The Prime Minister has criticised the Victorian Government for signing a secret deal with China without reference to the Commonwealth.
9News revealed that Victoria blindsided the Federal Government when it signed a confidential Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China on October 25, signing up to its trillion dollar infrastructure roll-out called Belt and Road. Scott Morrison said foreign relations was a federal responsibility.
“I was surprised that the Victorian Government went into that arrangement without any discussions with the Commonwealth Government at all or taking what would seem any advice from the Commonwealth Government on what is a matter of international relations,” Mr Morrison said.
“They know full well our policy on these issues, and I thought that was not a very cooperative or helpful way to do things such issues.”
But the Prime Minister’s concern isn’t shared by either his foreign or trade ministers.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne admitted her department had not been consulted about the agreement but said that, as it was not a treaty, it was a matter for Victoria.
“We encourage the states and territories to expand opportunities with China,” she said.
Ms Payne will visit Beijing later this week as the chilly relations with China begin to thaw, after disagreements over the militarisation of the South China Sea and Australia’s recently introduced foreign interference laws.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, who is in Shanghai for an international trade expo, told The Australian that he also welcomed Victoria’s deal with China. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said his government had been in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before the deal was signed.
He also claimed – despite many public examples to the contrary – that these kinds of agreements “are never made public”. “It’s a partnership about jobs and investment,” Mr Andrews said.
“And to put Victorian engineering companies, Victorian construction companies and Victorian professional services companies in the box seat to benefit from China’s Belt and Road agenda.”
By Chris Uhlmann