Malcolm Turnbull has revealed he has spoken to French president Emmanuel Macron in the wake of the nuclear submarines controversy – something Scott Morrison has not managed to do.
Turnbull also confirmed he is planning to go to Glasgow for Cop26, while the prime minister is yet to make up his mind.
The revelations came during an hour-long National Press Club address and question and answer session with journalists on Wednesday, where Turnbull launched a withering critique of his successor Scott Morrison on multiple fronts.
The former prime minister is reserving his rights to endorse climate-focused independents at the next federal election, and won’t say if he intends to vote Liberal even though he remains a member of the party.
He reserved his strongest criticism for Morrison’s handling of the Aukus agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom. The deal has plunged Australia into the diplomatic deep freeze in Paris, because the government cancelled a $90bn contract with a French defence contractor.
While Macron has not spoken to Morrison since the Australian prime minister canned the French contract, Turnbull revealed he had spoken to his “friend” Macron since the Aukus pact was unveiled.
Turnbull did not go into his conversation with the French president, but praised him as “one of the great leaders of our times” and “an enormously important figure in global politics and particularly in Europe”.
He argued Morrison’s decision not to be candid with his French counterpart would erode Australia’s reputation for trustworthiness in the world, and that had negative national security implications. “This is an appalling episode in Australia’s international affairs and the consequences of it will endure to our disadvantage for a very long time.”
Morrison is yet to decide whether or not he will attend the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, and the government is currently at loggerheads about whether or not to sign up to a new emissions reduction target of net zero by 2050 ahead of the climate conference. Turnbull said on Wednesday he intended to go to the Glasgow conference to pursue his interest in green hydrogen.
Asked whether he thought Morrison should attend, Turnbull said: “History is made by those who turn up”. Turnbull said the prime minister’s absence would “send a strong message about his priorities”.
As well as fronting the conference, Turnbull said Australia needed to lead by example and make much stronger cuts to our emissions given the risks associated with runaway global heating.
“We should be updating our 2030 target,” Turnbull said. “That was always the intention to update these targets every five years and I am very disappointed the government has not done that, although I note the commitment of the New South Wales government for a larger cut in emissions by 2030.”
During a recent byelection in New South Wales, Turnbull endorsed a climate-focused independent rather than the National party candidate. Asked whether that trend would continue at the next election, Turnbull said he reserved his rights, and would “wait and see”.
Turnbull was asked whether he was prepared to endorse independent political candidates challenging moderate Liberals who were currently pressing Morrison to adopt more ambitious climate action. The former prime minister acknowledged some of the MPs in the political firing line – like Trent Zimmerman, Dave Sharma and Jason Falinski – were friends of his.
Turnbull said the challenges were not “based on the fact that they are climate change denialists or right-wing nut jobs”. He said independents were challenging Liberal incumbents in blue-ribbon seats because the party had swung too far to the right, and moderate voices were “not being taken into account”.
Given his swingeing assessments of decisions by his successor, the former prime minister faced questions about his own voting intention.
Asked whether he believed Australians would be better off under the Labor leader Anthony Albanese, Turnbull hedged. “That will be a matter for the Australian people in months to come, is my guess”.
Asked whether he would vote Liberal at the election, Turnbull said “that will be a matter between me and the ballot box”.