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16 Oct 2021 15:03
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  •   Home > News > International

    'A clumsy, inadequate and unAustralian situation': French Ambassador departs Canberra over submarine spat

    Jean-Pierre Thebault leaves Canberra offering a scathing analysis of Australia's diplomacy in recent days, describing the decision to scrap the government's $90 billion submarine contract as a "huge mistake".

    France's Ambassador to Australia has delivered a scathing assessment of the federal government's diplomacy as he departs for Paris, describing it as "clumsy, inadequate and unAustralian".

    Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault was recalled to France in the early hours of Saturday morning with senior ministers furious at Australia's decision to scrap a $90 billion submarine contract.

    Shortly before leaving Canberra, Mr Thebault said he was "very, very sad" to be leaving and compared Australia's treatment of France to "a stab in the back".

    "I think this has been a huge mistake, a very, very bad handling of the partnership – because it wasn't a contract, it was a partnership that was supposed to be based on trust, mutual understanding and sincerity," Mr Thebault said.

    "I would like to run into a time machine, if possible, and be in a situation where we don't end up in such an incredible, clumsy, inadequate unAustralian situation."

    Mr Thebault said people-to-people relations between France and Australia were strong and would remain so.

    Senior French officials have accused Australia of deliberately keeping the country in the dark before announcing it would procure nuclear-powered submarines from the US and the UK, describing that as a "breach of confidence".

    The diplomatic spat is now threatening to spill over into Australia's trade relationship with Paris. Australia is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union.

    When referencing the negotiations France's European Affairs Minister, Clément Beaune, told broadcaster France 24: "I don't see how we can trust our Australian partners."

    Director of Research at the foreign affairs think tank Lowy Institute, Hervé Lemahieu, said those comments have "sent a degree of alarm around Canberra".

    "It's unclear what extent Paris speaks for Europe on this issue, there are the economic self-interests of 26 other members states to take on board here," Mr Lemahieu told the ABC.

    "But France is a powerful member state within the EU and could play a complicating role in arriving at an agreement and it could complicate the accession process of the free trade agreement."

    A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said Australia regrets the recall of Mr Thebault, which was an incredibly rare diplomatic step between allies.

    "Australia values its relationship with France, which is an important partner and a vital contributor to stability, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. This will not change," the spokesperson said.

    "Australia understands France's deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests.

    "We look forward to engaging with France again on our many issues of shared interest, based on shared values."

    French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the Australian and US ambassadors were recalled on request from President Emmanuel Macron, adding the decision was "justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements" made by the new AUKUS alliance between the US, Australia and the UK.

    Mr Le Drian said the cancellation of the deal constituted "unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners, whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe".

    Federal Labor is calling on the Government to repair the diplomatic relationship with France.

    "This isn't the first time Mr Morrison has blindsided an international partner or failed to do the diplomatic leg work before an announcement," Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong told the ABC.

    "The Morrison-Joyce Government must outline what steps it is taking to repair this important relationship."

    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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