After years of delays, cost blowouts, and subsequent crisis meetings with France’s Naval Group this September, Australia finally cancelled the disastrous program and instead opted for a U.S. or UK nuclear-powered submarine design to ensure national security was not further compromised.
To use Australian parlance, that’s when French President Emmanuel Macron chucked the mother of all tantrums, spat the dummy, and threw all his crayons out of the cot. Asked at the G20 summit in Rome this week if he thought Morrison had lied to him, Macron replied, “I don’t think, I know.”
Before being recalled to Paris, France’s ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, was particularly upset, saying, “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.”
Contrast the French reaction with how the Japanese behaved after Malcolm Turnbull dropped their deal. Not a whisper, all class.
The French are being disingenuous, they knew the deal was going to be dumped.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the media, saying he spoke to Macron at the Élysée Palace in June after a trilateral meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden at the G7 summit and raised significant issues.
“I made it very clear that we believed absolutely that a conventional submarine was not going to meet our strategic needs. That’s what I went to dinner in Élysée to tell him that,” he said.
“An important one of those [issues] was our view that this project would be further delayed and that would not see a submarine in the water until the late-2030s and possibly as late as 2038.
“That would mean that this submarine, when it went in the water, it would be obsolete almost the minute it got wet.”
It was always a bad deal, poorly conceived by Australia’s then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and poorly executed from that moment forward by the contractor, France’s Naval Group. Everyone, not least the Australian media, knows this.
However, that’s not stopping the Australian media from piling on with numerous articles and pieces on TV.
So let’s take a look at the deal and how it transpired.
In 2013, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted Japan to build our future submarines for us and informed the Japanese government of his intention.
Had Australia continued down this track, we would be close to having very good submarines operating right now, delivered on time and on budget.
But then Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott in an internal Liberal Party leadership ballot in 2015 to become prime minister.
By 2016, Australia had dumped the Japanese submarine and announced France’s Naval Group had won the contract to build conventionally powered boats in a $50 billion deal (US$37.7 billion).
It all went downhill from there:
- First, the submarine existing only on paper: The French offered a compromised product to suit Australian requirements—taking a French nuclear submarine and replacing the nuclear reactor with a diesel engine—substantially adding complexity to the program and timeline to delivery.
- Second, the Naval Group asked for a 15-month delay to the platform design phase, wanting to complete the design in September 2023 rather than July 2020—causing two major contracted milestones to be extended.
- Third, the program’s security was compromised after Naval Group was hacked by cybercriminals resulting in the leak of 22,000 documents relating to the combat capacity of its Scorpene submarines being built in India.
- Fourth there was a cost blowout—the project was meant to cost $50 billion. But that figure then almost doubled to around $90 billion (US$67.8 billion). And that’s before the government factored in the cost of maintenance—which Defence told a Senate committee would cost Australia a further $145 billion (US$109 billion) over the life of the subs.
- Finally, the promised local job bonanza died. Malcolm Turnbull said the French submarines would be built in Australia with 90 percent local input, sustaining 2800 local jobs. But by 2020, Naval Group revised down that figure to just 60 percent (and probably even lower), saying Australian industry wasn’t skilled enough.
From 2013 to 2021, Australia went from having a reliable Japanese supplier that would have delivered boats operating now, to an unreliable French supplier that saw costs blow out, jobs disappear, and no boat in sight. But, more importantly, Australian national security was put at significant risk.
Would France have copped any of that? Would any country worth it’s salt risk its sovereignty and not cancel a doomed contract?
The French are now calling us deceitful liars and seeking compensation for the cancellation of the disastrous contract, which some think could cost Australian taxpayers around $450 million (US$339 million).
Australia should not only not pay, but should seek our own compensation from Paris for the national security risk we suffer precisely at a time our country and region is under the most threat.
But then perhaps the French were always un ami des beaux jours—fair-weather friends.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.