SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia was “upfront, open and honest” with France about its concerns over a massive deal to buy French submarines before tearing up the contract, the defence minister said Sunday.
France is furious at Australia’s decision to withdraw from a multibillion-dollar deal to buy the French submarines in favour of American nuclear-powered vessels, recalling its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington and accusing its allies of “lying” about their plans.
Speaking to Sky News Australia on Sunday, Defence Minister Peter Dutton said his government had been “upfront, open and honest” with France that it had concerns about the deal, which was over-budget and years behind schedule.
Dutton said he understood the “French upset” but added that “suggestions that the concerns haven’t been flagged by the Australian government just defy, frankly, what’s on the public record and certainly what was said publicly over a long period of time”.
“The government has had those concerns, we’ve expressed them, and we want to work very closely with the French and we’ll continue to do that into the future,” he said.
Dutton said he had personally expressed those concerns to his French counterpart, Florence Parly, and highlighted Australia’s “need to act in our national interest”, which he said was acquiring the nuclear-powered submarines.
“And given the changing circumstances in the Indo-Pacific, not just now but over the coming years, we had to make a decision that was in our national interest and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” he added.
Canberra was unable to buy French nuclear-powered vessels because they require charging while the American submarines do not, making only the latter suitable for nuclear-free Australia, Dutton said.
With Australia’s new submarine fleet not expected to be operational for decades, Dutton said the country may consider leasing or buying existing submarines from the United States or Britain in the interim.