Scott Morrison, or his ministers or officials, are perfectly justified in leaking key text messages and the existence of key documents to demonstrate he did not lie to French President Emmanuel Macron, and the Biden administration was not misled about what the French had been told about the prospects of the submarines deal not going forward.
The breach of protocol here lies with the vindictive and foolish French President, not with the Prime Minister, though certainly it is fair to judge the Morrison government has handled this with some clumsiness.
I hate to reveal a state secret here, but more than 40 years in international journalism have taught me that national governments leak against each other all the time. In general, the cleverer the government, the more subtle and less obvious is the leaking.
What’s much more unusual is to leak personally against a leader, especially one of a friendly government.
Normally that would be foolish and ill-advised, but it is even more extraordinary for Macron to name Morrison and accuse him of lying.
This is plainly untrue in substance, and Macron is the delinquent and irresponsible national leader here, breaching normal diplomatic conventions.
The French, despite their pretensions, are actually often quite coarse and unsophisticated in their ultra-nationalism, which is mostly directed at the perfidious Anglo-Saxons. They are always raging against alleged polluting of their pristine national identity by American cultural intrusions.
Culturally and politically, they are more or less constantly at war with the British, and the insults the French have heaped on Boris Johnson, who mostly responds with a gently derisive good humour, makes Morrison look like their best friend.
Now because the French apparently thought they had a divine right to $90bn from the Australian taxpayer, Macron gets to abuse Morrison with his shocking lies and at the same time paint himself as the victim.
Canberra’s doubts over the French sub had been exhaustively reported in The Australian, and some international, media. The French company Naval Group was intimately aware of all of this and frequently spoke to Australian journalists about it.
Everybody knew the government had appointed Admiral Jonathan Meade to look at alternatives. The decision to move to the next stage of contracts with the French had been delayed for months by Canberra. Obviously, and there was no secret about this, Canberra was thinking about not proceeding.
No one knew the Americans and Brits would share nuclear propulsion technology with Australia. That element of confidentiality involves a general implicit deception of the whole world. If anyone had asked the US during that period, it would have said its policy was not to share such technology. To construe that as culpable deception, while confidential talks are under way, is ridiculous.
The row with Macron is infinitely less important than the double dealing of the Atlanticists and climate change fanatics – who don’t like conservative governments anywhere but especially in Australia – inside the Biden administration.
Morrison should limit any disagreement with Biden and mobilise the powerful pro-Australian elements in the administration to get the US President to stop blackguarding his own deal. They also need quickly to re-establish top level American commitment to this deal.
But Macron should understand that France will pay a continuing price for its President’s grotesque comments. Certainly, Morrison or his colleagues were entitled to establish that it is Macron who has trouble describing reality accurately.
Greg Sheridan Foreign Editor
Greg Sheridan, The Australian's foreign editor, is one of the nation's most influential national security commentators, who is active across television and radio and also writes extensively on culture. He has w... Read more
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