The calls come amid the introduction of new federal powers—The Foreign Relations Bill—which will see arrangements with foreign nations at all levels of government vetoed if they that aren’t in Australia’s national interests.
Wagga Wagga councillor Paul Funnell, who sought to terminate his city’s 32-year-old sister-city relationship with Kunming, China in April following the outbreak of the CCP virus, welcomed the federal government’s bill.
“I think that’s an outstanding step and I’m disappointed it wasn’t in place over 30 years ago,” Funnell told The Epoch Times. “We have to act in the national interest.”
Funnell added that tariffs imposed by China have “undermined and unsettled” the region’s industries and will have a “massive impact” in the ensuing months and years.
As the Kapooka Army base in Wagga Wagga is known as the “Home of the Soldier,” he said the doctored image of an Australian soldier that was tweeted by the Chinese regime was deeply “offensive” to Australians. He added that the Chinese regime “has shown great disrespect for many of our veterans, current serving ADF personnel and their families.”
Marcus Cornish, a Penrith Councillor has also called for his council to cut ties with sister-city Kunshan in Jiangsu Province and the Xicheng district of Beijing, reported the Daily Telegraph.
“I hope this gives other Sydney councils the lead to say that this behaviour from China is not right and is impacting on our community at a grassroots level,” he said.
Under the new bill, at least 37 agreements entered into by local governments will be scrutinised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), according to the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA).
For example, the sister-city relationship between Clover Moore’s City of Sydney council and Guangzhou is being investigated by the federal government, reported The Daily Telegraph.
In a submission (pdf) to the Senate committee in September, the ALGA said there are almost 600 “sister city” affiliations between local councils in Australia and overseas cities. Of the 600, there are 90 active sister-city relationships held with China (pdf) with approximately 30 in NSW and 20 in Victoria.
“Preliminary discussions with the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade indicates that all sister-city relationships will fall under the Act,” the submission read.
According to the secretary of Sister Cities Australia, Mike Jakins, sister-city relationships are merely “community-to-community relationships and have nothing to do with national security,” reported The Age.
Jakins added that though sister cities have historically been built around cultural exchanges, the past decade has seen a shift towards investment opportunities.
In Victoria, Liberal local government spokesman Tim Smith said while most of the sister-city relationships are “rather symbolic” and not “anything substantial,” these arrangements should be reviewed against the national interest, reported the Herald Sun.
Victorian Liberal senator Sarah Henderson added: “Councils should and will be held to account by the Morrison Government under this very significant law reform.”