Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien says China’s “petulant threats” to punish Australia for leading the charge on a probe into the origins of coronavirus are “appalling”, and that mature nations should deal with these matters diplomatically.
The State Liberals on Tuesday renewed calls for the Andrews government to release details of a deal to sign up to Beijing’s Belt & Road Initiative, in light of China’s trade bans and tariffs on some Australian exports.
Despite the Victorian government facing criticism from federal Labour and Coalition MPs for supporting China’s signature policy, Mr O’Brien has not committed to ending Victoria’s involvement if the Coalition forms government at the next election.
Mr O’Brien said he had lodged freedom of information requests for security briefings the Andrews government received before it signed the memorandum of understanding with Beijing in 2018.
The Opposition Leader said his party would weigh the China deal against national security, jobs, sovereignty and economic interests, before taking a stand.
“These threats, particularly petulant threats, do nothing to help anyone,” Mr O’Brien said.
“This idea that Victorian farmers should be punished because Australia supports an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 is appalling.
“Nobody likes a bully.”
The Belt & Road Initiative is President Xi Jinping’s flagship $1.5 trillion foreign and economic policy project to establish trade routes across the world and invest in infrastructure projects in dozens of Countries, the Silk Road of the 21st century.
Premier Daniel Andrews signed the deal despite the Commonwealth and national security agencies raising concerns, at the time saying the agreement was aimed at utilising Chinese investment in his massive infrastructure program.
Mr O’Brien said although the government had spruiked the deal as protecting Victorian jobs and about improving access to agricultural markets in the state, it was unable to stop the 80 per cent tariff imposed on Australian barley farmers.
“This agreement has failed to project Victorian jobs – we know that Chinese government-owned companies are building the West Gate Tunnel, we know they’re removing our level crossings, they’re building the Metro Tunnel, we know they’re making Victorian trains,” Mr O’Brien said.
“We know that that’s the benefit flowing to Beijing. Where’s the benefit to Victoria?”
Former Liberal leader Matthew Guy on Tuesday morning said the Chinese government should “stop acting like children” by making “silly threats”.
“It’s not about China, it’s not about America, it’s not about Australia – we need to find out what’s happened with this pandemic,” Mr Guy told 3AW.
“It sparks everyone’s concerns when they want to denigrate nations trying to get the truth.”
The state government said it had published details of the agreement online and would not be providing an update.
“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 said.
“We have no update on the road map at this time. The focus of the government is on protecting the health of Victorians by slowing the spread of coronavirus, and getting thousands of people back to work – building the projects that matter to Victoria.”