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Malcolm Turnbull details call with French President Emmanuel Macron over Scott Morrison’s sub deal

Malcolm Turnbull has savagely described Scott Morrison as ‘deceitful’ in a fiery radio interview and hinted at what he told the French President during their unofficial phone call last month.

In a virtual speech to the National Press Club last week, Mr Turnbull slammed Mr Morrison for scrapping a deal to buy 12 French-made diesel-electric submarines in favour of eight nuclear-powered boats in a new pact with the US and UK.

The former Prime Minister also revealed he had called President Emmanuel Macron who was left furious by the unexpected change of plan which many in France described as a betrayal.

Mr Turnbull did not reveal what he said on the call and was accused by commentators including radio host Ben Fordham of being ‘bitter’ because he was ousted from office – and acting against Australia’s national interest.

The former Prime Minister, who led from 2015 to 2018, on Friday morning said he was not harming Australia’s national interest but trying to convince the President that Australia was not a deceitful country. 

Emmanuel Macron (pictured) has refused to speak to Scott Morrison since the Prime Minister tore up Australia’s $90billion submarine deal with France but has spoken to Mr Turnbull

‘The best I can say to Macron and to others in France is this: We may have a deceitful Prime Minister but believe us we are not a deceitful nation,’ he told ABC Radio National in yet another swipe at the Prime Minster.

Asked if was undercutting Australia’s national interest by describing Mr Morrison as ‘deceitful’, Mr Turnbull said: ‘No I’m not’. 

‘The best thing we can hope for is that other countries in the world including France do not assume that Australia is of the same character that has been show in this debacle over the submarines.

‘The Americans have said the same thing about Trump so it’s not uncommon,’ he said. 

Mr Macron has refused to speak to Mr Morrison since he was blindsided by the nuclear submarine deal which the Prime Minister announced by with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson on September 15.

To show its fury, France took the rare step of recalling its ambassadors from the US and Australia. 

French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault has now been given the green light to return to Canberra.

Malcolm Turnbull (pictured with wife Lucy in Sydney in 2019) has denied acting against Australia's national interest by calling the French President behind Scott Morrison's back

Malcolm Turnbull (pictured with wife Lucy in Sydney in 2019) has denied acting against Australia’s national interest by calling the French President behind Scott Morrison’s back

Mr Morrison said he could not tell French counterparts about the nuclear deal because highly secure information shared with the US and UK may have leaked to the media or to other nations – but Mr Thebault said this was a ‘childish’ argument.

‘It’s childish to say that it was impossible to consult France. If you don’t want to take my word, okay, take the words of President (Joe) Biden, take the words of Secretary of State (Antony) Blinken,’ he told ABC radio on Friday.

‘They have officially stated things should have been done differently. There should have been consultations.’

Mr Thebault said France’s trust in Australia was badly dented by the deal, which Mr Turnbull described as ‘deceitful’. 

In his speech last week (pictured), Mr Turnbull said his government had looked into nuclear submarines, but was advised it could not operate such a fleet without a civil nuclear industry

In his speech last week (pictured), Mr Turnbull said his government had looked into nuclear submarines, but was advised it could not operate such a fleet without a civil nuclear industry

‘If we were lied to on one very important aspect, which other aspects was there a real trust,’ Mr Thebault said.

‘Confidence is not something you throw away when it’s convenient, you know, trust is something you build, trust is something you create through your own action.’

When he revealed last week he had spoken to Mr Macron, Mr turnbull said: ‘I have spoken to Emmanuel Macron. He is a friend and I have stayed in touch with him since I left office. He is one of the great leaders of our times. 

‘I am not going to quote him but what you have heard from the French government is held – those are views held right across the board.’

‘There is nobody in France that I am aware of saying this is just another commercial deal, too bad. Not at all. 

Scott Morrison and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris in June

Scott Morrison and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris in June

‘The foreign minister, when he said it was a stab in the back, was not speaking just for himself, there is outrage. What it tells you is that Australia can’t be trusted.’   

In his speech, Mr Turnbull said his government had looked into nuclear submarines, but was advised it could not operate such a fleet without a civil nuclear industry.

The Morrison government says a domestic nuclear industry is not needed to support the submarines, as they come with whole-of-life nuclear power plants which do not need further refuelling.

Last month in New York, Mr Morrison admitted he knew the French would be furious after he tore up the submarine deal. 

The French – who were only told the night before the announcement- have reacted with fury, claiming Australia’s move was a ‘stab in the back’.

The US and the UK will help Australia build nuclear-powered submarines. Pictured: the UK's Astute class submarine HMS Ambush

The US and the UK will help Australia build nuclear-powered submarines. Pictured: the UK’s Astute class submarine HMS Ambush

‘It would be naive to think a decision of this nature was not going to cause disappointment, obviously, to the French,’ he said. 

‘We understand that. We totally acknowledge that. And we knew that would be the case.’  

Mr Morrison said he told the French many months ago that conventional submarines no longer met Australia’s demands – but they were still blindsided.

‘The world is a jungle,’ ex-ambassador to the US Gerard Araud tweeted after the nuclear deal was announced.

‘France has just been reminded this bitter truth by the way the US and the UK have stabbed her in the back in Australia. C’est la vie.’

China has inflamed tensions in the South China Sea in recent years by expanding its claimed territory (picutred in red), to the objection of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific

China has inflamed tensions in the South China Sea in recent years by expanding its claimed territory (picutred in red), to the objection of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific

The French government later said Australia’s decision to ditch the agreement was ‘contrary to the spirit of cooperation which prevailed’ between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said the change in plan ‘marks an absence of coherence that France can only observe and regret’.

The Prime Minister was joined for the AUKUS announcement by US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a historic joint video-link press conference.

None of the leaders mentioned China by name but the West is increasingly concerned about Beijing’s growing assertiveness and huge military build-up.  

Mr Morrison said Australia needed nuclear submarines because they can travel further and evade enemy detection better than conventional submarines.  

China has vastly built up its military in the past few years and now possesses six Shang-class nuclear powered attack submarines, equipped with torpedoes and cruise missiles. This graphic shows a comparison of the two militaries

China has vastly built up its military in the past few years and now possesses six Shang-class nuclear powered attack submarines, equipped with torpedoes and cruise missiles. This graphic shows a comparison of the two militaries

Why is Australia building nuclear-powered submarines? 

 Why nuclear submarines?

Nuclear submarines are powered by nuclear reactors which produce heat that creates high-pressured steam to spin turbines and power the boat’s propeller. 

They can run for about 20 years before needing to refuel, meaning food supplies are the only limit on time at sea.

The boats are also very quiet, making it harder for enemies to detect them and can travel at top speed – about 40kmh – for longer than diesel-powered subs.

The first nuclear submarines were put to sea by the United States in the 1950s. They are now also in use by Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, and India. 

A senior US defence official told reporters in Washington DC: ‘This will give Australia the capability for their submarines to basically deploy for a longer period, they’re quieter, they’re much more capable. 

‘They will allow us to sustain and to improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific.’

Zack Cooper, a senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, said nuclear submarines would hugely boost Australia’s military capability.

‘They are going to be much, much more capable in the large, expansive ocean that is Australia has to deal with,’ he told the ABC.  

Will Australia have nuclear weapons? 

Scott Morrison made it clear that the nuclear-power submarines will not have nuclear missiles on board.

Australia has never produced nuclear weapons and signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 which prevents non-nuclear states which don’t already have them from developing nuclear weapons.

Mr Morrison also said the Australia has no plans to build nuclear power stations which are widely used around the world. 

‘But let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability,’ he said.

‘And we will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.’  

Are they safe? 

The nuclear reactors are shielded from the rest of the submarine in a separate section to protect the crew from dangerous radiation. 

The US has an excellent safety record with its nuclear-powered fleet although early Russian subs suffered a few accidents which caused 20 servicemen to die from radiation exposure between 1960 and 1985.

At the end of their 20-year lifetimes, the contaminated parts of nuclear reactors need to be disposed deep underground in special waste storage cells. 

Anti-nuclear campaigners say any leaks of radioactive waste could lead to an environmental disaster. 

Greens leader Adam Bandt called the submarines ‘floating Chernobyls’ in reference to the 1986 nuclear power plant explosion in the Soviet Union.

Why now?

Australia needs to replace its six ageing Collins-class submarines. 

In 2016 it signed a deal with French Company Naval Group to build 12 diesel-electric attack subs – but the parties were in dispute over the amount of building that would be done in Australia.

That deal has now been torn up in favour of nuclear powered subs aided by the US and UK who will provide the technology to Australia.

The West is becoming increasingly concerned about the growing assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region where it has made huge territorial claims in the South and East China seas, clashed with Indian troops and repeatedly flown planes over Taiwan.

Mr Morrison wants Australia to have serious defence capability to deter China from encroaching in the Pacific and long-range nuclear submarines are just the ticket. 

China has vastly built up its military in the past few years and now possesses six Shang-class nuclear powered attack submarines, equipped with torpedoes and cruise missiles.    

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