Australia takes aim at pacts between governments harmful to nation

World | 27 Aug 2020 9:51 pm

Australia would set up a public register where all existing foreign agreements would have to be disclosed, then reviewed by the Foreign Minister.

The Foreign Minister could then terminate any existing agreements, if they are considered adverse to Australia's foreign relations or are inconsistent with foreign policy, ABC News reports.

The proposal is almost certain to pass the Parliament, with Labor all but offering its support.

Foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the Opposition would review the legislation before it decided its position.

"The sort of powers the government is talking about, to override agreements that are counter to the national interest, of course Labor supports that," she said.

"We will look carefully at the legislation as it comes forward to make sure it is both workable and consistent with the powers of the Parliament."

In 2017, concerns over foreign interference prompted then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to ban all overseas political donations and to establish a new public register for anyone working on behalf of other nations to influence Australian politics.

A year earlier, then-treasurer, Scott Morrison announced a tightening of the nation's foreign investment rules in the wake of the controversial "sale" of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company.

But Foreign Minister Marise Payne told the ABC's AM the Port of Darwin sale would not be scrutinized under the new regime because it excluded commercial agreements between corporations.

"This is about government-to-government engagements, primarily … so commercial aspects, not necessarily," she said.

"But what it will do is provide a degree of focus on such engagements from state and territory governments that perhaps focus them on the national interest."

Deals involving commercial corporations and state-owned enterprises would be excluded from the new regime, as would foreign universities unless they were arms of a foreign government such as military colleges.

One government source told the ABC the Victorian Government's BRI agreement with China was "probably toast" if the bill passed.

They emphasised the new legislation was not focused solely on the BRI memorandum of understanding (MoU) but said the Victorian agreement "crystallised a lot of concerns" about state government dealings with other nations.

One major concern is that the Chinese Government will use side deals with the states to splinter the domestic consensus on contentious geopolitical initiatives like the BRI.-Photo: ABC News

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