Scott Morrison throws cold water on France’s ‘tech secrets’ allegation

He dismissed claims by the French ambassador that the deal went beyond an ordinary commercial transaction and that French “technological secrets” had been leaked.

Tensions between the countries continue to simmer after Canberra’s decision to withdraw its $90bn order for a submarine fleet from France, in favor of

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On Saturday, Mr Morrison told SBS News in an exclusive interview that it “would have been negligent” for him to pursue a contract that “would not meet” Australia’s needs.

He said it was important for relations with Paris to “normalize”, a week after the European country recalled its ambassador to Australia and the United States.

While there are signs that relations between France and the United States have improved following a telephone meeting between the leaders of the two countries, it seems that this is not the case with Australia.

“What is important for me is that we return to a normal relationship with France and that we continue the work that we were doing before, because the submarine contract was only one element of our relationship” , Mr. Morrison said.

“France is a great partner in the Pacific. France is a great partner among liberal democracies. We share values, we share a vision and we want to be partners with France.”

French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault at Sydney airport, Saturday September 18, 2021.

French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault at Sydney airport, Saturday September 18, 2021. Source: PA

Comments come after French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thébault

the decision to call off the deal goes beyond a breach of contract, describing it as a “betrayal in the making”.

Mr. Thébault added that the nature of the contract went beyond an ordinary commercial transaction, to one where there was an exchange of “technological secrets”.

“It was (really) a real relationship of partnership, a real relationship of trust, of trust between two great countries in the Indo-Pacific.

“So it was something of a completely different nature from an ordinary contract.”

Mr Morrison dismissed any insinuation that his government exploited military and intelligence secrets during the deal as “nonsense”.

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“We were working in good faith in a contract, working together, paying our bills too, by the way. And by paying our bills in this contract and working, many of our employees have developed great skills. It’s great for Australia.

The Prime Minister reiterated that if Australia went ahead with the submarine contract, “it would have been terribly against Australia’s interests”.

“Of course I couldn’t go on with that. And of course when you make a tough decision like that it won’t be welcomed by the other party to the contract. I understand that.

“But we’ll just have to persevere, commit more. And I believe we’ll get there because at the end of the day, we share the same principles, we share the same beliefs and we share the same goals.”

On Thursday, the CEO of French defense contractor Naval Group said he would invoice Australia “in the coming weeks” after the deal was cancelled.

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In response, Mr Morrison said the two parties would ‘resolve these issues’ in accordance with the contract.

“We have been very clear in our understanding of our obligations here and we are acting in accordance with them.

“Let me be very clear, the suggestion some seem to be making, that Australia should have gone ahead with a contract costing Australian taxpayers tens of billions of dollars to build a boat that was wrong meet our needs, would have been negligent.

“So I had to make the difficult decision and I understood that by doing this, it was going to cause anger and disappointment in our friend and partner, France.”

The comments come as Trade Minister Dan Tehan said he remained hopeful an “open invitation” would be accepted when he visited Paris in October, after confirming his French counterpart had turned down an offer to meet.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Source: AAP

Mr. Tehan is due to travel to the French capital for a meeting of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He said on Saturday he wanted to meet French Trade Minister Franck Riester to “explain” Australia’s decision.

“I hope we can sit down and discuss this issue,” he said.

“There is an open invitation for me to sit down with my French counterpart and be able to explain the decision – a decision that was taken in our national interest which was intended to protect our sovereignty, our security – and I could sit and resolve this with my counterpart.”

However, an official in Mr Riester’s office said on Friday the offer had been rejected.

“We will not be responding to the Australian minister’s request for a meeting,” the official said. “We can’t carry on like it’s business as usual.”

Mr Tehan said he still hoped the couple could discuss the matter.

“When I saw this report, what I did was I spoke to our ambassador in Paris and I just said, ‘Please just extend this invitation – it’ is an open invitation. I would be more than willing to sit down and talk to our counterpart and resolve this issue’.”

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