Australia needs to look beyond China for trade: Senator

The bill, as well as the federal government’s displeasure at the deal, were on the list of 14 grievances leaked by China which pointed the finger at Canberra for the rapidly souring diplomatic relations between the countries.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who discussed the BRI last week with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, warned on Sunday that tearing up the deal could further sour relations with Beijing. He said it would not be the reset which was needed.

But Mr Andrews said ultimate responsibility laid with the federal government.

“This bill was not just about Chinese agreements, it’s a broader thing and it is a matter for the Federal Parliament to determine whether that’s what they want to do or not,” Mr Andrews said.

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Senator Wong said the Labor Party was united with the federal government in opposition to Victoria’s deal with China, but avoided calling on the government to unilaterally cancel it. Instead, she said the federal government should “calmly” discuss the issue with the state.

“I think that now that the minister has the power, it’s time for sensible discussions with the Victorian government,” Senator Wong said.

“I don’t think it’s been good to have the Prime Minister, and others, engaging in a public argument about this.”

The senator also welcomed engagement with Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne over an amendment to the veto law – introduced by Senator Rex Patrick – which would ensure the minister’s decisions could be challenged in court if governments, councils or universities believed the power was being misused.

Minister Payne’s office did not respond when contacted for comment.

Senator Wong said so far she has had no engagement from Minister Payne’s office, but emphasised Labor supported the legislation.

Rather than thinking about how to fix the relationship with China, Senator Wong said we need a strategy on diversifying economically and on working with other countries in the region as Australia was too reliant on China.

“We do have to work with our exporters to diversify our markets, to enable them to make sure we have more diversified opportunities instead of what has happened, which is a greater reliance on China,” she said.

“The relationship is obviously in a very difficult and challenging place. Going forward, I think we should assume that a more assertive, at times more aggressive China, is here to stay.

On a potential boycott of China’s 2022 Winter Olympics, Senator Wong said the event would be an opportunity to discuss key issues.

“I think that the Olympics, rather than boycotting, should be used as an opportunity to highlight our concerns about a range of issues, including human rights,” she said.

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Rachel Clun is a federal political reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, covering health.

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