Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has signed a new agreement to work with China as part of its controversial belt and road initiative.
The framework agreement signed in Beijing today with China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), commits Victoria to co-operating with China on infrastructure, innovation, aged care and trade, although the document is not legally binding.
It follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Victoria and China on the Belt and Road Initiative in 2018.
Speaking to 9News in Beijing, Mr Andrews said the agreement would give Victorian firms the inside running when bidding for work on China’s huge infrastructure agenda.
“Anything we can do to give Victorian companies and Victorian workers an edge, that’s exactly the right thing to do,” he said.
Mr Andrews will now co-chair a joint working group with NDRC Vice Chairman Ning Jizhe, with the Premier hoping to formalise deeper ties between the two governments next year.
“We had the MOU last year, we’ve got a foundation document, the next step this year with a bit more detail, with the aim to have an even more detailed document next year,” he said.
“This is all about a passport to export. It’s about jobs and profit.”
He sought to play down potential foreign policy concerns.
“I know the Prime Minister’s had some meetings with very senior Chinese officials in the last few days, and I think most Victorians would say that is good,” he said.
“We need a strong partnership, Victoria has one, and we would hope that every state and territory and indeed the Commonwealth would have a strong partnership and indeed a friendship with China because that’s how you grow jobs.”
Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has accused Mr Andrews of failing to act in the national interest by pursuing discussions about a Chinese loan program.
“Why does he believe this is in our national interest? Why does he believe it’s in Victoria’s interest?” Mr Dutton told reporters in Canberra today.
“It’s a decision that’s been made by Mr Andrews, so he can justify the decision. I haven’t heard the rationale or the reasoning behind what seemed to be a pretty rushed decision.”
When asked whether he believed the Chinese deal was in Australia’s national interests, Mr Dutton raised work under way between ASIO and universities to stamp out foreign interference.
“The state governments, including Premier Andrews, get regular updates from the director-general of ASIO, and additional briefings available to him or to the other premiers or chief ministers if they require it,” he said.
“Premier Andrews would have all of the information available to him and yet he’s made this decision, so I think it’s best he explains it.”
9News with AAP