Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has declared Emmanuel Macron is “entitled to put forward his views” after the French President’s recent criticism of the AUKUS security pact.
Mr Macron on Thursday warned Australia’s decision to acquire nuclear submarines through its alliance with the United Kingdom and United States could stoke “nuclear confrontation” with China.
Mr Albanese was asked for his response to Mr Macron’s remarks, as he addressed reporters in Bangkok, Thailand where he is attending the APEC summit.
“President Macron is entitled to put forward his views, as he does in a very forthright way,” the Prime Minister said on Friday.
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“I also note as part of the interview, as well, that he noted that Australia has not decided to change their strategy on the subject.”
The Labor leader faced further questions over whether he has had his “first disagreement” with the French President.
“No one has suggested that. I was with President Macron last night. We had a very friendly exchange as we always do,” Mr Albanese responded.
He was also asked why he thought Mr Macron decided to make the comments, and if France would be in line for an “interim submarine deal”.
“He’s entitled to make whatever comments he wants as the Leader of France. We have a very co-operative relationship. We’ve had discussions about how we can cooperate in defence,” the Prime Minister said.
“I note, for example, that the Bushmasters that we are providing to Ukraine, 90 of them now, are made by Thales.
“Thales is in part French Government owned, produced in Bendigo. There are a range of other defence procurement arrangements that we have with France. We have a very good relationship and it will continue.”
Then prime minister Scott Morrison in September last year revealed Australia would acquire eight nuclear submarines as part of the AUKUS security pact.
France were left infuriated by the announcement as it led to a $90 billion French Naval Group submarine contract being scrapped.
Mr Macron told reporters in Bangkok the decision to opt for the AUKUS built subs had undermined Australia’s sovereignty.
“We were helping and accompanying Australia in building a submarine fleet in-house, an industrial cooperation,” he said on Thursday.
“So it was both industrial cooperation and giving sovereignty to Australia, because they will maintain the submarines themselves, and it is not confrontational to China because they are not nuclear-powered submarines.
“But the choice made by (former) prime minister Morrison was the opposite, re-entering into nuclear confrontation, making himself completely dependent by deciding to equip themselves (with a) submarine fleet that the Australians are incapable of producing and maintaining in-house.”
Mr Macron said France’s offer to supply Australia with conventional submarines was still “on the table”.