12:58PM NOVEMBER 12, 2018177
Bill Shorten has defended Premier Daniel Andrews for joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative, arguing the deal was part of the “normal day to day work” of state politicians.
The Opposition Leader said he was not surprised Mr Andrews released the memorandum of understanding over the weekend, after facing pressure from Scott Morrison and State Liberal leader Matthew Guy to make the document public before the November 24 election.
Mr Shorten, who also called for Victoria to release the MOU “over time”, said the contents of the agreement showed the concern of Victoria joining the controversial program was “much hyped”.
The MOU did not commit Victoria to any specific projects and talked in general support of Xi Jinping’s global infrastructure program.
“I wasn’t surprised that he did release it and I think it was much hyped in terms of the Liberal conspiracy theories and now they are going to have to go back to talking about hospitals and schools and public transport in Victoria,” Mr Shorten said.
The Weekend Australian revealed the Premier would release the agreement despite refusing to since it was announced in October.
Mr Shorten said there was nothing wrong with a state joining the BRI, despite the position being at odds with federal Labor and the Morrison government, who assess BRI projects on a case-by-case basis and with caution.
“Premiers of both sides of politics have been taking delegations to China, trying to interest investment for their particular part of Australia,” the Opposition Leader said.
“I think that is the normal day to day work of state politicians.”
The Andrews government released the MOU late yesterday, despite the five-year agreement being signed with the authoritarian regime on October 8.
Mr Andrews did not announce his government had signed the document with China until October 25.
The four-page agreement states that Victoria and China will “work together” with the BRI to promote the “connectivity” of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people. It also acknowledges Victoria is “welcoming and supporting” China’s BRI.
“So as to seek new opportunities in co-operation and inject new momentum to achieve common development; strive to develop an open global economy, jointly combat global challenges and promote the building of a common future,” the document says.
China and Victoria have also agreed to “enhance policy co-operation”, “unimpeded trade” and “financial co-operation”. It says the parties will use “existing co-operation mechanisms” to seek convergence on policies.
“The parties will carry out dialogues and exchanges, joint researches, pilot programs, knowledge sharing, capacity building,” it says.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings has savaged Mr Andrews for signing the agreement, saying it was the equivalent of a state government signing a defence treaty.
Victorian shadow treasurer Michael O’Brien has savaged the Andrews Labor government for “exposing Victorian businesses and workers” by secretly signing up to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
Mr O’Brien accused Mr Andrews of being dishonest with Victorians over the “secret deal”.
“First of all he said it had been signed on the 25th of October. Turns out it was signed on the 8th of October,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Then he said it had to be kept confidential. Well there’s nothing in the agreement that says it has to be kept confidential.
“But what’s really concerning about this secret deal that Daniel Andrews has signed Victoria up to is the fact that it commits Victoria to having unimpeded trade with the Chinese government.
“What does that mean for Victorian jobs? What does that mean for Victorian businesses? To have unimpeded trade with China simply means that a lot of Victorian businesses are now going to be put under massive pressure.”
Mr O’Brien said the deal could have implications for local content requirements, quarantine and labour standards.
“It makes it quite plain why Daniel Andrews was so keen to keep this deal secret,” he said.
“It makes it very clear why he then, under pressure, pushed it out in the evening on Remembrance Day.
“This is not a good deal for Victoria. There’s a reason why the Australian government has not signed up to a deal like this, because it wasn’t in Australia’s national interests, so the question is, why does Daniel Andrews think that signing up Victoria to a deal like this is a good thing when it’s been a bad thing in the judgement of the federal government?”
Asked whether a Coalition government would terminate the deal with Beijing, Mr O’Brien said the agreement said it could only be terminated by mutual consent.
“Daniel Andrews has signed Victoria up to a secret deal with no consultation beforehand, that can’t be terminated unless the Chinese government agrees to it,” he said.
Mr O’Brien warned that the “financial co-operation” clause in the MoU could enable Labor to use Chinese government money to pay for unfunded infrastructure promises ahead of the November 24 state election.
“We’ve seen other countries in Asia have to walk away from some of these deals because the debt has been so onerous, so this is the big question for Daniel Andrews: Why have you signed us up to this?” he said.
“Why have you signed us up to something which puts Victorian jobs at risk and is this simply your method of paying for the promises that you can’t afford?”
State Libs would work well with China
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said any government he led would have a good relationship with Australia’s major trading partners, including China.
He said the release of the MoU raised a number of questions, when asked whether his government would back away from it.
“What has the government had to hide about the circumstances of its signing? Why wasn’t the federal government properly notified? Why wasn’t DFAT properly advised?” Mr Guy said.
“You have to ask all these questions, and you say, ‘what was the Andrews Labor government’s intention in signing us up to this when foreign governments themselves have sought to get out of deals like this, when other governments have said, ‘we’ve baulked at deals like this’, and yet Victoria’s enthusiastically signed it.
“We will have a look at it, we will take advice from within the department and the federal government about its contents.
“It’s hard to say after barely 12 hours of it being made public on the evening of Remembrance Day, but what I will say is I will always put Victoria and Victorians first, not the interests of my political party, or indeed that of a foreign government.”
Mr Guy said his government would “absolutely” continue annual premier’s visits to China as occur under the Andrews government.
With Rachel Baxendale