Victoria’s Opposition Leader says he will dump the State Government’s controversial involvement in China’s Belt and Road Initiative if he is elected leader at the next state election.
In a statement issued on Saturday morning, Michael O’Brien said the decision was not made lightly but the deal was “not in Victoria’s interests”.
“It doesn’t support our sovereignty, our security or our jobs,” he said.
“Daniel Andrews’ dud deal has failed to advance Victoria’s interests.”
China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative is a global infrastructure push aiming to recreate the glory days of China’s ancient Silk Road trade routes.
The highly controversial scheme has been panned by many Western democracies, including Australia.
But Victoria has gone it alone on signing up to the infrastructure initiative, with Premier Daniel Andrews inking a Memorandum of Understanding with China in 2018 and committing to deepen the state’s involvement in 2019.
Mr O’Brien said while Chinese Government-owned companies had been given contracts to build projects such as the Metro Tunnel and West Gate Tunnel, Victorian farmers had been “slugged by a punitive 80 per cent tariff on barley exports to China”.
The non-legally binding agreement allows Victorian infrastructure experts to get access to the hundreds of billions of dollars of projects slated for the Belt and Road.
It also encourages Chinese infrastructure firms to establish a presence in Victoria and to bid for major infrastructure projects.
Criticism from the State Opposition comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his nation could “simply disconnect” from Australia if Victoria’s trade deal with Beijing threatened its telecommunication security.
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Pompeo warned the Belt and Road agreement with the Andrews Government increased the Chinese communist regime’s ability to do “harm”.
The US ambassador to Australia later played down Mr Pompeo’s words and said in a statement he wanted to “set the record straight”.
Arthur B Culvahouse said after Mr Pompeo was asked about a “very remote hypothetical”, he had carefully noted that he was not across the detail of Victoria’s Belt and Road agreement.
“The United States has absolute confidence in the Australian Government’s ability to protect the security of its telecommunications networks and those of its Five Eyes partners,” Mr Culvahouse said.