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Pants on fire: Morrison says he 'won't cop sledging of Australia'

Politics

Scott Morrison insists he won’t accept “sledging of Australia” after being branded a liar by French President Emmanuel Macron over the scrapping of a $90 billion submarine deal.

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The prime minister maintains Macron knew there were problems with the Naval Group project before Australia announced it was torpedoing it.

Morrison said at the COP26 summit in Glasgow he wasn’t going to cop “sledging of Australia” after Macron called him a liar during a G20 meeting at the weekend.

“I can deal with that. But those slurs, I’m not going to cop sledging at Australia. I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians,” the prime minister said at a press conference with the chair of defence contractor BAE Systems.

Morrison explained he made it “very clear” to Macron in June the conventional diesel-powered submarines were not going to meet Australia’s strategic requirements.

“We discussed that candidly. I did not discuss what other alternatives we were looking at,” he said.

“It’s no secret, I’m sure in Australia, that this was a project that had few friends, and that is a point that we had made to Naval and particularly to the French government.

“It’s clear from President Macron’s statements yesterday that the level of offence is still very great and we will wait for that to subside.”

Macron told reporters on the sideline of the G20 summit in Rome “I don’t think, I know” the Australian prime minister lied to him about the submarines.

Australia in September announced it was cancelling the 2016 contract to acquire conventional Attack Class submarines from France’s Naval Group.

Instead, the government is looking at the feasibility of acquiring technology for nuclear-powered vessels from the US and UK under the AUKUS partnership.

Communications between the two leaders was also leaked to the media, with the French president reportedly telling Mr Morrison “I don’t like losing”.

Days before the announcement, Macron reportedly messaged Morrison asking: “Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions?”

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, under whom the French deal was signed, thinks Morrison should apologise.

“He did very elaborately and duplicitously deceive France,” Turnbull told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“If we had sat down with France and the US and said ‘look we think we need to move to naval nuclear propulsion’, you could have had a discussion.”

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