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Peter Dutton suggests looming French election part of fury over Australian AUKUS submarine deal

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had been waiting weeks for a phone call with the French President, but this could explain the lingering fury.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has suggested the reason France remains “frustrated” about Australia scrapping the bilateral $90bn submarine deal is because of a looming election.

President Emmanuel Macron called Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday, more than a month after Australia announced it would explore nuclear submarine capabilities through a new partnership with the UK and the US, scrapping a deal with the French and resulting in a major diplomatic fallout.

In a readout issued after the phone call, the Elysee Palace said Mr Macron had told Mr Morrison the decision had “broken” trust between the two nations.

“It is now up to the Australian government to propose tangible actions that embody the will of Australia’s highest authorities to redefine the basis of our bilateral relationship,” the readout said.

In contrast, a spokesperson for Mr Morrison described the phone call as having been a “candid discussion”.

Speaking on Friday morning, Mr Dutton reiterated Mr Morrison’s sentiments, calling the phone call “productive” and suggested there was an election-sized reason as to why the French continued to voice their anger.

“I think the Prime Minister had been keen for the phone call to happen,” Mr Dutton told Today.

“(But) look, don’t forget too that France has got an election in April of next year.

“So politicians and elections always make for an interesting mix.

“So I think once we get through that next year, hopefully we can continue with steps to normalise the relationship, but that’s the situation at the moment.”

Mr Dutton said Australia “understood” France’s frustration, but ultimately the submarine decision had been made in the national interest.

“We believe that the nuclear-powered submarines will give our country security and protection into the coming decades, and we don’t make any apology for that,” he said.

Australia’s decision to scrap the deal, made in 2015, in favour of the future purchase of nuclear submarines made available through AUKUS sparked fury, resulting in France immediately pulling their ambassador from Australia.

But he returned this week, and Foreign Minister Marise Payne told Senate estimates on Thursday she would meet with him next week to begin repairing the relationship.

“I certainly regret the deep disappointment that France feels,” she said.

Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault said earlier this month that he was “happy to be back”, but the relationship still needed some work.

The phone call came just before Mr Morrison boarded a flight to Rome for a G20 leaders meeting and then Glasgow for the COP26 climate conference, where Mr Macron will also be present.

It will be the first time the leaders have come face-to-face since the two were in New York last month for the United Nations General Assembly, where Mr Macron gave Mr Morrison the cold shoulder.

Mr Morrison then wrote a letter to Mr Macron requesting a phone call.

During the eventual call on Thursday, Mr Morrison took the opportunity to “inform the President about Australia’s commitment to deliver net zero emissions by 2050”.

But the French readout suggested Mr Macron had encouraged Mr Morrison to adopt “ambitious measures commensurate with the climate challenge”, including scrapping production and consumption of coal.

Mr Dutton said on Friday the government’s net zero plan, which Mr Morrison is taking to Glasgow, would ensure no industry would be “crushed”.

“We don’t want to lose jobs, we don’t want to close down those regional towns, we want our economy to go well,” Mr Dutton told Today.

“We want to take care of the economy. The Prime Minister has got a plan to be able to do that.”

Read related topics:Peter DuttonScott Morrison


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