Victoria’s controversial Belt and Road agreement with the Chinese government faces being torn up within months after the state government included it in a list of documents submitted to the Commonwealth under its new foreign veto laws.
State governments had until close of business on Wednesday to provide a list of all of its agreements with foreign governments.
Victorian government sources confirmed its Belt and Road agreement with China – which ties the state to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature initiative to bankroll infrastructure projects around the world – was included in the documentation sent to the Commonwealth.
If Victoria had not declared the deal by the end of Wednesday, it would have automatically been torn up under the new laws passed late last year.
The new scheme requires Foreign Minister Marise Payne to cancel agreements that states, territories, local governments and universities enter into with an overseas government if they contradict Australia’s national interest.
The Victorian government’s documentation prepared for the Commonwealth included a justification for why the BRI agreement should not be scrapped, sources confirmed.
A Victorian government spokeswoman said it had provided documentation to the federal government but did not answer whether that included the BRI agreement.
The spokeswoman also did not answer what its justification was for why the deal should not be torn up.
“The Victorian government will provide information to the Commonwealth in line with the legislative requirements,” she said.
Victoria’s BRI agreement with China is one of the state government deals that has raised the most concern within national security agencies and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Commonwealth officials already began scrutinising the agreement last year after the new laws came into force.
The federal government has been concerned with the deal as they believe it may have harmed Australia’s efforts to counter China’s use of the BRI to grow its influence throughout the region and handed Beijing a propaganda win.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed last year that Victoria did not consult the DFAT before signing a key “framework agreement” with the Chinese government for the BRI on October 23, 2019.
While Victoria briefly consulted DFAT on an earlier memorandum of understanding with Beijing in 2018, and made some changes based on its advice, the Andrews government decided not to show the draft version of the more substantial framework agreement to the Commonwealth a year later before signing it.
Premier Daniel Andrews has defended the deal, saying last year that it was all about Victorian employment and that Australia’s relationship with China might improve if the Commonwealth focused on jobs.
“The agreement, like all agreements that Victoria enters into, and I expect the Commonwealth and other states are no different. It’s all about making sure that more Victorian product is sent to our biggest and smallest customers,” the Premier said in December.
“Whether it’s to China or any other part of the world, it’s all about jobs.
“We would be probably better off in our relationship if all of us focused on the fact, and I think the Prime Minister and all of us … are all about having the best economic partnerships with customers, large and small, in every part of the world because that means jobs and prosperity and profitability for families back home.”
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