Australia PM frowns on state premier's secret Belt and Road deal

Finance | 7 Nov 2018 4:00 pm

The premier of the Australian state of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, is copping flack from the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his own party over a secret deal he forged with China — but not everyone is against it, a local media report says.

Victoria is now the first and only state to get on board President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, after the premier finalized a deal with the Chinese ambassador to Australia on October 25, reports.

Morrison lashed out at the premier, saying foreign policy is the Commonwealth’s domain and that Andrews should have checked with him first.

"I mean, I’d like to give him a few tips on how he should be running his police force down there, because if you’re living in Victoria, he hasn’t been doing a pretty crash hot job on that,” Morrison told Sydney radio station 2GB. "If he wants to start going over each other’s lines and giving advice about how we should run each other’s shows, how about having a police force in Victoria like the one we have in NSW?

"That might do a lot to give safety to people in Victoria.”

The PM said Australia had for years maintained a consistent policy on the Belt and Road Initiative, and did not have a memorandum of understanding with China on the global infrastructure project.

He said when things like the Victorian deal happen, it "creates mixed messages.''

"I was surprised that the Victorian Government went into that arrangement without any discussions with the Commonwealth Government at all,” Morrison said yesterday. "They know full well our policy on those issues and I thought that was not a very cooperative or helpful way to do things on such issues.”

But Morrison’s colleagues don’t agree with him.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne noted that, while her department had not been consulted about the deal, she was supportive of it.

"We encourage the states and territories to expand opportunities with China,” she told ABC radio.

Andrews pointed to comments from federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham that also welcomed the deal.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was involved in the drafting "all the way through.''

"I understood that the [federal] Trade Minister who is in China at the moment thought that it was a fantastic deal,” he said.

"Maybe the latest Prime Minister needs to get a briefing from DFAT as well … They’re all a bit confused up there [in Canberra], aren’t they?”

Andrews is refusing to release details of the confidential deal, telling reporters such things are usually not released.

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