Daniel Andrews has slammed Scott Morrison’s plan to rip up deals that states have made with foreign powers.
In his press conference on Thursday, the Victoria Premier stood by his controversial deal with China and said it did not pose a national security threat.
Mr Andrews said he was only told about the prime minister’s plan last night and criticised him for not focusing on fighting coronavirus.
‘Well, look, if the Prime Minister has time to be doing those things, that’s fine for him,’ he said.
‘I don’t. I’m exclusively focused on fighting this virus.’
The prime minister wants new laws to stop states and territories signing deals with foreign powers that go against Australia’s foreign policy and damage the national interest.
If the laws pass, Victoria’s 2018 agreement to increase Chinese participation in building projects, manufacturing and trade could be cancelled.
Mr Andrews demanded to know what alternatives Victoria would have if it was banned from making deals with China that he believes create local jobs.
‘Given the announcements the Prime Minister has made today he will no doubt be able to list the full range of other free trade agreements and other markets that we’ll be sending Victorian products to. I’ll look forward to that,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘Presumably this approach will include quite soon a very detailed list of alternative trading arrangements, alternative free trade agreements, alternative markets.
‘I’ll leave that to the PM to announce, but presumably that’s coming and coming pretty quickly.’
Asked if his deal with China threatens national security, Mr Andrews said: ‘No, I would never concede that point.’
Several federal politicians, fearing the expansion of Chinese power and influence, have urged the Victorian government to scrap its deal under China’s Belt and Road Initiative – but it has refused.
Under the proposed law, the foreign minister will be able to terminate the deal and any private contracts that are part of it.
Once the law is in place, governments and universities will have six months to reveal their foreign deals to the foreign minister, who will then decide which ones must be stopped.
The law will cover dozens of deals with China and other nations including India and Israel in areas such as culture, education, health, science, tourism, infrastructure and even sister-city arrangements.
It will also require states get approval from the federal government to start negotiating a foreign deal and seek approval again when the negotiations are done.
Under current laws, states can make a deal and not even tell the foreign minister for three months.
Daniel Andrews caused outrage by only telling the Morrison government about his Belt and Road agreement on the day it was signed.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton described the Belt and Road Initiative as ‘a propaganda initiative from China’ that could lead to an ‘enormous amount of foreign interference’.
He said: ‘Victoria needs to explain why it is the only state in the country that has entered into this agreement.’
Federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie told Daily Mail Australia that Mr Andrews had ‘gone off the reservation by conducting his own foreign policy with China’.
In May Victoria Treasurer Tim Pallas told a parliamentary inquiry the state government would ‘absolutely not’ scrap the deal.
He then accused the federal government of ‘vilifying’ China by pushing for an inquiry into coronavirus.
The Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 will be put before federal parliament next week in the hope it will be signed off this year.
Scott Morrison said: ‘Australia’s foreign policies and relationships must always be set to serve Australia’s interests.
‘Australians rightly expect the federal government they elect to set foreign policy.
‘These changes and new laws will ensure that every arrangement done by any Australian government at any level now lines up with how we are working to protect and promote Australia’s national interest.
He added: ‘Many agreements and partnerships are of a routine nature but it is important that the federal government is notified of all agreements.
‘Where any of these agreements undermine how the federal government is protecting and promoting our national interests they can be cancelled.’
It comes amid increasing political and economic tensions between Australia and China.
Beijing and Canberra have been at loggerheads after Australia led global calls for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.
Soon afterwards, China slapped an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley, suspended beef imports and told students and tourists not to travel Down Under in an apparent attempt to damage the Australian economy.
On Tuesday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg blocked a $600million bid by Chinese company Mengniu Dairy to buy Aussie drinks company Lion, citing national security concerns.
On Wednesday Wang Xining, deputy head of mission at the Chinese embassy in Canberra, said Chinese people felt deeply betrayed by Mr Morrison’s call for independent scientists to enter China and investigate coronavirus.
‘All of a sudden, there was this shocking proposal from Australia, supposed to be a good friend of China,’ he said.
‘It is approximately identical to Julius Caesar on his final day when he saw Brutus approaching him and said et tu, Brute?’
Minister Wang admitted the virus was ‘first identified’ in China but said ‘we should leave the work to scientists’ to find out where patient zero came from.