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Andrews flags further announcements on next phase of Belt and Road

Andrews flags further announcements on next phase of Belt and Road

Premier Daniel Andrews indicated on Wednesday that the timetable for agreeing to the next step of the deal, a "co-operation road map" between the state and the communist country, had been pushed back by the COVID-19 pandemic but that "further announcements" were on the way.

The state Labor government has come under fire from the conservative side of politics, defence commentators and even some federal ALP figures for agreeing to the deal despite federal government objections.

The Age revealed on Wednesday that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was not consulted on the latest phase of the agreement, signed in October, until the day it was publicly announced.

But Mr Andrews said on Wednesday that he did not believe DFAT had expressed any disquiet about the deal or how it was approached by Victoria.

“We have a very good relationship with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,” the Premier said.

“We have 22 offices around the world and they all engage really closely and it makes sense, they should and they do.

“It's a very close relationship, it should be. It's in everybody's interest.”

Mr Andrews said the first BRI agreement between Victoria and China, signed in October 2018, was provided to DFAT but not the second phase of the deal, which was concluded a year later.

“The first agreement was sent to take that in draft form,” the Premier said.

Daniel Andrews on Wednesday confirmed that the first Belt and Road agreement between Victoria and China was provided to DFAT, but not the second phase of the deal.

Daniel Andrews on Wednesday confirmed that the first Belt and Road agreement between Victoria and China was provided to DFAT, but not the second phase of the deal.

Photo: Joe Armao

“The second agreement is simply an extension of the first agreement, that's the nature of an agreement that is tied to the principal agreement.”

The co-operation road map was supposed to be in place by the end of March, but the Premier indicated the coronavirus crisis had pushed that timetable back.

“I think its fair to say that people’s focus has been on a global pandemic rather than necessarily some of those issues,” Mr Andrews said.

“But when we’re in a position to make further announcements, we will.”

'But when we’re in a position to make further announcements, we will.'

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

The Premier also said his government would "consider" the report of the state's Information Commissioner calling for an overhaul of freedom of information laws.

His comments came after The Age revealed on Wednesday that state secrecy had worsened since his government was elected, with a steady year-on-year decline in the release of information by Victorian departments and agencies.

"The Information Commissioner has got a report, we're considering that, but I've got no announcements to make about FOI today," Mr Andrews said.

"But I would just make the point ... FOI decisions are not made by members of Parliament, they're not made by ministers, they're made by independent public servants.

"They make decisions and they make them in accordance with the law, and that's really important."

Another eight people tested positive to COVID-19 on Monday, taking the total number of cases in the state to 1618. Two of those cases are connected to Lynden Aged Care in Camberwell, which remains in lockdown after a staff member tested positive last week.

Mr Andrews said the two new cases were not close contacts of the staff member who tested positive last week. Another round of testing is being done to see if the virus has spread further.

Of the other new cases in Victoria, one relates to a returned traveller who is in hotel quarantine and four others were picked up during routine testing. The source of the remaining case is still under investigation.

Mr Andrews also revealed there have been more than 200,000 tests in the state since May 11.

The Premier also said office workers would need to keep working from home through all of June where possible, to avoid a second wave of infections.

The royal commission into Victoria's mental health system, meanwhile, has been given a three-month extension to deliver its final report after hearings and meetings were cancelled due to the pandemic.


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