Premier Daniel Andrews says he wants stronger links with China and insists his government will “stay the course” on its controversial Belt & Road Deal.
Premier Andrews indicated on Tuesday that he is preparing to enter another agreement between Victoria and China on its $1.5 trillion global infrastructure program, saying he wanted his government’s ties with China to grow “even stronger” and would make as “many agreements as possible” to boost the state’s international trade.
The comments come as the opposition says Premier Andrews has now missed two deadlines to provide State Parliament with more details of who he met and what he talked about on trips to China.
A third agreement between Victoria and China, a Belt & Road “Roadmap”, was due to have been signed by the end of March but the timetable has been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Andrews government has been under sustained attack for its existing deal with China from the Morrison federal government, the state opposition and national security commentators who all say the agreement offers little trade benefit, hands the Chinese Communist Party a propaganda victory and runs contrary to Australia’s National Interests.
Asked on Tuesday if he intended to sign the next phase of the BRI deal with China, Mr Andrews said that the coronavirus pandemic had held up the process.
“COVID has been a significant issue, obviously,” the Premier said.
“But we are absolutely committed to making sure that we have as many agreements as we possibly can have to get more Victorian-made product into China.”
“It’s only the world’s biggest market.”
The Liberals say they have been trying without success to extract the information on the China trips from Premier Andrews Office since November.
Opposition frontbencher David Davis has been using Parliament’s questions on notice system for a full breakdown of who Premier Andrews met with and what was discussed on four of his trips to China since he won office in 2014.
Mr Davis was referred to the official ministerial website, after a delay of nearly 90 days, where the names of at least 24 officials, including Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and private sector figures the Premier has met on his trips.
But the President of the Legislative Council, Labour’s Shaun Leane, reinstated Mr Davis’ questions in early March, after the Liberal argued they had not been answered satisfactorily because the public reports were not detailed enough.
Now the usual 30 day deadline given to ministers to answer questions has passed and Mr Davis says the Premier is “thumbing his nose” at the Parliament’s rules.
“Why will Andrews not account for whom he met on his many trips to China?” Mr Davis asked.
“Why will Andrews not come clean on the positions held by those he met with and the names of the organisations they represented?
“Why does Andrews continue to thumb his nose at the standing orders of the Victorian Parliament that require questions on notice to be answered within 30 days?”
Mr Andrews’ office told The Age on Tuesday that Mr Davis would get answers but that they were unlikely to be different to those already supplied.