Australia’s major political parties have shot down an influential senator’s push for an inquiry into Australia’s relationship with China.
Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick’s motion to have parliament’s foreign affairs, defence, and trade committee look at relations between the two countries was failed 12 votes to 44 on Monday evening.
He questioned if the coalition and Labor blocking the inquiry was a sign of Chinese influence being exercised.
“The Labor opposition’s decision not to support a Senate inquiry on Australia’s relations with China does look like a sad act of political cowardice,” Senator Patrick told parliament on Monday night.
He said the inquiry would have looked at Australia’s important trade links with the Asian superpower, as well as areas of caution stemming from the relationship.
Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said the opposition favoured detailed briefings from government agencies rather than an inquiry “at this time.”
“The national interest is best served by a bipartisan approach to the relationship,” she said.
She said that didn’t mean an uncritical approach.
“Rather it means a sensible, calm and mature discussion without seeking to exploit complexities in the China relationship for political advantage,” Senator Gallagher said.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Greens backed the inquiry.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said Labor’s decision to oppose the inquiry came after allegations surrounding Chinese donors were raised at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.
“You have to wonder if this is what $100,000 in an Aldi bag buys you?” he said.
Senator Patrick told the upper house some government MPs were fearful of giving Labor MPs outside parliament’s intelligence and security committee confidential briefings because of links to Chinese donors.
Government minister Jonathon Duniam said Australia’s relationship with China was complex and any attempts to politicise it should be rejected.
“We manage any bilateral issues from a national interest perspective on the basis of mutual respect, including on issues of sovereignty, for which we make no apology,” he said.
One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts raised the case of detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who was charged with spying last month.
“The detention of those whose views differ from the regime is a continuing disgrace and worthy of further review,” Senator Roberts said.