Dutton's Comments Give Rise to a Renewed Call for China Inquiry

12 October 2019

"Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s comments on China and the response of the Chinese Embassy mark a significant shift in Australia-China relations," Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick said today. 

"This important new development in an increasingly fraught relationship makes it all the more important that the Australian Parliament fully engage on this vital question in Australia’s foreign relations."

"Minister Dutton has clearly decided to push the Morrison Government towards a much more hard-line approach to relations with Communist China," Senator Patrick said. 

"While a more robust approach is desirable in light of China’s behaviour, one must wonder about Mr Dutton’s motivation and whether his diplomatic skills, such as they are, may be up to the task."

"Moreover Mr Dutton’s remarks would be more credible if they were accompanied by greater candour about the full dimensions of foreign political interference in Australia and by a preparedness to support more open parliamentary inquiry and debate on Australia’s relations with China."

"For example, Mr Dutton says the Morrison Government will call out state-based foreign interference and that 'we won't allow our government bodies or our non-government bodies to be hacked into'."

"Yet, despite my questions in the Senate, the Government has still not acknowledged that the Chinese Government hacked the Australian Parliament’s computer network, as reported by Reuters."

"Neither the Coalition or Labor have a good record in dealing with Australia – China relations – both have been heavily compromised by back door donations and influence buying."

"Over the past two months we have heard much in the way of revelations from the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption about a Chinese billionaire property developer personally delivering an ALDI Bag stuffed with $100,000 to NSW Labor Headquarters." 

"However, through September we also learned of Federal Liberal MP Glady’s Liu’s links with Chinese Communist Party 'United Front' organisations."

"Federal Labor didn’t want to talk about the ALDI bag while the Coalition is insistent that with Ms Liu there was nothing to see and everyone should move on."

“Peter Dutton ought to stand up and join calls for Ms Liu to make a full statement to Parliament. As Home Affairs Minister he shouldn’t keep the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation on the sidelines while Ms Liu conducts her own ‘audit’ of her very problematic foreign connections."

"Perhaps Minister Dutton could tell us how Ms Liu's ‘audit’ is coming along?"

"Against this background, both the Coalition and Labor twice joined forces in September to block Centre Alliance’s proposal for a Senate Committee inquiry into all aspects of Australia’s relations with China."

"Had the Government and Opposition not self-censored, apparently for fear of Beijing’s reaction, the way would have been clear for the Parliament to embark on a wide-ranging inquiry drawing on a full range of available expertise from within government, business, universities and non-government organisations."

"It could only be in Australia’s national interest to have a comprehensive inquiry examine how we might pursue a mutually respectful and advantageous relationship with Beijing, while being mindful of issues in relation to which greater caution may be required," Senator Patrick said.  

"Issues that could be examined include China’s strategic ambitions in South East Asia and the Pacific including Beijing’s growing influence in Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere; Chinese investment in Australia including in resources and critical infrastructure and recent revelations about a Chinese mining company expanding its operations on Australia’s most secret defence weapons test range; the role of the Chinese Government in restricting access to its own markets to facilitate takeover bids for Australian exporters such as Tasmania-based infant milk formula company Bellamy's; and Chinese Government influence and interference in federal and state level politics."

"There is also the deeply worrying case of Australian citizen Yang Hengjun who continues to be detained in a Chinese Ministry of State Security prison, shackled in chains and subject to repeated interrogation while facing espionage charges that could bring a possible death sentence."

"In the light of Minister Dutton’s remarks and the Chinese Embassy's response, I propose next week to once again reintroduce Centre Alliance’s motion for a Senate inquiry into Australia’s relations with China."

"This will be a third opportunity for the Coalition and Labor to come together in the national interest and agree to work on a comprehensive, no holds barred Parliamentary review of Australia’s relations with China."

"Only then will we start to build a new national consensus on managing this relationship in what are difficult and troubling times. Australia’s national interest demands nothing less."

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