• John McDonnell

Malcolm Turnbull slams Scott Morrison at the Press Club


Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared at the National Press Club on Wednesday seemingly with the sole purpose of criticising his successor.


He accused Scott Morrison of damaging Australia’s national security through the way he abrogated the French submarine contract. It was notable that the senior members of the Press Gallery were unavailable to attend the Zoom event.


Mr Turnbull revealed that he had talked to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, recently. Mr Morrison has been unable to communicate with the president. He said that Mr Morrison had blundered by treating the French in an appalling fashion because Australia will be seen as an untrustworthy partner, which will threaten national security.


In his address, Mr Turnbull contradicted the prime minister, telling the audience the government deliberately kept the French in the dark over the cancellation of the $90 billion submarine contract. Mr Morrison says that the French were aware of the problems Australia had with the contract, as long ago as June, when he had dinner with President Macron.


Turnbull told the National Press Club in Canberra:

“Morrison has not acted in good faith. He deliberately deceived France. He makes no defence of his conduct other than to say it was in Australia's national interest,"
“The Australian government has treated the French Republic with contempt — it won't be forgotten."
"Every time we seek to persuade another nation to trust us, somebody will be saying, 'remember what you did to Macron?"
“When you conduct yourself in such a deceitful manner internationally, it has a real impact on Australia."

In the course of press questions, Mr Turnbull revealed that he had been appointed as chairman of Fortescue Future Industries, which is Andrew Forrest’s investment vehicle for investing in renewable energy. He also said that he was the chairman of the Hydro-Electricity Association, which supported pumped hydro long storage energy facilities around the world. In these capacities, he said he would be attending the Glasgow COP 26 conference in November.


He said that if Mr Morrison failed to attend the conference it would be another major diplomatic failure.


Mr Turnbull’s criticism of the government didn’t end there.


Asked about indigenous vaccination rates he said that the cause was the failure to secure sufficient vaccine early, which he said was the greatest public administration failure he had ever seen. He went on to say that the low vaccination rates among indigenous communities were another failure of public administration.


Two factors need to be born in mind in evaluating Mr Turnbull’s criticisms.


The first is that the French submarine deal was negotiated when he was prime minister. Turnbull formed a close relationship with Emmanuel Macron but the choice of France to supply a conventional submarine, when its experience was in building nuclear submarines, was a high-risk proposition.


Secondly, there is a push by elements of the renewables sector with which Mr Turnbull is associated, to stand independent candidates in a number of Coalition seats. These independents are said to be running against candidates that are not progressive enough on climate change, trust and women’s issues.


Interestingly they have decided to stand candidates in the seats that have the most progressive Coalition members such as Dave Sharma in Wentworth, Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney, Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong and Tim Wilson in Goldstein.


On the other hand, Mr Turnbull may just be holding a grudge because Mr Morrison replaced him as prime minister.