Simon Birmingham accuses the media of widening the wedge between Australia and France | Scott Morrison


A senior minister in the Morrison government tried to blame journalists for the escalating Franco-Australian diplomatic split, questioning whether an interview with the French president was in the “national interest”.

Finance Minister and frequent Morrison government spokesman Simon Birmingham questioned whether it was “wise” for Australian journalists to question French President Emmanuel Macron over the aborted submarine deal and the conduct of Scott Morrison.

Macron, when asked if he thought Morrison lied to him, replied “I don’t think so, I know”.

The claim opened a new blight in diplomatic relations, with private text messages Macron sent to Morrison in News Corp publications the next day, a move that infuriated the French even more.

Asked ABC radio whether the leak of private messages had been wise, Birmingham tried to blame Australian media.

“People might wonder if it was wise for journalists to put pressure on the French president … regarding the comments he made,” Birmingham said in an interview with ABC radio on Friday morning, when asked about the ongoing quarrel.

“I don’t want to get into that stuff.”

Asked about Macron’s description as being “forced” to comment, when he simply answered questions, Birmingham said he was focusing on “the bigger picture”.

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“I don’t think any of those things help us move forward, that’s what I want to make sure we do in the relationship. We just need to get things going and make sure Aukus is a success, as I’m sure it will be. “

In a subsequent interview with Sky News, Birmingham said he believed the traveling Australian media was focusing too much on the French fallout and not enough on Australia’s net zero commitment by 2050, a commitment that most developed countries had taken years ago.

He then raised the question of whether the impromptu press conference had been in the “national interest”.

“Every journalist may wonder whether everything he pursues is in the national interest or not,” he said.

“But of course it’s their job to question, I get it.”

When asked if he was suggesting that the Australian media had not been patriotic in their questions, Birmingham doubled down on his claims.

“… Journalists work according to their ethics, their decisions,” he said.

“I am not going to comment on any of this, I think what is in Australia’s national interest are the decisions our government has made and those decisions will not matter in the decades to come on what was said or done this week. In the decades to come, it will be about the fact that we have nuclear-powered submarines in the water. “

Morrison declined to answer further questions about the spat.

“We moved on from this problem, that’s what I said when I was in Dubai,” he said on Friday.

The attempted transfer of responsibility is just one more chapter in the saga that has been unfolding since September, when the Aukus agreement was announced. The French said they discovered the plans through media reports. Morrison insisted he called Macron, later admitting that he had not spoken directly to the French president, but had sent a message.

Macron insisted the French had no warning that the Morrison government was abandoning the $ 90 billion contract, in favor of a strategic alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom, which includes the possibility of share nuclear submarine technology. Morrison said he was as transparent as possible.

In a bid to redeem himself, US President Joe Biden told Macron that the announcement of the Aukus Security and Technology Pact was “awkward”, adding that he “felt France had been informed long before, that the [French] the agreement was not concluded ”.

The Australian government has insisted it is time to “move on” and is preparing to refocus on increasing the benefits of the new alliance, including with ASEAN partners.