03 Jun Government’s China hawks lash Albanese’s comments over Beijing dispute
Rob Harris – The Age – Thursday 3 June 2021
Some of the federal government’s fiercest China critics have slammed Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese for using a speech to the mining sector to accuse Prime Minister Scott Morrison of deliberately agitating Beijing for his own domestic political gain.
Mr Albanese’s Minerals Week address on Wednesday highlighted comments made last month by Defence Minister Peter Dutton and Home Affairs department secretary Mike Pezzullo, claiming they “inflamed nationalistic sentiment” by canvassing the prospect of war with China.
Mr Dutton used question time to lash Mr Albanese for his comments, declaring they were not in the national interest.
“At a time when our partners are coming together, at a time when our partners understand the intelligence and the threats within our region, the Leader of the Opposition is out there seeking to undermine the position of this country,” Mr Dutton said.
Senator Wong later said her comments were not a break in bipartisanship but it was in Australia’s national interest to be critical of how the Morrison government was handling the relationship.
Mr Albanese said Mr Morrison had no long-term strategy to deal with a changing China that was pressing its interests more assertively, while finding areas of potential co-operation, including on trade, that were in both countries’ interests.
“Mr Morrison is making the grave error of prioritising his domestic political interests over Australia’s national interests,” he said.
“Australia needs more strategy and less politics when it comes to managing our differences with China. But foreign policy is not a game. It’s not a photo op. It’s a serious business with profound security and economic implications.”
The Chinese Communist Party issued a list of 14 disputes in November last year, which was aimed at pressuring the Morrison government to reverse Australia’s position on key policies.
In a targeted threat to Australia’s foreign policy position, a Chinese official said if Australia backed away from policies on the list, it “would be conducive to a better atmosphere”.
The list of grievances included the government funding for “anti-China” research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, raids on Chinese journalists and academic visa cancellations, “spearheading a crusade” in multilateral forums on China’s affairs in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, calling for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, banning Huawei from the 5G network in 2018 and blocking 10 Chinese foreign investment deals across infrastructure, agriculture and animal husbandry sectors.
Liberal senator James Paterson, who chairs parliament’s joint committee on intelligence and security, said all of the substantive policy issues identified in Beijing’s list of demands were supported by Labor on a bipartisan basis.
“Two possibilities. One, because his leadership is under pressure he’s irresponsibly exaggerating our differences for internal reasons. This does the CCP’s work for it by needlessly dividing Australians.
“Or two, Labor does plan to walk away from our strong bipartisan position of safeguarding Australia from Chinese Communist Party interference? If so, Mr Albanese should urgently clarify which of the 14 demands he would concede on. The Australian people deserve to know.”
He said the Chinese government had been clear addressing it demands was a precondition to an improved relationship.
“No Australian government – left or right, Labor or Coalition, should concede these because they go to our core interests as a sovereign liberal democracy. Mr Albanese should make clear… he’ll put the national interest first.”