France was "stabbed in the back" and will rethink its relationship with Australia after being blindsided by the scrapping of a major submarine deal, its ambassador in Canberra says.
French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault blasted the federal government on Wednesday, describing the leaking of private text messages between French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Scott Morrison as a "new low".
Mr Thebault said the $90 billion deal, sealed in 2017, was an "absolutely unprecedented" move to entrust Australia with classified data and technology vital to France's national security.
But the federal government's scrapping of the agreement to join the AUKUS alliance was a "major breakdown of trust", he warned.
"The Attack Class program was always far more than a contract ... [but] the way it was handled was a stab in the back," Mr Thebault said.
"What can any partner of Australia now think? Is this the value of Australia's signature and commitment?"
Mr Morrison said he would never make an apology for a decision made in Australia's best interests during a press conference after the ambassador's address.
"We had made very clear that there were very significant issues about us moving forward with this contract," he said on Wednesday.
"So Australia made the decision not to go ahead with a contract for a submarine that was not going to do the job Australia needed it to do."
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It's the latest development in the ongoing saga after tensions escalated this week when President Macron publicly accused Prime Minister Morrison of lying to him.
The federal government has insisted Mr Macron was aware the deal was in jeopardy, but Mr Thebault dismissed suggestions France should have read the "coffee grounds" in Canberra as "fiction".
'Claims made, claims refuted'
Mr Morrison further angered Paris by leaking a private text from Mr Macron to Australian media outlets, in which the French President asked whether he could expect good or bad news over the agreement.
Speaking in Dubai on his way to Australia after appearing at the COP26 Glasgow summit, Mr Morrison did not deny his office leaked the personal exchanges but said it was time to move on from the saga.
"Claims have been made and those claims have been refuted," he said on Wednesday.
"What is needed now is for us to just get on with it."
Mr Thebault in his address had described the leak as an "unprecedented new low" but said it proved France had been kept in the dark.
"You don't behave like this on personal exchanges of leaders who are allies. But maybe it is just confirmation that we have never been seen as an ally," he said.
"We don't say this to Australians. If this is the Australian government's answer, it is sad. But we will not consider that this is the way Australia likes to react and the way Australians behave."
He warned the leak would send a "very worrying signal" to heads of state.
"[It says] in Australia there will be leaks, and what you say in confidence to your partners will be eventually used and weaponised against you," he said.
US President Joe Biden publicly apologised to Mr Macron for the "clumsy" handling of the announcement, in what was widely interpreted as a rebuke to Mr Morrison.
Mr Thebault said Australia had deliberately kept the decision secret for months, including during high level working groups which France attended in "good faith".
"These are not things which are done between partners, even less between friends," he said.
He said the statement, which came just two weeks before the deal was scrapped, showed the federal government had deliberately misled Paris.
"Do you agree on such a joint communiqué when there is the slightest doubt on something so massive as the official backbone of our co-operation? Maybe on Mars. But not on this planet," Mr Thebault said.
"Confronted with the high uncertainties surrounding the likely closure of an alternative deal, it was necessary to keep the possibility to continue the [French deal].
"And so it was mandatory to keep us in the dark, on the backburner."
Australia at risk of being 'accidental ally' of climate inaction
The French envoy also took aim at the Morrison government's approach to climate action as a global summit in Glasgow was well under way this week.
He said the United Nations' COP26 conference was a wake-up call for responsibility and must succeed.
Climate change, the ambassador said, could be an area for the two countries to unite to help its Indo-Pacific neighbours and "the greater good".
States, territories and major industry bodies were already leading the charge but the federal government also needed to step up.
"The time for prevarication has ended," he said.
"Except if one is to become an accidental ally of the remaining who resist action."
The EU ambassador to Australia Dr Michael Pulch has previously warned countries without ambitious mid-term emissions reductions targets, like Australia, could be slapped with carbon tariffs.
Weak climate action is also a major factor in the stalled free-trade agreement between Australia and the major trading bloc that has so far been delayed twice.
Mr Thebault said while the UK might have been pressured by Australia to remove its climate commitment mandate in the free trade deal, the EU would not do the same.
"Let's be frank, there will not be a negotiation where the EU will accept to make this substantial element [of strong climate commitments] disappear," he said.
"Others might do, but not the EU."
France want 'proof of love', not 'cheap words'
Mr Thebault was recalled to Paris after the AUKUS deal was announced. He said he had returned with a remit to redefine the relationship, given "all the consequences of the major breakdown of trust with this Australian government".
"We won't any more buy on cheap words. We won't buy on promises of love. Love is good, but the proof of love is much better," he said.
"We can rebuild something substantial. But we start from very far away, unfortunately."
Mr Thebault accused the federal government of allowing an "intensive smearing campaign" against the French deal to fester.
"The attack class program has been intentionally vilified to become an easy scapegoat, to justify a change of footing that was a long time in the making," he said.
But he insisted there was only a problem with "certain aspects of the 'Canberra Bubble' and its 'Secret city' practices".
The comments come after bilateral relations deteriorated rapidly during Mr Morrison's trip to Europe, when Mr Macron publicly accused the Australian Prime Minister of lying.
"I'm not going to cop sledging of Australia. I'm not going to cop that on behalf of other Australians," he said.
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