Australia has a chance to reboot the strained relationship with the French company building its new fleet of submarines after the sudden departure of the top executive in charge of the $80 billion project.
Naval Group staff were emailed overnight on Monday that Jean-Michel Billig, executive director of the Australian submarine program, was moving on after three years in the position.
Mr Billig is also chair of the Naval Group Australia board and there was speculation last night he could be replaced by former Rio Tinto executive David Peever, who sits on the board as an independent director.
His exit comes after several years of tensions with the Defence Department, in which Mr Billig clashed with Australian officials. One Defence source said: "There won't be too many tears at Russell [the Canberra suburb housing Defence Department headquarters] at him going.''
Mr Billig's departure appeared to be sudden. His position is being filled on an interim basis by another Naval Group executive, Laurent Espinasse.
Naval Group said in a statement: "Jean-Michel Billig has decided to move on to another strategic project for Naval Group, concluding his time working on the Future Submarine Program.
"Laurent has an in-depth knowledge of the group, including experience dealing with international clients and the Australian program, and Jean-Michel will provide advice and support to ensure continued progress of the program." (end of excerpt)
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