PM says France remains key ally as US military ramp-up in Australia confirmed

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the French were told about Australia’s new submarine deal “the night before” the AUKUS announcement, as Defence Minister Peter Dutton confirmed there would be a major increase in the US military presence in Australia.

More US troops set to be based in Northern Australia

“There had been an ongoing process for some months and it began with the dinner I had with President Macron back in late June,” he told Today.

Mr Morrison rejected claims in French media that Mr Macron had only found out about the exit from Australian news reports, and said France remained an important ally.

© AP French President Emmanuel Macron is unhappy with Australia’s decision to exit its previous submarine deal.

“Do you think you could have picked up the phone and given a heads up before the announcement?” asked Today host Ally Langdon.

“He [Macron] was told,” Mr Morrison replied.

Langdon replied: “How was he told and when did that happen?”

“That happened the night before,” Mr Morrison said. “The night before. He was fully aware of the decision.”

Mr Morrison also defended the decision to tear up the multi-billion-dollar contract.

“At the end of the day we have to keep Australia safe and make decisions that do the best things to keep Australia safe,” he said.

“What we were previously building was no longer going to meet that need.”

Mr Morrison said the submarines were predicted to be in the water before the end of next decade.

In the meantime, he said, Australia’s existing Collins-class fleet would continue to operate.

More US military coming to Australia

Mr Dutton told Today the move was designed to make Australia safer and provide stability in the Indo Pacific region.

“It is all about keeping Australia safe, and our Indo-Pacific is a very uncertain place. No doubt about that,” Mr Dutton said.

© Supplied US Marines regularly rotate through Darwin for exercises with Australian forces. (US Marines)

Thousands of US land forces already rotate through the Northern Territory for training but Mr Dutton flagged an increase in US air and naval assets here.

“There is more that we can do, in the maritime space, in the air space, and there is also a big opportunity there for Australian industry … the sustainment of all of that, you know, personnel, and the equipment that they bring with them.”

Mr Dutton also says US military forces could be based in southern Australian states.

“The United States is talking about bringing through all sorts of planes, Bombers and different surveillance planes … sustaining them through Richmond or Amberley (RAAF bases), different airports … there is a big opportunity.”

Earlier today, Mr Dutton and Foreign Minister Marise Payne held talks with their American counterparts in Washington.

© Nine Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the new defence pact in a joint virtual media conference with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson.

They were held just hours after Australia joined a new defence pact with the US and the UK, an agreement that will see Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

Mr Dutton said the new submarine fleet will give Australia superiority in the Indo Pacific.

“The beauty about this sub is that for about 35 years, for the life of it, you don’t have to change the reactor. Many others need to be refuelled,” Mr Dutton said.

“But it will be some years off, and it is a huge investment, but it will give us superiority in the region, and that’s what we need to maintain.”

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