State’s BRI deal a ‘big step forward’
Former West Australian Liberal premier Colin Barnett has backed the Victorian Labor government’s decision to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative but he has called for details of the agreement to be released publicly.
As premier in 2011, Mr Barnett signed a memorandum of understanding with Beijing paving the way for higher levels of Chinese state-owned investment in resources and infrastructure projects.
He told The Australian yesterday that the MOU, which was made public, had brought great benefits to WA, including closer relations between the state government and key agencies in Beijing such as the National Development and Reform Commission.
“There is nothing wrong with what (Victorian Premier) Daniel Andrews has done in signing the MOU if it’s in Victoria’s interests,” Mr Barnett said.
“But he should have kept the federal authorities informed and it should be made public.”
WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan also backed Mr Andrews yesterday as he questioned why Mr Barnett’s 2011 deal had not attracted similar controversy at the time.
“I don’t know why the issue of Daniel Andrews is being treated differently to that of Colin Barnett seven years ago,” he said.
“Having a strong relationship and a good relationship with China is something that I think is important. They’re our No 1 trading partner; hundreds of thousands of West Australians and Australians depend on a strong relationship there.”
Speaking in Beijing, former Victorian premier John Brumby told The Australian the state’s move to sign up to the BRI would be a “big fillip” for Victoria and Australia.
Mr Brumby, who was in China this week in his role as president of the Australia China Business Council, said many criticisms of Victoria’s move were shortsighted.
He compared them with questions asked in 1979 when then Victorian premier Dick Hamer moved for Melbourne to become a sister city with the Chinese port of Tianjin. He said this was the first sister-city arrangement reached with Tianjin, the official port feeding into Beijing, and was an important move in helping business ties between Victoria and one of China’s most important cities.
Mr Brumby said his talks with a large range of Chinese officials and businesspeople this week showed that Victoria’s move was seen as a “big, positive step forward” that would provide benefits for Victorian companies in the future.
He said there already was significant Chinese investment in Victoria, including a 20 per cent stake in the Port of Melbourne, Chinese companies such as Alibaba and JD.com setting up offices in Melbourne, and a contract by Vic Rail to buy its next 65 trains from a Chinese company.