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senate vote 2020-06-10#4

Edited by mackay staff

on 2020-07-03 10:01:21


  • Committees Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference
  • Committees - Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference - China


  • <p class="speaker">Rex Patrick</p>
  • <p>I move:</p>
  • <p class="italic">That the following matter be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report by 30 June 2021:</p>
  • The majority vote against a [motion]( introduced by South Australian Senator [Rex Patrick]( (Centre Alliance), which means it failed.
  • There was one rebellion during this division, meaning that one senator voted against the rest of their party. In this case, NSW Senator [Concetta Fierravanti-Wells]( (Liberal) voted 'Yes' while the rest of the Liberal Party voted 'No'.
  • ### Motion text
  • > *That the following matter be referred to the [Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee]( for inquiry and report by 30 June 2021:*
  • >
  • > *The future development of Australia's relationship with the People's Republic of China.*
  • <p class="italic">The future development of Australia's relationship with the People's Republic of China.</p>
  • <p>When I was first drafting a speech in relation to this motion nearly a month ago, I was reminded that the definition of 'insanity' is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Some might think me a bit insane to propose yet again that the Senate establish a wide-ranging inquiry into Australia's relationship with China. After all, over 18 months the coalition and Labor have combined forces no less than five times to block my proposal to refer such an inquiry to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, chaired by Senator Kitching. Each time, I've been concerned that various events and issues have demonstrated the need for the Australian parliament to take a deep dive into the dynamics of the Australia-China relationship.</p>
  • <p>The list of those issues and concerns is lengthy, including: the Victorian government's engagement with China's Belt and Road Initiative, pretty much without consultation with the federal government; China's growing influence in Australia's immediate sphere of strategic interest; China's investment and acquisitions in key sectors of the Australian economy; and serious allegations of Chinese government espionage in Australia and interference in Australian politics. All the while we've seen a steady rise in tension and deterioration in our relations with China&#8212;a trend that long preceded the coronavirus pandemic. Yet on each occasion the coalition and Labor have said no to a Senate inquiry: 'No, not interested.' I'm aware that the likely response today will be the same. However, I will bang my head against the wall again because I'm of the strong view that a wide-ranging inquiry by the Senate is in our national interests.</p>
  • <p>Managing our dealings with China is of course a task for government. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong, has been keen to make this point on a number of occasions. But Australia's foreign relations are also of vital interest to and a responsibility of this parliament. After all, that is why we have a Senate committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade, and a joint standing committee on these subjects as well. There is no bigger issue for Australia at present than our relations with China, and parliamentary engagement is essential if we are to move forward with broad support across the Australian political scene.</p>
  • <p>One might think that both the coalition and Labor would welcome a parliamentary process that would provide support for them in making complex and difficult policy choices in our future relations with Beijing. Yet this initiative on each occasion has been blocked by the coalition and Labor. Five times they have voted on a unity ticket, and neither side has offered any reasonable explanation.</p>
  • <p>A number of coalition and Labor senators have privately expressed to me their interest in support for an inquiry. Senator Kitching herself was once prepared to co-sponsor a motion, only to withdraw at the last minute. Some others have found it in their personal political interests to agitate about China. Those members and senators have even formed a little club&#8212;the so-called Wolverines&#8212;with a little membership sticker displayed on the windows of their parliamentary offices. Yet none have been prepared, so far, to step forward and vote for a Senate inquiry. They might call themselves wolverines, but Chairman Mao would call them paper tigers. That's what the Chinese government today thinks of them, too: a bit of huff and puff, but quite inconsequential.</p>
  • <p>More importantly, the fact remains that the leadership of the government and the opposition has remained timid to the point of self-censorship. They have repeatedly failed to explicitly call out Chinese government political interference in Australia. The contrast with some other countries is striking. While the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and even the small Czech Republic have been open about the threats of Chinese espionage and political interference, Australian political leaders have bitten their tongues and pulled their punches, even when they discovered that Chinese intelligence had hacked into the computers of this very parliament.</p>
  • <p>In March this year Canada's National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians published a major report that called out significant and sustained Chinese espionage and political interference as a significant risk to the rights and freedoms of Canadians and to the country's sovereignty&#8212;a clear threat to the security of Canada. Our Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has never managed to make an explicit statement about the extent and threat of Chinese government espionage and interference in Australia. Some of the coalition and Labor members on the committee might fancy themselves as wolverines, and they have individually spoken up, but when it comes to a substantive inquiry and action they've been absent without leave.</p>
  • <p>Of course, a great deal has happened since 3 December 2019&#8212;the last time I attempted to initiate a Senate inquiry and the last time it was torpedoed by a unified coalition and Labor opposition. Within a month of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan taking hold, when it was beginning to spread across China and internationally&#8212;since January&#8212;we've seen not only the spread of the pandemic but also a rolling global economic crisis with geopolitical consequences that are likely to be felt for years and decades to come. However, in some way we are seeing the acceleration of trends that were already evident, notably the escalation of tension between Washington and Beijing and between ourselves and China.</p>
  • <p>The Chinese government's response to Australian support for an international COVID-19 inquiry, amplified by the belligerent trumpeting of their state controlled media, has left no doubt about the increasingly fraught nature of the Australia-China relationship. The Chinese ambassador's explicit threat of a Chinese boycott of Australian services and products unquestionably revealed China's true attitude and their clear preference for control rather than partnership. Within little more than a week, China took action against our barley and our beef. Those trade disputes were not new, but it was hardly a coincidence that China chose to escalate matters at that time.</p>
  • <p>This week the Chinese government has effectively moved for a boycott of Australian universities and education services. This will not have an immediate effect in the context of the current COVID-19 border restrictions, but China's message is very, very clear: they want to coerce us and punish us, not only in an effort to influence our international stance but also to send a signal to other countries in the region about the potential cost of noncompliance with Beijing's wishes.</p>
  • <p>We certainly should not overreact to these actions and threats. However, in this context, it's all the more important that Australia carefully consider our approach to future dealings with Beijing. Parliament has to play a role in this because a substantial reset of relations with China may well be on the cards. Of course, the government and opposition have repeatedly self-censored on this. Had they not done that, we would already be holding an inquiry working through a wide range of issues. We would already be drawing on expertise from within government, from businesses, from universities and from non-government organisations to advise us on our links with Beijing in a post-coronavirus crisis world so that we can approach the reset better informed. So, while I might meet that definition of 'insanity', the motion before the Senate today gives coalition and Labor senators one further opportunity to act in Australia's national interest and vote for a broad Senate inquiry.</p>
  • <p>There is, of course, nothing unusual about the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee conducting inquiries into Australia's relationship with other countries. The Senate committee has looked at China before without controversy. For example, it held an inquiry in relation to China back in 2005 and 2006. Other parliamentary committees have also reviewed other aspects of our relationship with China. In August 2012, for example, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade tabled a report on Australia's human rights dialogue with China. The Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth is currently undertaking an inquiry into diversifying Australia's trade and investment profile, something with implications for our trade relations with China. The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has also commenced an inquiry into the international dimensions of the coronavirus pandemic, an inquiry that will certainly focus on China. Presumably both of those inquiries enjoy the government's endorsement, but neither will involve a holistic examination of our relationship with China.</p>
  • <p>Senator Kitching has also quietly arranged for private briefings for the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee. This is all good, but it's no substitute for a proper inquiry into all aspects of the relationship, drawing input from the full range of experts and interested parties through public hearings and private briefings, if need be. It certainly makes absolutely no sense to attack this problem piecemeal.</p>
  • <p>Australia is clearly at a strategic, diplomatic and economic turning point in our relations with China. The new terms of reference before the Senate significantly refer to our 'future' relations with Beijing. That is where the focus needs to be: on the future, not on the past, not on the political posturing but on Australia's national interests. China is and will always be a hugely important element in Australia's geopolitical and economic circumstances. We have to work out how to manage that relationship going forward and to do so in ways that benefit both countries whilst being consistent with our national interests.</p>
  • <p>In opposing this motion, the coalition and Labor leadership are effectively saying they don't trust our own MPs and senators to engage on these key foreign affairs, trade and defence questions. They are saying that they can't or won't trust Senator Kitching, Senator Abetz or any other of their colleagues on the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee. But if we are to find a way forward and do so in a way that reduces the risk of partisan division and rancour, fires Beijing are likely to stoke, then we need to engage the parliament in a much more positive way. We don't need any more political self-censorship on our relations with China, nor do we need political showboating and megaphone diplomacy. And we certainly do not need an outbreak of domestic partisan conflict over our dealings with Beijing.</p>
  • <p>What the Senate needs to do is establish a rigorous, non-partisan inquiry. Today's motion seeks to establish such an inquiry, such an investigation. We really do need to take a deep dive on this vitally important relationship. Only then will we start to build a new national consensus on shaping and managing our dealings with Beijing in what are difficult times. Australia's national interests demand nothing less.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Malcolm Roberts</p>
  • <p>As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I would like to say that One Nation is very supportive of the motion that Australia's relations with the People's Republic of China be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and preparation of a report. We wish to commend Senator Rex Patrick for his seventh attempt to have this or a similar motion&#8212;</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Rex Patrick</p>
  • <p>It's the sixth.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>