State’s BRI deal a ‘big step for­ward’

The Australian - - THE NATION - AN­DREW BURRELL GLENDA KORPORAAL

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.

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