Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has defended his trade agreement with China, claiming it was in the state’s best interest to export product to larger markets.
The premier signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s National Development and Reform Commission to support the $1.5 trillion Belt and Road Initiative in 2018, making Victoria the only government in the country to do so.
The agreement has long been controversial, with the Federal Government consistently sceptical about China’s motives.
However, Mr Andrews told Today “diplomatic issues” between Australia and China should not get in the way of trade agreements.
“I am focused on getting as much product out of Victoria into big markets,” he said.
“There is no bigger market than China. There will be differences.
“You have to separate out these diplomatic issues where you can from our trading.
“It is in our interest to have more product going to China and Europe and our Asian countries.”
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton previously described the Belt and Road agreement as a “propaganda initiative from China”.
“Victoria needs to explain why it is the only state in the country that has entered into this agreement,” he said.
Mr Andrews today said the “status of those agreements” with sister cities was a matter for the Commonwealth and Parliament.
‘Now is the time to borrow and build’
Despite a projected deficit of more than $23 billion revealed in the 2020-21 State Budget, Mr Andrews insisted the government’s record spending spree was necessary in order to repair and rebuild the state’s economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The premier claimed the government had followed the advice of the Reserve Bank, being “borrow now and build”.
“The Governor of the Reserve Bank makes it very clear, now is the time to borrow – borrowing costs are at all time lows,” he said.
“Hard working ordinary Victorians are waking up today to see a Budget that is massive in size and scale because that’s the task that we have.
“Creating jobs, a sense of optimism, a sense of confidence, repairing that damage. It is also people-focused.
“It is a Budget that puts people first and deals with the pain and the damage that has been done.
“Not just so that we can repair that but set us up to be fairer and stronger for the future.”