Troubled Times as Coalition and Labor Fail on Australia - China Relations

1 October 2019

"September was a big month in Australia – China relations – a vital international relationship neither the Coalition nor Labor want to examine properly," Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick said today.

"Last month began with 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 in Sussex Street in Sydney."  

"This scandal was welcome news for the Coalition which in August had been embarrassed by Liberal MP Andrew Hastie’s speech which compared China’s geopolitical rise with the challenge posed by Nazi Germany."

"However, later in the month revelations about Federal Liberal MP Glady’s Liu’s links with Chinse Communist Party “United Front” organisations filled the centre stage of national politics."

"Of course Federal Labor didn’t want to talk about the ALDI bag while the Coalition was insistent that in the case of Ms Liu there was nothing to see and everyone should move on," Senator Patrick said.  

"Calls for Ms Liu to make a full statement to Parliament were ignored. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation was kept on the sidelines while Ms Liu was allowed to conduct her own ‘audit’ of her very problematic foreign connections – something that hasn’t seen the light of day yet."  

"Perhaps then it was no surprise that 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."

"Neither party offered much in the way of explanation for this refusal, a state of affairs that was especially curious given the strong interest in such an inquiry from both Coalition and Labor backbench members of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. Orders came down from on high to tell Coalition and Labor Senators to shut up about China."

"Had the Government and Opposition not self-censored, apparently for fear of Beijing’s possible 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.  

"From the events of September alone, some of the issues that could be examined include debate on 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, including recent revelations about a Chinese mining company seeking to expand 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 take over bids for Australian exporters such as Tasmania-based infant milk formula company Bellamy's; and the growing influence of Chinese state controlled student organisations operating on Australian university campuses."

"However neither the Coalition nor Labor wishes to engage openly on these matters."  

"Instead Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne rather optimistically insisted she was ‘very positive’ about bilateral relations after meeting with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision this week to join US President Donald Trump in bluntly pushing on China’s developing nation trade status.”

"The Prime Minister accused Labor of being ‘naïve’ on China while Labor defence spokesperson Richard Marles came back from a quick trip to Beijing accusing the Coalition of taking ‘pot shots against our largest trading partner’ and leaving the bilateral relationship in a ‘terrible state’."

"Both the Coalition and Labor appear all too ready to engage in partisan bickering on China while refusing to allow an open and non-partisan Parliamentary inquiry." 

"Meantime, Australian citizen Yang Hengjun remains imprisoned 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."

"Neither the Coalition nor Labor are prepared to speak about what the political persecution of Dr Yang says about Beijing’s underlying attitudes towards Australia."

"One way or another, however, the Coalition and Labor need put their heads together and agree to work on a comprehensive, no holds barred Parliamentary review of Australia’s relations with China. Only then will we build a new national consensus on the way forward in what are troubling times. Our national interest demands nothing less."

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