Former Australian PM Kevin Rudd has lashed out at Prime Minister Scott Morrison for parting ways with France over the Naval submarine project in favour of the AUKUS.
In a scathing attack on the Morrison government’s decision to walk out of an existing contract with France and sign a new submarine deal with the US and UK, former PM Kevin Rudd has called it an act of “botched diplomacy”.
Mr Rudd also suspects that Prime Minister Scott Morrison may have employed the AUKUS announcement to play to the domestic political gallery in the context of the diplomatic challenge thrown by China.
In a candid interview with SBS French, Mr Rudd’s comments came after he wrote an op-ed earlier this week in the French daily, Le Monde, which was a sharp critique of AUKUS.
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Mr Rudd is strongly dismissive of the way the Morrison government has treated France, who accuses them of “duplicity” and “treason”.
He enumerated the “many problems” in the way Prime Minister Morrison has handled this submarine project.
“He has yet to address the Australian people about why it is technically and strategically necessary to move to nuclear-powered submarines. Furthermore, because Australia is not a civil nuclear power, and or a long time, has had a political hostility towards the development of a nuclear industry in this country.
“Let’s just assume there is a technical or strategic reason to change the submarine specification from conventional to nuclear-powered vessels,” said Mr Rudd.
"Firstly, he should have notified the French government. Secondly, he should’ve notified Naval, and then thirdly, he should have re-tendered the entire project and invited France, the UK and the US to provide bids.
“Instead, what he said is, ‘no, we’re only going with the anglophones,’ he told SBS French.
Mr Rudd emphasised that this decision is not in the best interest of the Australian taxpayer dollar and “certainly not in the best interest of Australia’s relationship with France.
The former PM also questioned the rationale behind this change of heart on the part of the Morrison government.
What is the reason for this deception, I don’t understand it
“Was it simply to produce a grand surprise for Australian domestic politics that we’re now going to enter into the big league with nuclear-powered submarines with the British and the Americans?
“I suspect there was a domestic political agenda at play, which was for Scott Morrison to make himself look big, important and hairy-chested in dealing with his domestic Australian political audience on the nature of the China challenge. And he saw the French relationship as expendable,” said Mr Rudd.
Stressing that the French deserved better, Mr Rudd is of the opinion that they are a partner Australia can’t afford to lose.
“Objectively speaking, it is a major relationship for us. France is a permanent member of the Security Council, a member of the G7, a member of the G20, where Australia is also a member. France is one of the two major powers in the European Union, it also has metropolitan territories in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean," he elaborated.
It is far better that Australia has a friend in Paris than to alienate that friendship altogether
"It is certainly offensive for our friends in Paris with whom we’ve had a good relationship for a long period of time.
“As foreign minister, I signed a document with France, the Australia France Joint Strategic Partnership in 2012, that’s the framework which set up this submarine project in the longer term... this has been handled so badly by the current Australian government,” he added.
Mr Rudd minced no words in saying he doesn’t believe the Morrison government when they say they are “warm friends” and have been upfront with the French regarding this parting of ways.
“It’s quite plain from the French reaction that no notice was given to France before the termination of the project was announced publicly. There’s a contractual obligation to do that with your commercial partner, in this case, Naval,” the former PM commented.
Mr Rudd is also of the view that people in Australia believe this is not consistent with the way in which Australia, as a sovereign State, should behave.
Australians have a self-image of being about fairplay, of being about people who honour their word
“That’s the way I think the way Australians are perceived around the world. And we take our international reputation on such matters very seriously.
“And therefore, we believe it’s damaging to our standing... Certainly in Europe and perhaps beyond as well,” he highlighted.
In the light of this new alliance, Mr Rudd also posed a “key operational question” to the Royal Australian Navy.
“Given that we don’t have a nuclear civil industry, I assume that Mr Morrison is assuming that the Americans will service these vessels. I assume that Mr Morrison is assuming that this makes these vessels not just interoperable with the US Navy, but also deployable with the US Navy.
“I’m concerned about the long-term impact this has on Australian sovereignty on our own naval forces. Because there are times when we’ll disagree with the United States...,” Mr Rudd elaborated.
As an ally of the US, you don’t end up agreeing with them on every element of strategy. Sometimes our American friends get it wrong
The AUKUS deal has drawn criticism from another former prime minister, Paul Keating.
In a statement released last week, he said that through this alliance, Australia may become even more dependent on the United States.