The signing of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement—without engaging with the federal government—was “simply a disgrace” on the part of Victoria’s premier, Victoria’s Shadow Attorney-General Edward O’Donohue has said.
Speaking with The Epoch Times on June 11, O’Donohue said that Victoria’s Labor premier, Daniel Andrews, had jeopardised Australia’s national security when he signed the agreement back in October 2018.
“It’s just simply not the job of Victoria to be signing international agreements with other countries, particularly, major global powers like China—that is a job for the federal government,” O’Donohue said.
O’Donohue added that not knowing the details of the agreement was a risk in itself and that full disclosure of the agreement must be pursued.
“[The Opposition] have put in Freedom of Information requests, which have been denied by the state government. What are they hiding? What don’t they want us to know? And why won’t Daniel Andrews come clean with Victorians about this deal?” he said.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which was made available on Nov. 11, 2018, the Victorian Labor government effectively signalled to Beijing that Victoria is open to “policy cooperation,” “unimpeded trade,” and will “promote Digital Silkroad Cooperation” as part of the communist one-party state’s controversial flagship infrastructure project.
Despite reassurances from Andrews that the document was “not legally binding,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on June 11 that the premier should rescind Victoria from the BRI.
“[The BRI] is a program that the Australian foreign policy doesn’t recognise … because we believe that it is not consistent with Australia’s national interest,” Morrison said.
“All states and territories should not be doing things that act inconsistently with the federal policy.”
While criticism continues to grow over the BRI, Andrews maintains that the agreement “is all about growing Victorian jobs.”
On June 1, Andrews told ABC radio that “[the Chinese] are our biggest customer. We’ve never done more business with them than we know we are right now, and that underpins not one job or hundreds of jobs or thousands of jobs.”
“This agreement is about creating opportunities for Victorian businesses and local jobs—opportunities that will be more important than ever as we rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic,” a spokesperson for the Andrews government told The Epoch Times on May 26.
However, O’Donohue said that the BRI has failed to demonstrate that additional jobs have been created.
“On the contrary, we’ve had tariffs on our barley, and now threats to the education sector, of which the education sector is a key part of Victoria’s economy,” O’Donohue added.
“So, whatever relationships Daniel Andrews has with the Chinese Communist Party, they don’t seem to be helping Victoria at this time.”
Support for Hong Kong
On June 4—the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre—O’Donohue and Liberal MP David Limbrick established the “Parliamentary Friends of Hong Kong group.”
According to O’Donohue, the group intends to build “economic, historical, and cultural links” between Victoria and Hong Kong, while supporting “[the] continuation of the democratic and economic rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people under the one country, two systems agreement.”
Hong Kong has experienced its largest demonstrations over the past year, with at times millions of locals taking to the streets to resist Beijing’s growing encroachment on the city’s autonomy.
“As a democracy ourselves in Victoria, in Australia, we want to work with people in Hong Kong—who share similar values to us—and help them at this very difficult time,” he said.
Epoch Times reporters Rita Li, Victoria Kelly-Clark, and Melanie Sun contributed to this report.