Daniel Andrews defends Belt and Road deal with China
The Victorian government is pushing ahead on its Belt and Road deal with China, with Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday digging in on his handling of the contentious arrangement.
Mr Andrews has faced repeated calls to re-examine the road map it is negotiating with the superpower after a new 80 per cent tariff on Australia barley sparked fears of more trade restrictions.
The agreement with Victoria was first announced in 2018 but has re-emerged as a political issue as federal Labor and Liberal MPs have criticised the scheme and Australia's relationship with China has deteriorated.
Concerns were raised this week after it was revealed the State Government did not consult the commonwealth's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before pushing ahead with the latest step in the deal.
But Mr Andrews on Wednesday defended the move and said Victoria had a close relationship with the department.
"The first agreement was sent to DFAT in draft form and the second agreement is simply an extension of the first," he said.
"We have a strong and good relationship with China and what that means is our exports are up 62 per cent in the last five years.
"I'm not quite sure what people are suggesting - rather than having a good relationship with China we have a bad one, or we send less product to China rather than more?
"If that's the approach people want to take, then that will cost jobs."
Mr Andrews said the next step of the deal, due in June, could be pushed back as governments focused on the coronavirus.
"It's fair to say people's focus was on a global pandemic rather than necessarily some of those issues," he said.
"But when we're in a position to make further announcements, we will."
It came after China's Melbourne consulate released a statement accusing critics of the Belt and Road of "unwarranted attacks".
"China is Victoria's largest trading partner, and the two sides signed a MOU to jointly promote the construction of the 'Belt and Road', which provided a powerful assistance for promoting practical co-operation in various fields," it said.
Opposition spokesman for transport and infrastructure and Southern Metro MP David Davis said the deal could expose the state to new risks.
"They will have to negotiate toughly with these Chinese firms that have direct links to the government in China," he said.
"That government in China is, at the same time, imposing tariffs on our barley.
"Will the government have the wherewithal to fight for our barley producers at a time when they're engaged in effectively financial disputes with the Chinese government-linked firms?"
Mr Davis said it was good to have a diverse range of firms working in the state.
"But Victoria is the only one that signed the Belt and Road initiative.
"The question is what does that mean in terms of the agreements and side agreements that the government has made. We haven't heard the details."
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter on Wednesday noted that Labor's federal politicians disagreed with their state counterparts about the initiative.
"It is actually very unhelpful to the bilateral relations, having states getting too far outside their lane," he said.
Originally published as Andrews defends Belt and Road deal with China