The French leader said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had lied to him about Australia’s intentions, an unprecedented allegation among allies. In Rome for the G20 summit, the two leaders were meeting for the first time since Australia scrapped the multi-billion dollar deal with France as part of a new security alliance with Britain and the United States unveiled in September.
The alliance, dubbed AUKUS, which could give Australia access to nuclear-powered submarines, caught Paris off guard, prompting it to recall ambassadors from Washington and Canberra amid accusations that France had been betrayed.
“I don’t think, I know,” Mr Macron said in response to a question whether he thought that Mr Morrison had lied to him.
Responding to the accusation, Mr Morrison hit back saying he would not allow “slurs” against his country from the French leader.
He said: “I think the statements that were made questioning Australia’s integrity and the slurs that have been placed on Australia — not me, I’ve got broad shoulders.
“I can deal with that.
“But those slurs, I’m not going to cop sledging at Australia.”
The French leader did in fact say he has “a lot of respect” for Australia on Sunday.
He said: “I have a lot of respect and a lot of friendship for your people. I just say when we have respect, you have to be true and you have to behave in line, and consistently, with this value.”
Mr Morrison told a media conference later the same day that he had not lied, and had previously explained to Mr Macron that conventional submarines would no longer meet Australia’s needs.
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France has said Australia did not attempt to inform it of the cancellation until the day Canberra announced its deal with the United States and Britain.
“There is no doubt Mr Morrison needed to put his front foot forward and convince Australians and allies that he wasn’t being duplicitous and lying, but there was grave concern that the project would not be completed,” said Haydon Manning, a political science professor at Flinders University in South Australia.
This month, the European Union postponed the next round of talks on a potential free trade deal for a second time, amid simmering anger over Canberra’s decision to cancel the contract with France.
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