Australian Government spent $250,000 covering up French submarine deal

A quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer money has been spent by the Australian government trying to keep the original price of the country’s original submarine project with France hidden from public view.

The Department of Defence and French military company Naval Group have racked up legal costs totalling $247,875 from government-funded solicitors in an attempt to keep the original price quoted by the French company a secret.

The French-Australian nuclear submarine program has been shrouded in controversy since Scott Morrison abruptly scrapped the agreement in September after cutting a better deal with the US and UK through AUKUS.

When then-prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull first announced the Naval Group project in 2016, he described it as being worth around $50 billion.

By the time the French contract was shredded by Mr Morrison in 2021, the Commonwealth placed the total predicted costs closer to $90 billion.

If the project had gone ahead, it would have been the largest Defence procurement in Australian history.

Australian Government spent $250,000 covering up French submarine deal

Camera IconThe Department of Defence and a French military company have racked up nearly $250,000 in taxpayer-funded legal fees trying to keep the original price quoted for the French submarine deal a secret. Adam Taylor/PMO Credit: Supplied

But independent Senator Rex Patrick told NCA NewsWire he believed the original cost of the submarine program provided by Naval Group was only a fraction of that price.

“I think the original price is nowhere near $50 or $90 billion. I think it's somewhere in the order of 20 to 25 billion,” he said.

“It's outrageous that the government has spent this amount of money keeping something secret that the independent information Commissioner found was basically using taxpayers money to cover up politically embarrassing information.”

In 2020, Australian Information Commissioner ordered Defence to release details of Naval Group‘s original quote for the submarine deal.

But defence appealed the Commissioner’s decision, taking it to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, joined by Naval Group.

In a Question on Notice released on Tuesday, Defence revealed that legal proceeding for the appeal had totalled almost $250,000 – paid for entirely with taxpayer dollars.

Australian Government spent $250,000 covering up French submarine deal

Camera IconSenator Rex Patrick said the government was using taxpayer dollars to hide it’s own political embarrassment about bungling the submarine deal. Tricia Watkinson Credit: News Corp Australia

Defence’s legal feeds have clocked in at $50,000 and Naval Group’s have now reached $197,00o.

Senator Patrick said making taxpayers foot the bill for the legal costs of a private, foreign-owned company was inexcusable.

“Naval group asked to be joined to the proceedings. They weren't an original party to it,” Senator Patrick said.

“And they’ve been gone on to spend four times as much as what the Commonwealth has spent on what is the same legal matter.”

“I guess that’s easy to do if it’s not your money.”

The Department of Defence was contacted for comment.

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