Sticking with the now-scrapped $90 billion submarine deal with France's Naval Group would have "betrayed Australia's long-term interests", a senior Morrison government minister has said.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has defended the federal government's dealings as the diplomatic fallout continues over its decision to dump the Naval deal, in favour of a new agreement to build nuclear-powered submarines in partnership with the US and UK.
France's ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault lashed the Morrison government's conduct as he departed Canberra on Saturday, having been recalled to Paris in an act of retaliation over the submarine snub.
"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 un-Australian situation," he said.
Senator Birmingham told ABC's Insiders program on Sunday that the decision to cancel the Naval deal was "always going to be a difficult" for France. He steered clear of casting judgment on its decision to recall its ambassadors from both Australia and the US.
He defended the decision to keep France in the dark in the lead up to last week's announcement, saying the US and UK deal, which is centred on the sharing of closely guarded secrets on nuclear-powered submarine technologies, carried "enormous sensitivities".
The French government was informed at the "earliest" opportunity, he said.
Some $2.4 billion had already been spent on the submarine program and Australian taxpayers are now facing the prospect of a compensation payment to the French company which could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Senator Birmingham insisted the new trilateral partnership would pay off in the long term, despite the fact key details - including the cost and timeframe for the nuclear-powered submarines - remain unclear.
"There's no doubt that the short-term politics, or indeed, short-term diplomatic relations, would be have been easier for us just to continue down the previous pathway of building [Naval's] attack class [submarines]," he said.
"However, that would have betrayed Australia's long-term interests.
"So this difficult decision was taken in the interests of the nation - not just in the next year or two, but in the decades to come to equip us with the capabilities that we need.
"It was taken in light of changed evidence and changed information that came to government over the course of the last five years, and that's why we've gone down the path of this difficult decision."
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