Axed French sub deal to cost Australia close to €4 billion

Australia is to pay France compensation after backing out of a deal to buy submarines from Naval Group - a defence manufacturer, in which the French government is the majority shareholder.

French President Emmanuel Macron visits an Australian naval base in 2018.
French President Emmanuel Macron visits an Australian naval base in 2018. Australia is to reimburse France for backing out of a deal to buy French-made submarines. (Photo by ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP) / POOL SOLELY FOR BEST IMAGE AND ABACA

Australia will be forced to pay up to €3.7 billion to exit a submarine deal with France in favour of acquiring nuclear-powered US or British models, officials admitted Friday.

Last year Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tore up a submarine deal with France’s Naval Group, instead opting for nuclear-powered alternatives as part of a landmark security agreement with Washington and London.

On Friday, under questioning from an opposition senator, defence officials revealed the scuppered French deal came with a hefty price tag.

“So taxpayers will be up for $5.5 billion [AUS $] in submarines that don’t exist?” senator Penny Wong asked at a hearing in Canberra.

“The final negotiated settlement will be within that price,” Defence Department deputy secretary Tony Dalton replied.

Dalton said the exact amount was still unclear as negotiations with Naval Group were ongoing.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham defended the decision to ditch the French deal as “necessary for decades to come”.

“There’s no shying away from the fact that we knew there were serious consequences,” Birmingham said.

“The changed strategic environment in the region meant that the option that had previously been chosen was not going to meet the best needs for Australia in the future.”

Morrison previously said the decision to opt for nuclear-powered submarines was driven by changing dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region, where China is increasingly asserting its claims to almost the entire South China Sea.

The switch caused fury in Paris, with French President Emmanuel Macron accusing the Australian leader of lying about the future of the contract initially worth Aus $50 billion (€34 billion).

In December, a study released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said the nuclear-powered submarine programme would cost more than US $80 billion (€72 billion) and take decades to complete.

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France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

The French government is considering changing speeding laws so that drivers will not lose points on their licence if they are caught going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

France proposes getting rid of penalties for 'minor' speeding offences

France’s Interior Ministry is considering changing its current rules for minor speeding violations – proposing getting rid of the penalty for drivers who only violate the rule by going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

The Ministry has not laid out a timeline for when this could come into effect, but they said they are currently in the preliminary stages of studying how the change could be carried out.

“The fine of course remains,” said the Interior Ministry to French daily Le Parisien.

That is to say you can still be fined for going five kilometres over the speed limit, but there might not be any more lost points for driving a couple kilometres over the posted limit. 

READ ALSO These are the offences that can cost you points on your driving licence

Of the 13 million speeding tickets issued each year in France, 58 percent are for speeding violations of less than 5 km per hour over the limit, with many coming from automated radar machines.

How does the current rule work?

The rule itself is already a bit flexible, depending on where the speeding violation occurs.

If the violation happens in an urban area or low-speed zone (under 50 km per hour limit), then it is considered a 4th class offence, which involves a fixed fine of €135. Drivers can also lose a point on their licences as a penalty for this offence. 

Whereas, on highways and high-speed roads, the consequences of speeding by 5 km per hour are less severe. The offence is only considered 3rd class, which means the fixed fine is €68. There is still the possibility of losing a point on your licence, however. 

How do people feel about this?

Pierre Chasseray, a representative from the organisation “40 Millions d’Automobilistes,” thinks the government should do away with all penalties for minor speeding offences, including fines. He told French daily Le Parisien that this is only a “first step.”

Meanwhile, others are concerned that the move to get rid of points-deductions could end up encouraging people to speed, as they’ll think there is no longer any consequence.

To avoid being accused of carelessness, France’s Interior Ministry is also promising to become “firmer” with regards to people who use other people’s licences in order to get out of losing points – say by sending their spouse’s or grandmother’s instead of their own after being caught speeding. The Interior Ministry plans to digitalise license and registration in an effort to combat this. 

Ultimately, if you are worried about running out of points on your licence, there are still ways to recover them.

You can recover your points after six months of driving without committing any other offences, and there are also awareness training courses that allow you to gain your points back. It should be noted, however, that these trainings typically cost between €150 and €250, and they do not allow you to regain more than four points.