Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has accused Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews of failing to act in the national interest, by pursuing discussions about a Chinese loan program.
Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative (BRI) has often been described as “dangerous debt diplomacy.”
“Why does he believe this is in our national interest? Why does he believe it’s in Victoria’s interest?” Dutton told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
“It’s a decision that’s been made by Mr Andrews, so he can justify the decision. I haven’t heard the rationale or the reasoning behind what seemed to be a pretty rushed decision.”
Dutton’s comments come hours ahead of news late Wednesday that Andrews has signed a new framework agreement in Beijing with China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) as part of the BRI.
While the document is not legally binding, it signals Victoria’s willingness to cooperate with China on infrastructure, innovation, aged care and trade.
The new agreement follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Beijing last year. In doing so, Victoria became the only state in Australia to formally support the BRI.
Andrews is now set to co-chair a joint working group with NDRC Vice Chairman Ning Jizhe, reported 9News.
Dutton raised work underway between ASIO and universities to stamp out foreign interference when asked whether he believed the Chinese deal was in Australia’s national interests.
“The state governments, including Premier Andrews, get regular updates from the director-general of ASIO, and additional briefings available to him or to the other premiers or chief ministers if they require it,” he said.
“Premier Andrews would have all of the information available to him and yet he’s made this decision, so I think it’s best he explains it.”
Andrews had promised ahead of his trip to Beijing that he would put Victoria’s $107 billion infrastructure pipeline “front and centre” at a roadshow with Chinese construction companies and investors.
“My sixth official visit to China will promote Victoria’s record infrastructure pipeline, while building on the close relationship our state has with our biggest trading partner,” he said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie will visit Beijing for a three-day study tour in December.
Hastie, who heads parliament’s powerful intelligence and security committee, is a prominent critic of China.
Earlier this year, he came under fire after likening the world’s approach to containing China, to the failure to stop the rise of Nazi Germany.
By Daniel McCulloch