with French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time since Australia tore up its $90 billion submarine contract with French shipbuilder Naval Group.

Key points:Scott Morrison and French President Emmanuel Macron met briefly on the sidelines of the G20 summit in RomeIt followed their first tense phone call since Australia tore up its massive submarine contract with French shipbuilder Naval GroupUS President Joe Biden has described the handling of the matter as “clumsy”

It came a day after US President Joe Biden expressed deep concerns about the handling of the secret plan to dump Naval Group from the future submarine project, labelling it as "clumsy" and "not done with a lot of grace". 

"I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through," Mr Biden told President Macron in Rome.

"I honest to God did not know you had not been," he said.

The Australian and French leaders met briefly on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome — two days after their first tense phone call since the AUKUS announcement, where Australia opted for nuclear-powered submarines in partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom.

"I said g'day, I said g'day," Mr Morrison told reporters in Rome.

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"He was having a chat to someone, I went up and just put my arm on his shoulder and just said 'g'day, Emmanuel,' and 'look forward to catching up over the next couple of days.'

"That's the way these events tend to work and he was happy to exchange those greetings."

Mr Morrison refused to be drawn on whether Mr Biden had thrown him under a diplomatic bus.

"He's had a candid conversation with the French President and I'll leave his remarks for him," Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison has spent much of the last month dealing with French fury at being kept in the dark over the decision, with officials in Paris informed Australia was scrapping the contract just hours before Mr Morrison, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mr Biden hosted a tri-continental press conference to spruik their new security and defence pact.

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The French government recalled its ambassador in Canberra and Mr Macron described the incident as breaking the trust between the two nations.

"Australia made the right decision in our interests to ensure we have the right submarine capability to deal with our strategic interests," Mr Morrison said.

"There was never an easy way for us to get to a point where we had to disappoint a good friend and partner in France that we wouldn't be proceeding with that contract.

"That was always a difficult decision for Australia, it was the right decision for Australia."

two men posing for a photo side by side.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison prior to a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, Pool)

Mr Morrison insisted his AUKUS partners were informed of how Australia was looking to get out of the French contract.

"We work closely with the United States and the United Kingdom, and we kept them up to date, the administration, with where we're at in our various discussions with France," he said.

"France will pursue its interests, we'll pursue ours — and there's a great deal of overlap between those two things."

Mr Morrison also met with Mr Johnson, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and briefly chatted to Mr Biden at the summit.

Earlier he was warmly welcomed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who thanked the Australian Government for the supply of vital COVID-19 vaccines.

Posted 30 Oct 202130 Oct 2021Sat 30 Oct 2021 at 7:20pm, updated 30 Oct 202130 Oct 2021Sat 30 Oct 2021 at 9:09pmShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp

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