Bill Shorten and opposition defence spokesman Richard Marles — federal Labor’s most senior Victorian MP — say the Andrews government should release details of its agreement to join Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.
The Opposition Leader said agreements between governments and foreign nations should be made public “over time”, while Mr Marles said the agreement should be released “in due course”.
Both stopped short of calling for Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to release details of his government’s deal with Beijing before the November 24 election, as demanded by state Opposition Leader Matthew Guy.
Mr Andrews declared he was “very proud” of one of his staffers, Marty Mei, who has been linked to China’s United Front organisation, branding suggestions of undue influence on his government by Beijing as “nonsense”.
The Australian reported Mr Mei was named a “special consultant” to the Shenzhen Association of Australia, which is part of a network of organisations guided by the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.
Mr Andrews, who again refused to release his government’s BRI agreement with China, said Mr Mei was “an outstanding Victorian” who just happened to be of Chinese origin.
“I’m very proud of him. He does a lot of hard work, and the suggestions that were made in the article are a joke,” the Premier said.
Asked whether undue influence had been placed on his government, Mr Andrews said: “The answer is no — that’s complete nonsense.”
Mr Guy also faced questions yesterday over one of his staffers, Kelvin Ho.
Mr Ho and former Liberal attorney-general Robert Clark attended the same November 2016 event as Mr Mei, which was opened by a senior Communist Party official, Ma Yongzhi, who is vice-minister of the United Work Front Department of Shenzhen.
Asked what Mr Ho’s role was in his office, Mr Guy said: “Kelvin I think has done some voluntary work and some paid work in the past for me. That’s about it.
“I think he does do some work for us, for the Liberal Party.”
As state and federal Labor MPs expressed alarm over Mr Andrews’s decision to join the BRI, Mr Shorten declined to say whether Victoria had overstepped the mark in signing the agreement.
“States engage with trade relationships with other countries, they send trade delegations, I’m not running for premier,” Mr Shorten said.
However, he suggested Mr Andrews should make the MOU public at some point in the future.
“I think over time agreements that governments enter into, MOUs, should be available to the public,” he said.
Mr Marles said federal Labor would not join the BRI and the program should be approached with a “high degree of caution”.
“Our approach has been to not sign an agreement but to do it on a case-by-case basis,” Mr Marles told Sky News.
He said he did not know what Victoria had signed up for but lashed the “hypocrisy” of the federal government for signing MOUs with China that had also been kept secret.
“I think it would be better in due course that these documents were made public,” Mr Marles said.