Former Australian PM rips Scott Morrison over French submarine deal
The cancellation of the contract, according to the former prime minister, has "undermined Australia's honor, security, and sovereignty."
New emails indicate Australian defense officials reported "excellent progress" on the French submarine project just two weeks before the agreement was canceled, prompting former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to accuse Scott Morrison of "a diplomatic fiasco of the first order."
The emails, which were first published by the Guardian Australia on Monday, showed that "far from the French being aware the project was going to be scrapped, they were being told the project was in fine shape," according to the former prime minister.
Documents obtained under freedom of information laws show Australia’s defense leadership received positive advice about the project, just weeks before Australia unveiled the AUKUS pact in mid-September. The US and the UK are now pledging to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
The defense department secretary, Greg Moriarty, promised in an email to colleagues on 30 August to “ensure that the good progress to date is part of the advice we take to government”. On the same day, he said, it would be stated in a video connection meeting between the Australian and French military and foreign affairs ministers.
The offer from France's Naval Group for the next phase of construction was "cheap and acceptable," according to Gregory Sammut, the military department's general manager of submarines.
Emails in favor of the submarine program
On Thursday night, Turnbull and Peter Dutton, the Australian defense minister, appeared on ABC TV to discuss the emails, which the 7.30 program had also obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The emails, according to the former PM, prove that the new Attack-class submarine program "was on track, in good form, progressing well, and was well within its budget."
Turnbull, who announced the contract with France while in office, called it "extraordinary" that the Morrison administration "blew up" a project that was on track.
He claimed Morrison, whom he has been increasingly critical of, had failed to be "truthful and honest," causing Australia's diplomatic ties to suffer.
“Look, regardless of what you think about the submarines, this was a diplomatic debacle of the first order and the consequences being that it has undermined Australia’s honor, security, and sovereignty,” Turnbull said.
The emails, according to Dutton, must be examined in context. Within the military department, he said, conversations concerning converting to a nuclear-powered submarine option were "compartmentalized."
“There were a single-digit number of people who had access to what was a very high-level discussion and decision-making process within the government,” he said.
The second set of documents obtained by Guardian Australia in December revealed that a defense department examination into the possibility of nuclear-powered submarines, which would be initiated in 2020, would be conducted on a "strictly need-to-know basis."