Barnaby Joyce has launched an extraordinary defence of the decision to leak text messages between Scott Morrison and the French president.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has leapt to defend Prime Minister Scott Morrison as the diplomatic row between Australia and France over the axed submarines deal escalates.
Text messages between the two world leaders were sensationally leaked to the media on Monday night in an attempt to discredit French President Emmanuel Macron’s position after he accused Mr Morrison of lying.
Mr Joyce on Wednesday claimed that leaking text messages from a foreign leader was “not as extraordinary” as calling another foreign leader “a liar when they’re not”.
“We had a major political leader call the Prime Minister of Australia a liar and you can’t do that, diplomatically,” he told the ABC.
“You can’t go around calling other leaders of other countries a liar.
“Not (the leader of) a great nation of France. Some tin pot nation in the middle of nowhere, well, I suppose you can say what you like.”
Mr Joyce said the government had been looking at “contingency plans” well before the $90bn submarine contract with France was scrapped in favour of a pact with the US and the UK.
Mr Macron told Australian reporters at a summit in Rome at the weekend that he “knew” Mr Morrison had lied to him over the severing of the contract.
Mr Morrison subsequently denied his account. But just hours later, the text messages emerged, which are believed to have been strategically released to outlets via his office.
French ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault earlier on Wednesday accused Mr Morrison of stabbing Paris in the back.
In a major speech to the National Press Club, Mr Thebault said the relationship between the two countries had sunk to a “new low”.
“The deceit was intentional,” Mr Thebault said earlier, as he unloaded on the Prime Minister in a room full of reporters.
“The way it was handled was plainly a stab in the back.
“What, after such events, can any partner of Australia now think, is the value of Australia’s signature?”
Asked if he believed the Prime Minister was “lying about lying”, Mr Thebault replied: “Yes, he was … I have several examples”.
“Maybe there’s a difference between misleading and lying.
“But, you know, among heads of states and governments, when you mislead a friend and an ally, you lie to him.”
He added the release of the text messages signalled Australia could not be trusted.
“You don’t behave like this on personal exchanges of leaders. Doing so also sends a very worrying signal for all heads of state,” the French ambassador said.
“Beware, in Australia there will be leaks. And what you say in confidence to your partners will be eventually used and weaponised against you one day.”
But in a press conference following the ambassador’s speech, Mr Morrison expressed his desire to end the spat, which has dominated headlines over the past week.
“Claims had been made and those claims were refuted,” he said during a stopover in Dubai.
“I don’t think there’s any further profit for anyone in continuing down this path.”
Earlier in the week, Mr Macron raised doubts over whether the AUKUS agreement would even deliver the proposed nuclear powered submarines in a timely manner: “Good luck”.
Echoing his comments, the French ambassador accused Australia of “magical thinking”.
Mr Thebault’s address is the first time he has publicly spoken since being recalled as ambassador following the announcement of the AUKUS agreement.
While he promised France would always stand with Australia, he cautioned against the government using “cheap words and promises of love”.
“We won’t any more buy on cheap words. We won’t buy on promises of love.
“At the same time … this is a golden opportunity. We can rebuild something substantial. But we start from very far away.”
But should Mr Morrison apologise? The ambassador sidestepped the question.
“Eating one share of humble pie may sometimes be difficult. It’s up to everyone to make his own decision,” he said.
Asked if he would follow the ambassador’s advice, Mr Morrison said he would never offer an apology to France for tearing up the agreement.
“Australia made the decision not to go ahead with the contract for a submarine that was not going to do the job that Australia needed to do.
“I’ll never make any apologies for that decision.”
Originally published as ‘Tinpot nation’: Barnaby Joyce defends leaked text messages over France subs row