Sky News Australia – Nov 8, 2020
Sky News can reveal evidence of the rush by the Daniel Andrews government to get the controversial Belt and Road deal by Victoria and the Chinese government signed in 2018.
“It all begins on Friday June 8, 2018 with an email from officials in the premier’s department in Victoria to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade saying here is a draft Belt and Road MOU that the NDRC (China’s national development and reform commission) have given us,” Political Editor Andrew Clennell said.
“Please find attached a marked up version, which reflects our feedback,” says the Victorian department of premier and cabinet to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the document.”
“The following Tuesday afternoon, the Victorian government is pressing DFAT hard for a response, seemingly keen to get the thing moving no matter what. “
“Thanks for your help on this,” reads the DPC email from 12 June to Foreign Affairs. “My Executive Director is keen to land this ASAP and is under some pressure further up. Do you have a sense of when you might be able to come back to us with a view? This is a high priority for Victoria.”
“DFAT then responds a couple of times and then by June 26 DFAT writes to the department of premier and cabinet: “I’ve discussed with colleagues and we think it would be better to discuss over the phone – would you and your colleagues be available some time tomorrow. Any time other than 2pm should work for us.”
“Now the DFAT advice has been redacted from the Freedom of Information request. But I understand they suggested changes to the MOU which were adopted but they also expressed reservations around the MOU generally.
“Come Thursday 1st November, some months later, DFAT realises the MOU has been signed. The federal department writes and basically says ‘hey, can we get a copy?”
“The email from the Director of the China Economic and Trade Section to department of premier and cabinet officials including Matt Lowe says: “Following our conversations and advice earlier this year about the Victorian Belt and Road MOU, we noted with interest the announcement last week that the MOU has now been signed. You won’t be surprised to hear that there is plenty of interest in the MOU in Canberra. I would be extremely grateful if you could please provide a copy of the final document.”
“On Friday November 2 Matt Lowe, the executive director from DPC finally sends Jenny Bloomfield the MOU, saying: “Please find the Belt and Road MOU as finalised last week attached. Apologies for the delay in providing you with a copy”.
“That MOU, which has been publicly released, commits both the Victorian government and the National Development and Reform Commission of the People’s Republic of China to “jointly promote the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative to enhance practical cooperation within the framework of jointly building the Belt and road.”
“And it goes on: “The Parties will work together within the Belt and Road initiative, with the aim of promoting connectivity of policy infrastructure trade finance and people.” It says the MOU will remain in place for five years and will be “automatically extended for subsequent five year periods … unless terminated by either party by giving the other party a written notice at least three months in advance.”
“It was signed by Daniel Andrews and the chairman of the Chinese NDRC on October 8.
“Now we know this week in parliament the government will move its Foreign Relations Bill, which is aimed at tearing up this agreement, amid fears of foreign interference by China. The Bill also gives the Commonwealth more say over state governments and other bodies which seek to commit to such agreements.”