Australians posted to France fear local backlash following shock $90b submarine contract cancellation

© Provided by ABC NEWS Australia scrapped a contract to buy French conventional submarines in favour of nuclear-powered subs built with US technology. (Commonwealth of Australia: Navy Imagery Unit)

Defence says it is supporting Australians posted to the now-scrapped submarine-building  project in France, as local anger grows over the shock decision to cancel the massive contract.

In the industrial city of Cherbourg, where design work on the Attack class fleet was underway, there are fears of hundreds of job losses following last week’s termination of the $90 billion deal

“It was totally unexpected from everyone, I think,” said the wife of one Australian defence employee currently working with France’s Naval Group company in Cherbourg. 

The woman, who declined to give her name, told local media she felt great disappointment and surprise when she heard Australia had decided to switch to an alternative submarine plan.

“I feel really sad, really upset that we were setting up to be quite happy here, and now we have to go,” she said.

Another Australian, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she and other families were “seriously worried about their physical safety”.

“Cherbourg is a small town, and many jobs will be lost,” the woman told the ABC. 

“We are expected to return to Australia before Christmas, but it may not be feasible.”

Australia will dump the controversial French deal to construct 12 conventionally-powered submarines to instead pursue a nuclear fleet with help from the United States and United Kingdom.

France has reacted furiously to the Australian government’s move and taken the unprecedented step of recalling its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington. 

As Australia negotiates the contract termination, the Defence Department has confirmed there were “33 Australians working in the Defence team in Cherbourg”.

“Defence takes the welfare of its employees very seriously and is ensuring their wellbeing is looked after during this time,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.

Cherbourg’s mayor Benoit Arrive, who last week scheduled an urgent meeting with Australian ambassador Gillian Bird, described the submarine decision as an “industrial and human disappointment” and “a real slap in the face for French foreign policy”.

Local officials believe around 600 jobs could be lost in the Normandy city because of Australia’s decision to terminate its lucrative contract with France’s Naval Group. 

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