Will the Australian Parliament Again Self-Censor on China?

6 September 2019

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick today confirmed his intention next Monday, 9 September 2019, to move a Senate motion to establish a comprehensive inquiry into Australia's relations with China.  

"I urge the Coalition Government and the Labor Opposition to support the proposed inquiry which will provide a very valuable forum for frank discussion about Australia’s most important international relationship," Senator Patrick said.

"If the Coalition and Labor won’t support an inquiry, they will need to explain why they would have the Australian Parliament censor itself when everyone else is talking about China."

"China now looms very large in Australia’s future.  China is a vital trading partner -- our largest two-way trading partner in goods and services, our largest export market and our largest source of imports.  At the same time China is transforming Australia’s strategic landscape as Beijing develops the military and naval capabilities to dominate its immediate region and project power much further afield."

"China features in the news headlines every day, whether in relation to the United States - China trade dispute, strategic tensions in the South China Sea, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, China’s influence in the South Pacific region, the turmoil on Hong Kong’s streets, allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang, or developments in the case of the detained Australian citizen Dr Yang Hengjun who now faces espionage charges brought by China’s Ministry of State Security."

"There is also a steady stream of controversies concerning China’s growing influence in Australia including, for example, Chinese interest in Australian resources and critical infrastructure, the revelation that a Chinese owned mining company has been allowed to set up shop on Australia’s top secret Woomera defence test range, concerns about China’s political influence on Australian university campuses and the most recent revelations in the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption concerning covert political donations."

"Nor is there any shortage of commentary on Australia’s relations with China, from strategic and economic experts, but also including the recent observations of the chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence Services Andrew Hastie on China’s global ambitions and the warnings of the outgoing Director-General of Security, Duncan Lewis, who, while avoiding explicitly naming China, declared covert foreign interference to be 'an existential threat' to Australia."

"In these circumstances it is both proper and timely for the Australian Parliament to conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into Australia’s relations with China to see how we can continue to maximise benefit from a mutually beneficial trading relationship, but equally to gain understanding of where caution is warranted."

"It is very normal for the Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee to conduct inquiries into Australia’s relations with various countries; for example in relation to China in 2005-6, Papua New Guinea in 2010, the Indian Ocean Region in 2013 and Mexico in 2015."

"A Senate inquiry into China would seek input from Australian Government departments and agencies, from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, other governments, non-government organisations, universities and other educational institutions, business, academics and a wide range of other interested stakeholders."

"I first proposed a Senate Committee inquiry into Australia’s engagement with China’s Belt and Road initiative in November last year. Both the Liberal Government and Labor Opposition voted against it."

"On 1 August this year I again sought agreement on the terms of reference of a broad Senate inquiry into Australia’s relations with China. Labor initially agreed to cosponsor the motion but at the last moment withdrew its support. To give Labor more time to consider its position, I postponed the motion until the next sitting day, 9 September."

"Next Monday I will again move my motion to establish a Senate inquiry on relations with China."

"The Coalition Government and the Labor Opposition ought to support the proposed inquiry in our national interest."

"However I am getting the feeling the Parliament is starting to self-censor itself when it comes to discussing China. That would be a very unhealthy development for Australian democracy," Senator Patrick said.

The proposed terms of reference for the inquiry are below.

 

Notice of Motion

Notice given 31 July 2019

Senator Patrick: To move—

 That the following matter be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report by the final sitting day of June 2020: Australia’s relations with the People’s Republic of China, with particular reference to:

 (a)     the management of a mutually respectful and beneficial bilateral relationship between Australia and China;

(b)     Australian and Chinese perspectives on, and interests in, regional and global security issues;

(c)     trade, investment and infrastructure issues, including Australia’s engagement with China's Belt and Road Initiative;

(d)     educational and research cooperation;

(e)     tourism, cultural exchanges and people-to-people ties;

(f)      management of diplomatic and consular arrangements;

(g)     dialogue on human rights issues;

(h)     the roles of Australian institutions in Australia’s relations with China, including: state and local governments, universities and other academic bodies, business, and non-government organisations; and

(i)      any related matters.

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