The French ambassador to Australia has called the leak of French president Emmanuel Macron’s text messages to prime minister Scott Morrison a “new low”.
Jean-Pierre Thebault said the incident served as a warning to other world leaders that their private communications with the Australian government could be weaponised and used against them.
Mr Thebault used an address to Australia’s National Press Club to make a withering attack on Canberra’s surprise decision to scrap a 90 billion Australian dollar (£48 billion) contract with France to build a fleet of 12 diesel-electric submarines.
Australian media reported the contents of a text message from Mr Macron to prime minister Scott Morrison in September in which the French leader asked: “Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarines ambitions?”
Mr Morrison has used this as proof that Mr Macron knew the deal was in doubt after Mr Macron accused the Australian leader of lying during a Paris dinner in June.
Mr Macron said Mr Morrison gave him no indication the deal would not go ahead.
France has condemned the leak as a further breach of trust.
“This is an unprecedented new low, in terms of how to proceed and also in terms of truth and trust,” Mr Thebault said.
“Doing so… sends a very worrying signal for all heads of state: Beware, in Australia there will be leaks and what you say in confidence to your partners will be eventually used and weaponised against you.”
Rather than proof that Mr Morrison had not lied to Mr Marcon, the ambassador said the message suggested Australia had left France in the dark.
“It completely demonstrates that until the last minute, we didn’t know where things were heading to,” Mr Thebault said. “It completely demonstrates that nothing has ever been told to us.”
Australia cancelled the deal when it formed an alliance with the US and UK to acquire a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines built with American technology.
Mr Morrison maintains that he did not lie to the French leader and had been clear that conventional submarines would not meet Australia’s evolving strategic needs.
The French ambassador agreed with Mr Macron’s assessment that he had been lied to by Mr Morrison on multiple occasions.
“Maybe there is a difference between misleading and lying,” Mr Thebault said.
“But, you know, among heads of states and governments, when you mislead a friend and an ally, you lie to him,” Mr Thebault added.
Asked if the prime minister’s office had leaked Mr Macron’s text, Mr Morrison did not directly answer.
“I don’t think there’s any profit for anyone in continuing down this path,” Mr Morrison told reporters in the United Arab Emirates, where he is visiting on his way home from the Cop26 summit in Scotland.
“Claims were made and claims were refuted,” Mr Morrison said.
“Australia made the decision not to go ahead with a contract for a submarine that was not going to do the job that Australia needed it to do, and I’ll never make any apologies for that decision.”