Australia rebuffs claim it lied about subs

Scott Morrison has rejected claims by Emmanuel Macron (r) he
Scott Morrison has rejected claims by Emmanuel Macron (r) he "lied" about a submarine contract.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has insisted he will not accept "sledging of Australia" over a torn-up $90 billion submarine deal with France.

French President Emmanuel Macron at the weekend accused Mr Morrison of lying to him about ditching the submarine contract in favour of US and UK nuclear-propulsion technology.

Mr Macron told Australian journalists on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome "I don't think, I know" when asked if he thought the Australian prime minister lied to him.

"I have a lot of respect and a lot of friendship for your people," Mr Macron said.

"I just say when we have respect, you have to be true and you have to behave in line and consistently with this value."

Mr Morrison did not agree with suggestions he lied to the French president.

"No," the prime minister told reporters in Rome when asked if Mr Macron's claim was true.

Speaking from Glasgow, where he is attending the COP26 climate talks, on Monday night, Mr Morrison said, "I must say that the statements that were made, questioning Australia's integrity and the slurs that have been placed on Australia ... I'm not going to cop sledging of Australia.

"I'm not going to cop that on behalf of other Australians."

Mr Morrison maintained Australia was in the process of repairing its relationship with France, saying "we've spoken several times over the last couple of days. I'm sure we'll speak a bit more before I head back to Australia".

"We have much to do and we're always keen and would welcome the involvement of our ongoing partnership with France," he said on Monday.

Australia in September announced it was cancelling its 2016 contract to acquire conventional Attack Class submarines from French company Naval Group.

Instead, the government would look at the feasibility of acquiring technology for nuclear-powered vessels from the US and UK under an AUKUS pact.

The shock announcement was kept under tight wraps and infuriated France, which responded by temporarily recalling its ambassadors from Australia and the US.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd said the spat was "enormously damaging" to Australia's standing on the world stage.

"We have the president of the US only a day or two ago indicating plainly in his conversations with the French president that Prime Minister Morrison had misled him about whether or not France had been informed of the decision to unilaterally cancel (the contract)," he told the ABC.

"Reinforcing the Biden version of events, you have President Macron stating in the starkest terms possible that he was lied to.

"This is enormously damaging to Australia's global reputation."

Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce wanted everyone to move on from the submarine issue.

"We didn't steal an island. We didn't deface the Eiffel Tower. It was a contract," he said.

"I hope that President Macron understands that, ultimately, Australia and France have got so much more in common and so much into the future than a contract which is now in the past."

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Morrison had contradicted himself about what Mr Macron was told and when.

"What you need when you deal with international relations and with diplomacy, is honesty and integrity," Mr Albanese said.

"The fact is that President Macron has said very clearly and unequivocally that Scott Morrison did not tell him, he can't have made it any clearer."

Australian Associated Press