Senate Inquiry Needed on Australia's Engagement with China's Belt and Road Initiative

7 November 2018

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick today called for the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee to conduct an inquiry into Australia’s engagement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

"The Victorian Government’s decision to sign a secret Memorandum of Understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative appears to involve a significant breakdown of Commonwealth-State coordination on a highly important and sensitive trade and foreign policy issue," Senator Patrick said.

"The Victorian Government’s initiative highlights the urgent need for a wide-ranging review of Australia’s approach to China’s massive international infrastructure plans which are designed to expand China’s power and influence."

“The Australian Government has been rightly wary of signing up to the Belt and Road Initiative without greater clarity from Beijing about China’s strategic objectives and more transparency about how projects are planned, decided on, funded and implemented."

"The lack of effective consultation between Australian and Victorian Governments is a worry. Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye has certainly demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of Australia’s federal system of government and the partisan fractures of Australian politics."

"Australia needs to develop a nationally coordinated approach to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature international initiative. This is, first and foremost, a responsibility of the Australian Government and the Australian Parliament, with states and territories able to pursue their own initiatives within a national foreign and trade policy framework."

"We need to bring together the full range of strategic, diplomatic, economic and trade perspectives on this complex issue, with opportunities for all stakeholders and interested groups to contribute their assessments and views."

"Consequently it would be timely for the Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Reference Committee to undertake a comprehensive inquiry into Australia’s attitude towards and engagement with the Belt and Road Initiative including the Victorian Government’s memorandum of understanding with China, signed on 25 August 2018."

"Accordingly I propose to introduce a Senate motion to establish a Senate inquiry with appropriate terms of reference next week. It is to be hoped that such an inquiry can be pursued in a bipartisan spirit with a view to producing a report in good time before the 2019 federal election."

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