12:00AM NOVEMBER 5, 201829
The Victorian government will keep secret the detail of its memorandum of understanding with Beijing for China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The Andrews government yesterday said it would not be making public the terms of its agreement with China, announced last month, that make it the first state to sign up to the program.
It comes as federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham welcomed the deal between China and Victoria, although he has not seen the detail of the agreement.
An Andrews government spokesman said the contents of the deal with China were not for public consumption.
“The Victorian government consulted with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade during the MOU’s drafting process and DFAT have been provided with a copy,” he said.
The deal, in which Victoria will become the first state or territory to sign on, has given the state a competitive advantage in exploiting the spending program believed to total $1.4 trillion.
The BRI refers to the routes linking China to the rest of the world, including Africa, Europe and Asia in one of history’s greatest construction strategies.
A 2016 PwC report estimated the countries that had signed up to the BRI covered nearly half the world’s population and a third of the global economy, with demand for trillions of dollars of infrastructure investment. Yet the BRI has attracted significant criticism from some experts, who question why Australia would expose itself to more influence from China.
Senator Birmingham said he welcomed the deal between China and Victoria but had not seen the content. “I haven’t discussed the content of it with Victoria but we have been, and are, positive for Australian engagement in BRI where those projects are sustainable projects that provide clear benefits for the recipients … if Victoria has seen opportunities to do so consistent with those terms, that’s something we welcome.”
It is understood the federal government became aware in June that Victoria was considering an MOU on the BRI but was not told it had been signed until it was announced on October 25.
The government says its bilateral free-trade agreement with China is the primary avenue for deepening its trade and investment partnership with China.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the initiative would aid economic opportunities with the Asian giant, underpinned by the huge infrastructure agenda in the state. “The expertise Victoria has when it comes to the delivery of these massive projects means we have the design and engineering skills China is looking for as part of its ambitious BRI initiative,’’ he said last month.
“The landmark agreement recognises the close relationship between Victoria and China, the result of dedicated engagement at all levels of government, including four visits to China by Mr Andrews, and follows the decision by the Australia-China Belt and Road Initiative to establish headquarters in Melbourne,’’ a spokesman said.