The China deal that Daniel Andrews can’t back out of


Belt and Road Initiative: Deal Daniel Andrews can’t back out of

Daniel Andrews is facing an increasingly awkward situation this week over a major deal he signed, but batted away the pressure with one word.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is facing an increasingly awkward situation as Australia-China relations plunged to a new low this week.

In his press conference yesterday, he slammed the graphic fake image of an Australian soldier slitting a child’s throat that caused so much outrage this week.

He said that image was “just beyond the pale”.

“It’s wrong. I condemn it,” he said. “I would hope the rhetoric, the commentary, social media posts, comes to an end.”

But as the relationship sours between Canberra and Beijing, he is being forced to re-examine a controversial deal he made with China back in 2018.

The Belt and Road agreement has been heavily criticised by Mr Andrews’ detractors and it has fuelled conspiracy theories as an intense spotlight fell on his government during the coronavirus second wave.

He copped heat over the deal throughout his state’s lockdown, and yesterday he was asked again by reporters whether he would be turning his back on it — given what has happened between Australia and China this week.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews gave a press confernce in Melbourne today. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews gave a press confernce in Melbourne today.

Giving a single word answer of “no”, his intentions were clear.

“This relationship is far too important to farmers, to manufacturers, to workers, to profits for Victorian companies and therefore prosperity for our state,” Mr Andrews said.

“This is not just our biggest customer, but it is all about jobs. We need a good relationship but it has to be a fair and respectful one.”

He called on the federal government and China to “refocus on trying to repair” their relationship.

“I’m confident that the commonwealth government knows and understands how important this relationship is. I’m certain of that, and that’s why, as challenging as this is, people have to find a way to work through it,” he said.

Although Mr Andrews criticised this week’s infamous China tweet, his minister who played a key role in the Belt and Road negotiations refused to.

Danny Pearson, who travelled to China twice in 2019 to secure the deal, said he had “no responsibilities for those matters”.

Mr Andrews hit back when he was asked whether he would counsel Mr Pearson over his comments.

“I don’t think I’d waste my time. That’s a trivial matter, with the greatest of respect,” he said.

“I haven’t seen his comments, I’ve just given you some pretty frank and clear answers, you’ve invited me to go a bit further, I haven’t, and I don’t necessarily think I’m going to spend every day before you guys interpreting every word that comes out of every other minister’s mouth, that’s not, I think, where we’ve got to.”

Danny Pearson has refused to condemn the China tweet.

Danny Pearson has refused to condemn the China tweet.

He may be standing firm on a controversial Belt and Road agreement, but Mr Andrews may see it fall through due to federal powers that are out of his control.

This week, federal government laws are set to be passed that will give it the power to scrap agreements struck with foreign governments by states, local councils and universities.

The Coalition says the changes are about protecting Australia’s national security and sovereignty and the vast majority of deals, but it effectively gives them the powers to tear up Victoria’s agreement if they see problems with it.

However, Mr Andrews hit out at the scope of the laws, saying it would allow the federal government to stick their nose into innocuous agreements like sister city relationships.

“Like, matters of massive international intrigue like sister city arrangements. Who Dandenong is the sister city with. Who Monash, where I live, is the sister city with,” he said sarcastically.

“The federal parliament can do as they please. They are accountable for the decisions they make. If this is the biggest and most important thing for them to be doing at the moment, well, I look forward to them explaining that to everybody.”

In 2018, Mr Andrews signed a “memorandum of understanding” with China on belt and road initiatives which he said was aimed at big state infrastructure investment.

They were supposed to have a road map together by the middle of this year, but that hasn’t happened.

However, a framework of the deal shows China was looking to build partnerships with Victoria on biotechnology, agriculture, food, cosmetics, and other of industries

It is not a legally-binding agreement, but despite intense scrutiny over the deal, the Victorian government is not walking away.


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