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“I Do Not Think I Know”: Scott Morrison’s Submarine Deception

When it was revealed that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had not only shown contempt for his own government in secretly appointing himself, via the Governor-General’s approval, to five portfolios, the depths of deception seemed to be boundless. His tenure had already been marked by a spectacular, habitual tendency to conceal matters. What else would come out?

The latest revelation in the Morrison Mendacity Roadshow came in a leaked document authored by a former Department of Defence deputy secretary, Kim Gillis, a key figure in submarine contract negotiations with the French Naval Group. The contract to build twelve French-made diesel-powered Attack class submarines was spectacularly scuppered by the Morrison government with the announcement last September of the AUKUS security pact. A key provision of that agreement between Canberra, Washington and London was that Australia would be acquiring nuclear-propulsion technology for submarines sourced from either the United Kingdom or the United States.

France was kept in the dark of both the AUKUS negotiations and the fact that their treasured, lucrative submarine contract would cease to exist after September. It ruined, for a time, the relationship between Australia and France, and led President Emmanuel Macron to publicly accuse Morrison of lying. “I don’t think,” he memorably responded to a journalist’s question when asked about the conduct of Australia’s prime minister, “I know.”

Morrison, in a poisonous spirit of retaliation, proceeded to leak the content of private text conversations conducted with the French president. The selective leaking purportedly showed Macron asking a mere two days before the AUKUS announcement whether he should “expect good or bad news for our joint submarines ambitions.” As ever, Australia’s duplicitous leader was attempting to restore his own tattered credibility by claiming that Macron should have had an inkling that something was rotten in the submarine project.

The 10-page document by Gillies, designed as an explainer to staff, is something of a tell-all about a gross failure of planning and vision. He is understandably defensive about his pet project, insisting, from the outset, that the “cost and schedule blow outs” noted in the media were “wrong and devalues the achievements and the tremendous work by our teams in Australia and France.” Estimates, for instance, that the submarine program would cost A$50 billion were deemed reasonable at the time, given inflation projects from the Department of Finance (2.5% to 3%).

Confusion on this point arose because of 2016 testimony given by Program Manager Rear Admiral Greg Sammut to Senate estimates, whose figure of $A50 billion was arrived at in constant dollars. This was largely due to the fact that the production schedule had yet to be concretely ascertained, though the first class of submarine was intended to be delivered in 2032, and the last in the 2050s. The larger sum of A$90 billion generated by the Department of Finance in 2017, because it incorporated inflation over the course of 35 years, was then misrepresented by both parliamentarians and the media as “cost blow out”. This was, Gillis mockingly wrote, nothing more than a “factoid”, “an item of unreliable information that is reported and reported so often that it becomes accepted as fact.”

Despite scepticism about a nuclear submarine model being retooled and adjusted to conventional parameters, Gillis was all praise for a design that “would be the most advanced lethal conventionally powered submarine ever built.” Even “my American submariner colleagues who assisted in the evaluation concluded that the new Attack class would provide capabilities in a range of operational environments that would exceed some of the capabilities of the US nuclear boats.”

The note also extols the merits of the Australian Defence Department’s own Project Team. There is almost star struck admiration for the ability of the Naval Group Australia section (NGA) “to develop the company, including all its policies, systems and processes, whilst executing one of the most complex and demanding programs in Australian Defence procurement history.” There was little doubt, in the mind of this particularly dedicated public servant, that moves were being made to create “a truly sovereign capability to design, build and operate submarines” in Australia.

While Gillis may be straying from hard-nosed reality into the realm of streaky hope, he is adamant that the behaviour of the Morrison government in ending the contract without the awareness of those intimately connected with the process was unpardonable.

Special reference is made to the side-lined role of the Commonwealth contract manager, who was, at the time, Admiral Sammut. “I believe it is totally unacceptable when the Commonwealth contract manager is excluded from discussions regarding the termination of the contract for what now appears to be six or more months.” Critically, “there was an alternate strategy being developed behind closed doors and outside the accepted contractual processes.”

On September 15, 2021, the day of the AUKUS announcement, the Naval Group Australia Board had received a letter from the Defence Project Office informing them that they “had met the final exit point to move on to the next phase of the project.” There was no inkling on what would happen next. Had it been otherwise, no agreements would have been reached to send staff to France the week prior to the “fateful decision”, nor enter into more subcontracts with new Australian companies.

The calamitous episode prompted Gillis to come up with his own assessment about bureaucratic machinations. While not quite in the same league of tormented language as the “known unknowns” of the late former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, the Naval Group submarine fiasco had given us a new argot: “[T]he phrase ‘I do not think I know’ will now become an integral part of the Australian vernacular. It will relate to a lie or to a mistruth told by someone in high office.”

 

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8 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    The Australian military establishment is brilliant at preparing for the last war after the event. It also appears to lack up to date knowledge of new weapons technology, especially weapons technology developed in Australia. The Americans are now promoting a cannon that fires twice as fast because there is electronic ignition ….. a technology declined by Australian military procurers for unknown reasons.

    But why is Australia building submarines when obviously Ukraine demonstrated the destructive power of rocket technology?

  2. Andy56

    we should have been alert after the ” we dont comment about on water matters” fiasco. Morrison was a snake all along. The real pity is that people who have systematically undermined our society, Abbott, Morrison, Dutton,Mirabella, cash etc etc etc will never pay a cent out of their own pockets. Thats criminal, Legalised corruption. The subs fiasco was just but one example. Should I go on and mention Robodebt, sports rorts, car parks………………The trail of destruction is impressive.

  3. leefe

    Can someone please punctuate that headline properly? There are two distinct phrases there – “I don’t think” and “I know”. They need to be separated by a comma or semi-colon or even full stop. “I don’t think I know” means something different to “I don’t think; I know.”

  4. Geoff Andrews

    A colon after “think”?
    And “think” could well be in quotation marks as in: i don’t “think”: I know.

  5. Peter F

    The true depth to which Australia descended under Morrison is only now becoming apparent: we have much more to learn.

  6. wam

    bevan asked macron if he thought morrison had lied to nim and the reply was “I don’t think: I know” and we agree that morrison is a liar the problem is discovering the purpose and extent of his lying.

  7. Douglas Pritchard

    We all know that Morrison lied, but what is possibly more important is why he did it.
    I can`t help thinking that some (Uncle Sam) influence persuaded him to act in really such a stupid way.
    The man was happy to chuck his reputation under the bus, so it had to be something pretty significant.
    The following morning the person with the vested interest came up with “That fella down under”.
    He could not recall either the blokes name, nor the nation he represented.
    And as a democracy, a year later, we are allowing this monstrously dangerous decision to stand.
    We really do deserve the hiding that is going to be dished out.

  8. Williambtm

    One of the impermissible tenets between external countries concerns conspiratorial engagements, between our political appointees & especially the United States of America, as were being conducted almost on a weekly basis by Scomo & Mike Pompeo.
    The ratfink untrustworthy Pompeo was a former director of the USA’s CIA, then later as the war-dog US minister of State the Ratfink Mike Pompeo.
    Apparently, Scomo often boasted to his mates about his matey relationship with the ratfink Mike Pompeo.
    So, any number of offered plots or dirty deals by Mike Pompeo would have been offered to Scomo, he must have agreed with the new but sinister for Australia, AUSUK military alliance.

    At about that same time, the people of Australia learned of the USA’s offer to build Australia’s new fleet of Nuclear Submarines.

    So as they used to say during WW2 loose lips sink ships. But in the instance of AUKUS, Scomo’s loose lips were to discontinue the
    former requested build of lesser powered Submarines previously planned for our Australian Naval Fleet.

    So in our nation’s future, we do not know if we will receive pre-loved Submarines just about in F—-d, old American Nuclear Submarines.
    We in Australia are still waiting for the John Howard era black-ink signed documents, as we are still waiting for the full order of contract X 72 F-35 Jet Fighters, in which we are still waiting for the 22 F-35’s remainder of our order.

    Anyway, the purpose of my comment is to challenge if Scomo had created a treason against our nation.

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