Leaked Document Shows Australian Officials 'Kept in Dark' About French Submarine Cancellation (excerpt)
(Source: ABC Australia; posted Sept. 16, 2022)

By Laura Tingle
French President Emmanuel Macron (2nd left) and the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (4th left) stand on the hull of HMAS Waller, a Collins-class submarine of the Royal Australian Navy in Sydney in May 2018. (Aus DoD photo)
A leaked confidential document gives an insider's perspective on how the [government of former Australian Prime Minister Scott] Morrison went about cancelling the French submarine contract, highlighting how officials were kept in the dark and debunking claims made by the former government about the deal.

Key points:
-- The leaked note was written by former Department of Defence deputy secretary Kim Gillis
-- Mr Gillis wrote that he did not believe that any more than a handful of people within Defence knew the French submarine contract was being dumped
-- He also canvassed reopening discussions with the French about buying nuclear-powered subs in future.

The leak, on the anniversary of the announcement of the cancelling of the French contract and the establishment of the AUKUS agreement, comes in the wake of revelations that the former prime minister secretly appointed himself to five powerful ministries — although Defence was not among them — and once again throws a spotlight on the way the former government sidestepped normal processes.

The 10-page document, written by a former Department of Defence deputy secretary who was brought into contract negotiations by former defence minister Christopher Pyne, disputes at great length the claims that the French contract had blown out by billions of dollars and would not deliver on time.

But it also reveals that the French partners were obliged to sign up to commitments to Australian content without being allowed to assess whether local manufacturers could actually deliver.

The contract was eventually terminated with an A$800 million [penalty] payout from the taxpayer.

The document was written by Kim Gillis, who had been involved in the original decision to choose the French bid for the submarines and the contract negotiations with the French.

He was asked by the government to return from retirement to assist in final negotiations between Defence and Naval Group – the French company partially owned by the French government which was contracted to build the submarines.

Mr Gillis subsequently joined the board of Naval Group Australia in January 2021 as an independent director and resigned in June this year after the collapse of the deal.

In a note to staff documenting events surrounding the collapse of the deal, Mr Gillis says he does not believe that any more than a handful of people within Defence knew of the change of plans, and also canvasses options for future submarine capability which include re-opening discussions with the French about buying nuclear-powered submarines.

There is widespread speculation that French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Australia before the end of the year and that his visit may open the door for further talks on the submarine deal, even though the new Australian government has committed to the AUKUS pact with the United States and the United Kingdom. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the Australian ABC website.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: While Kim Gillis’ note makes for interesting reading, and provides an insight into how governments embark on ambitious and high-cost projects with insufficient preparation and over-optimistic assumptions, one should not overlook the fact that, as a former deputy secretary of defense, he first negotiated the French contract on behalf of the Australian government before witnessing its cancellation as a paid director of Naval Group Australia.)

Click here for Kim Gillis’ note (10 PDF pages), on the DocumentCloud website.


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