House debates

Tuesday, 10 November 2020


Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020, Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020; Second Reading

5:27 pm

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Corio has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question. Is there a seconder?

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment.

5:28 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad I had the opportunity to speak on the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 and the associated bill after the member for Corio. Prior to question time and our community 90-second statements and the matter of public importance and other matters, the member for Corio gave—and I will give him points!—an erudite speech to this chamber about this bill and why he would be supporting it but putting forward an amendment. The challenge I had was that there was not a constructive discussion about Australia's foreign relations and why we need to make sure we had measures of integrity, so that, if different levels of government who were not responsible for our foreign affairs, as by the Constitution, were doing so consistently with Australia's national interests, there be integrity behind those measures and they be made in Australia's national interest. Instead, what we heard was this rambling speech of interference to give cover to, particularly, the state government of Victoria for subverting this very parliament, this very government and Australia's national interest.

That is the fundamental problem with the opposition's approach. They are more interested in playing the politics of foreign affairs than securing Australia's national interest. And, frankly, any member who aspires to sit on this side of this chamber should be very cautious and very wary of doing so, because, when you see a state government signing agreements with foreign governments which may not be consistent with Australia's national interest, of which they may not have informed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and which they may not have run past the current government—or previous governments, I might add—you have to question where their priorities lie.

The point of this bill is actually extremely straightforward. It's that state governments—and entities at other levels, like councils, where they have responsibility—where they choose to negotiate with foreign governments, must make sure they run their agreements past the people elected to this place. It's hardly a radical proposition—despite the efforts of the opposition to run interference against such a proposition—because this parliament, under the Constitution that was negotiated between the colonies, the now states, over 100 years ago, recognised that the different levels of government had different responsibilities. The states had responsibility for service provision and scale and for providing for the taxation arrangements to provide support and assistance to the Australian community, because there was an understanding that they had a greater relationship, a greater proximity, to the people who they were elected to serve. This parliament represents the whole of the Commonwealth. Its relationship is around standardisation but also, critically, Australia's relationship to the world. That's why we deal with immigration; that's why we deal with trade; that's why we deal with foreign affairs; that's why we deal with defence. Frankly, that's why we shouldn't be dealing so much with taxation—but we'll leave that topic for another day.

So our job is to negotiate foreign agreements, our job is to negotiate treaties, our job is to negotiate trade agreements, because we don't make decisions in the parochial interests of certain state capitals or states themselves but in the interests of the Commonwealth, of all of us. And when we have states that seek to subvert that process and to put forward their parochial interests against the national interests of our country—whether it is on economics, health, security or the long-term sovereignty of our nation—that should ring alarm bells. So I absolutely applaud the efforts of the foreign minister, the Prime Minister and the government in bringing this bill forward.

Now, this bill does not affect one agreement negotiated between one entity and another entity. It covers all of them. But, clearly—and I say this as someone who has spoken out very strongly against Victoria's negotiation of an agreement under the Belt and Road Initiative with the Chinese Communist Party without informing this parliament and this government—something needed to be done, because we saw a subversion of the authority of this parliament and of the national interest.

We in this parliament face a choice. It's not just about whether we are going to assert our authority—although, obviously, that's very important—and not just about asserting the relevance of the people elected to this chamber, who have not just the authority but the skills, capacity, knowledge, departments and infrastructure to be able to back it up, but simply about making sure that all agreements between different entities and foreign governments are consistent with our national interests. So this is about knowledge and capacity and understanding what is in our best interests as a nation.

Sometimes there are disagreements between the states about such matters, and that's why we're empowered to make these decisions. But it's also important to understand whether the agreements that are being negotiated by different levels of government or entities with foreign governments are also consistent with our agreements—the ones that we're negotiating with those countries. We shouldn't have states negotiating with foreign governments agreements that undermine our trade agreements, our defence pacts or our national security arrangements; or that provide back doors for foreign interference, influence or economic engagement.

Frankly, it astounds me that the members of the opposition somehow think this is problematic. I'm not sure what principle they're harking to. At best, I heard something about 'the politics of the day' in the member for Corio's speech on running interference to defend a state government subverting this parliament. He was making some ridiculous, audacious claim that somehow the issues that prompted the discussion on exactly these types of bills—circumstances which far transcend day-to-day politics and go to global movements and national security, global movements and repositioning of power, contested environments in theatres of tension within our world, the changing nature and relationship of multilateral institutions, the changing nature of relationships between countries—all came down to something to do with a press release or something else. It does raise very serious questions about the judgement of the member for Corio for going down that path rather than looking at how he and the opposition can work together to advance the national interests of the Commonwealth.

The measures are relatively straightforward: to make sure there is an approval regime and a notification regime around those agreements that are being struck. We're not seeking to stop states, universities, institutes, councils and various others from negotiating with foreign governments where there's some advantage. We just kind of want a heads up; we just kind of want to know what it is you're signing up to; we just kind of want to know that you're not undermining our national security, our defence, our health relations, our diplomacy, our economic interests and the very sovereignty of this country and this parliament. I would have thought this bill should be able to pass this parliament easily for that exact reason, because if we are not elected to this chamber to stand up for Australia's national interests, its place in the world, its security, its strength and its sovereignty, then, frankly, I do not know what members would be doing here. That's the basis on which we should support this bill. That's the basis on which members should not be moving trivial, meaningless amendments to try to virtue signal and to undermine or water it down. That's the basis on which the opposition should seriously question where their priorities lie.

We want the strength of this country to be built on a bipartisan consensus around maintaining the integrity of our foreign relations between nations. Yes, sometimes there will be differences of opinion around specific areas of approach. But that this parliament's role is to protect and defend the interests of the Commonwealth, despite the parochialism of the states, should not be something we should be distracted by. And I would hope the members of the opposition could see past that and see the strength and the importance of this bill at this time as part of defending the security, the strength and the sovereignty of our nation.

5:38 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

The bill before the House today is, at a high level, uncontroversial but, in the detail, deeply problematic. At a high level, it's perfectly sensible that the Commonwealth should have oversight over arrangements which states and territories make with foreign entities. But in the detail, this bill could well prohibit arrangements which many of us in this House would regard as desirable. Professor George Williams gave such example. He said:

… let's say, the United Kingdom government. They have a tender of some kind and perhaps the opportunity for a major research agreement—a collaboration dealing with COVID-19. In that case, the UK government may put something like that out to tender or competition. It will be on the basis that the Australian university can only take part in that if we can agree to the terms as preset by the government without any possibility of variation. We can't do that. A tender term is typically, 'You will accept these terms—no variation,' so you run the risk of locking us out of tenders from friendly governments that are highly advantageous to Australia because we no longer have the institutional autonomy that the UK and US universities will have to compete on that playing field.

Professor Williams raised a point, too, which is in complete contradiction to the comments of the member for Goldstein. The member for Goldstein takes the view that the Commonwealth covers the field when it comes to foreign affairs. Professor Williams makes the point that, under our Constitution, there is some degree of shared responsibility. It's on that basis that states and territories have traditionally had overseas trade officers, for example. And, while the government has claimed that the bill is fully constitutional, it has failed to provide evidence to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. Professor Williams has said that this could render the law unconstitutional, and it is worrying to those of us on this side of the House that the government hasn't provided clear evidence to show why, in their view, Professor Williams is wrong.

This bill has been terribly rushed in its consultations with stakeholders. The state and territory first ministers were advised only the day before. Universities were not consulted prior to the announcement of the bill on 27 August. The bill doesn't adequately define 'foreign policy' or 'foreign relations'. Nor does it define 'arrangements' or, with respect to foreign universities, 'institutional autonomy'. That means that it's possible that the bill in its current form encompasses tens of thousands of administrative arrangements, potentially even capturing emails. And yet, while it's so vague, it also has a clear omission, which is that private universities or other educational bodies are left out. It's like the flip of the way in which JobKeeper applied only to benefit private universities, with public universities being left out. I feel as though every time universities are considered by this government, there's always a little carve-out for private institutions so they're put in a better position than public institutions. But there's no clear public policy reason why Bond University should be treated differently from the University of Queensland when it comes to dealing with foreign governments. Let's get that right.

The lack of transparency is also a concern which was raised by the Senate committee. As dissenting senators pointed out, there simply isn't the ability for appropriate oversight as to the arrangements which are being pursued. Labor believe that we ought to have additional oversight provisions, and it's because of that that we have called for an appropriate oversight mechanism and an annual report to the parliament by the minister outlining engagement with entities covered by the bill, to articulate and explain Australia's foreign policy and how entities should engage with foreign entities in Australia's national interest.

Labor senators have also pointed out that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not engage systematically with Australian entities covered in the bill. It does so on an ad hoc basis only. These concerns have been raised by stakeholders. The University of Western Australia has said that the lack of definition means it's impossible for Australian universities to make a meaningful assessment of what would be within the bill's scope. All universities—bar one—that made submissions contended the bill would significantly impact their ability to maintain productive international partnerships and sustain Australia's world-class research capacity. According to work done by the Australia-China Relations Institute, Australia's No. 1 scientific research partner is China. There is a range of research collaborations taking place between Australia and China, many of which are in areas such as medical sciences, which should be encouraged, and it's important to ensure that that work isn't damaged.

What is particularly striking about this bill to me is to see it in the light of another bill which is before the House, the Higher Education Support Amendment (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2020. That's a completely unnecessary bill which is before the House only because the government did a dodgy deal with One Nation to support its cuts to universities. There's no freedom-of-speech issue on Australian campuses. The French review found that claims of a freedom of speech crisis on Australian campuses were 'not substantiated' and there is 'no evidence of a free speech crisis on Australian campuses'. Nonetheless, the government has decided to insert a definition of academic freedom in the higher education standards act and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act, which protects, in part, 'the freedom of academic staff and students to engage in intellectual inquiry, to express their opinions and beliefs, and to contribute to public debate, in relation to their subjects of study and research'. But it should say 'with the exception of the freedom to engage with international entities', because that freedom is curtailed by the government's other bill. It's characteristic of the way in which this government's ham-fisted approach to public policy plays out in this parliament. The government are just unable to think consistently about how they want universities to engage. On the one hand they're saying, 'More freedom, more freedom'; on the other hand they're saying, 'Less freedom, less freedom'. It's important to recognise that we are not in a monolithic world. There are people at Australian universities who will have different views of the government and that's one of the great strengths of a democracy. We need to be very careful about curtailing differing voices and taking foreign policy back to the 1950s.

The submission to the Senate inquiry by Yun Jiang and Adam Ni from the China Policy Centre also pointed out the sheer breadth of Australian foreign policy in the bill, saying:

Such policy need not be written, publicly available, or even have been formulated. This means the Minister have substantial power to prohibit any agreement the State or Territory government makes with foreign governments. For example, if the Commonwealth Government's position was to commit to zero carbon emission and to support renewable energy export, then the Commonwealth can potentially prohibit any State or Territory government's agreement with foreign governments that may increase carbon emission or support coal and gas export.

They went on to point out that modern diplomacy has evolved and that it is potentially anachronistic to curtail voices of non-profit organisations, corporations, international organisations that may well have divergent views on foreign policy. To have the notion that state and territory governments should speak with the same voice as the federal government is one thing. But to then say that everyone in an Australian university should similarly speak with the same voice takes the matter a great deal further and could, indeed, imperil freedom of speech on Australian campuses.

The submitters Yun Jiang and Adam Ni also say that under the proposed bill the minister can reconsider the relevant agreements at any time, even if it was previously approved. This means all the agreements could be reconsidered any time there is a change in Australia's foreign policy, noting the minister is not required to identify a particular written policy, and the policy need not be written or even have been formulated. They point out that this creates significant uncertainty for state and territory governments and public entities.

The dissenting report from Labor senators points out that the bill does not allow for any process of review or appeal by affected entities of ministerial decisions, that it excludes procedural fairness and that it doesn't provide appropriate transparency. The Northern Territory government stated that the bill 'potentially leaves State and Territory Governments exposed to significant loss and damages' and that the bill should provide compensation for state and territory governments 'beyond acquisition of property'. Other witnesses have raised a concern that the bill could introduce commercial uncertainty, thereby putting Australian jobs at risk across industries large and small. The lack of state government perspectives on the inquiry was also noted, and senators called on state and territory governments to be encouraged to provide their views on a redrafted bill. It is going to be necessary to redraft this bill; it simply isn't fit for purpose.

Labor supports the notion of the federal government playing a crucial leading role when it comes to foreign policy, but we need to do that with a sophistication that recognises the value that Australian universities bring, that recognises the constitutional issues and the way in which powers are shared, that provides appropriate transparency and that provides proper oversight and reporting back to parliament.

5:51 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020. On 1 January 1901, the states of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania united to form the Commonwealth of Australia. Six individual states at the time joined together through deliberation, consultation and debate to form a united and prosperous Australia. Prior to this date, Australia remained fragmented, with each state comprising its own government, laws, taxation and tariff systems, and defence forces. Even the very foundation of our nation's transport and trade system found itself divided, complicating transport of people and goods across the continent.

I grew up in the border town of Albury. When I was a young child, the Albury primary school would take us down for a visit to the Albury train station to look at the foolhardy aspect of having different train lines across our great nation. The Albury train station was the longest train platform in the southern hemisphere, and we used to smirk and laugh that two governments couldn't agree on a unified rail system. That's just one example of why federation has been so important in the history of this country.

However, through unity and an understanding of the importance of national unity and a national government, support for federation grew. It was understood that in order for immigration, defence and trade to blossom unification was required. So on 1 January 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed—a remarkable accomplishment and a great stride forward towards a flourishing and united Australia.

Now, some 119 years later, we find ourselves in an ever-changing global landscape. Our global trade is expanding exponentially. In the 50 years from 1963 to 2013, Australia's exports of goods and services grew from $3 billion to $330 billion annually. Meanwhile, our imports have seen an average growth of 10 per cent annually. Indeed, Australia is proud to be recognised as a global leader in developing high-quality infrastructure, engineering, education, professional services and agriculture. Foreign investment drives our economic growth. It creates skilled jobs. It improves access to overseas markets and enhances our national productivity. Without foreign investment and trade, production, employment and income would all be worse off, and our nation would not be as we know it.

However, our national security interests must always remain an absolute priority. The Commonwealth government has always held responsibility for foreign policy. Only the Commonwealth government has the necessary expertise and the knowledge required to ensure that our foreign trade agreements are guided by our national interests and security. It is therefore necessary to have visibility and the ability to scrutinise sub-federal-government arrangements to ensure that they do not undermine the consistency of Australia's foreign policy and its application.

This increasingly globalised landscape has led to our states and territories engaging more and more in foreign trade and investment activities. Yet currently it's almost hard to believe that there is no requirement for states and territories to consult properly with the Commonwealth on arrangements with foreign governments. This goes against the very logic that led to our Federation in 1901, and now is the time for it to change. With this increased engagement by our state and territory governments with foreign entities, we've become vulnerable to increased risk like never before. Our state and territory governments have begun entering into arrangements that have tangible and vast impacts on Australia's foreign relationships. The tyranny of distance has become the power of proximity.

And as the paint is not yet dry on the digital revolution, we know the world is getting ever closer. In this digital world, where information can be so easily shared and data has become a sovereign entity, it's important that we have better oversight of interactions between our sovereign state of Australia and the rest of the world. Whilst foreign investment is of course something that we seek to embrace, this risk requires necessary oversight and control, and that is ultimately what this bill seeks to accomplish. The Victorian government's recent decision to sign up to the Belt and Road Initiative is one example that highlights the absolute need for this change. The lack of transparency surrounding the Victorian government's deal has caused great concern to many Victorians—who are equally Australians and have the right to know, as does the rest of the country, about the security details surrounding China's Belt and Road Initiative agreements.

Over recent months, countless Higgins constituents have written to me to express their concerns that the Victorian state government has acted against the interest of national security in this deal and, more than that, has acted without due and proper consultation or consideration of the Commonwealth. One constituent wrote to me: 'Stop this madness.' Another expressed the concern that this agreement, made without necessary Commonwealth government consultation, aims to 'undermine our sovereignty and our values'. The Commonwealth government has raised countless concerns over Victoria's involvement in China's Belt and Road Initiative. We've asked the Victorian government to explain why it is the only state in the country that has entered into this agreement. Meanwhile, the federal government has not signed a memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative with China.

In 1901 Victoria entered the federation as the state with the most overwhelming support for a unified Australia. Yet now, in 2020, we have seen a key player in team Australia divert from the national interest. This is not just deeply disappointing; it is deeply concerning and may even be dangerous—and certainly dangerous for the common good of Australia, for our national interest and indeed for the Commonwealth of this country. The Morrison government certainly supports regional investment initiatives that are transparent, uphold international standards, meet genuine need and avoid unsustainable debt burdens for recipient countries. While the memorandum of understanding between the Victorian and Chinese governments has now been released, little else is known about the deal. That is why it has, rightly, caused great concern both in my community and in the community at large.

It is in this light that the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill aims to ensure that no such future agreements can be made without assurance that arrangements are consistent with Australia's foreign policy and interests. Whilst intentions may be pure, states and territories do not have the same level of understanding as the Commonwealth government of the specific risks regarding our national interests. How could they? They represent a subset of Australia's interests, not the entirety. This understanding formed much of the foundation for our need for Federation in 1901, and it continues to ring true today.

It is for this very reason that improved oversight is required, and this bill aims to address this concerning gap.

Where prospective or, indeed, existing arrangements are inconsistent with Australia's foreign policy or seek to adversely affect our national interests, the federal government should and must have the capacity to invalidate or halt such agreements. This is not a matter of our states' independence; this is a matter of national security. Importantly, through this bill, if the foreign minister considers an agreement to be inconsistent with Australia's national interests, the minister will thereby have the capacity to declare the agreement invalid. This is a necessary step towards ensuring that Australia's national interest is upheld in all circumstances and agreements. I know many of my constituents in Higgins will applaud this bill loudly.

Importantly, this bill does not seek to intrude into the business and powers of states or territories. Similarly, this bill does not seek to stifle foreign investment; to the contrary, this bill aims to support state and territory governments to ensure that they are acting consistently and in line with our national interests. Furthermore, while this bill will apply to some university arrangements, it is not designed to impede the normal and important business of our thriving universities. Certainly, this bill in no way aims to limit universities' academic freedom and engagement.

It's important to note that this bill goes forward following consultation with key stakeholders, including our universities. One such amendment to the bill following consultation is that it now includes insertion of the definition of 'institutional autonomy'. A second amendment includes a three-year statutory review. This bill only affects public Australian universities as far as they have arrangements with foreign governments or foreign universities that do not enjoy institutional autonomy. It's plain to see why these sorts of arrangements are important.

Conversely, this bill will provide governments at all levels—so we're now talking federal, state, council and, indeed, the Australian people—with the confidence that due diligence has been afforded to all international arrangements undertaken by Australian entities. Furthermore, this bill will ensure robust protections and transparency for commercial and sensitive information. This has become incredibly more important in the digital revolution. Included in this bill is a requirement of the foreign minister to maintain a public register of notifications provided and decisions made under the bill. These measures will ensure the heightened transparency that the Australian public want and deserve.

In this light, this bill seeks to foster a consistent approach to our foreign policy engagement across all levels of government in Australia for the sake of all Australians. Ultimately, these reforms aim to preserve the underlying principles of our system. Australia will of course continue to welcome foreign investment for the significant benefit it provides. Australia is a nation driven by global trade, and this bill will not change that. However, we must ensure that investments undertaken are not contrary to the national interest. Accordingly, this bill delivers the necessary powers to the Commonwealth government to ensure that robust transparency and protections are in place to safeguard our national interest, and that is why I rise to support the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020.

6:03 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Since the Morrison government announced the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020, Labor has made it clear that we support its objectives. Traditionally, of course, diplomacy was the sole remit of national governments for as long as these have existed. Talleyrand and other famous diplomats in silk stockings didn't worry about subnational actors, because Napoleonic France, which he represented, wasn't a democratic or inclusive society with a federalist bent but a closed and highly centralised republic in which affairs of state were directed from the centre. Some modern societies are still organised like this.

In a great democracy like ours whose gifts we should daily cherish, we have to reckon with the daily tension of being representatives of our local interests and those of our nation. That was hard at the best of times, and our political and diplomatic records record this constant struggle of trying to get it right. It has become harder with the onset of globalised economic supply chains, labour mobility, and information and communications technologies which, many feared in the 1990s, were making national foreign ministries like DFAT redundant.

Around this time, state and territory governments, business councils, industry peak bodies and thousands of non-state actors in Australia and elsewhere began taking advantage of the amazing opportunities that Australia's economic opening and integration into global value chains—and I'll point out that these are products of the great Hawke-Keating reforms—offered to the Australian people. That has continued and will continue, because that's a feature of the world we live in, and it's as inescapable as the awesome computing power we all carry in our handheld devices on which we conduct business across time zones and countries. We can't have technology without the power it gives us all, and this bill goes to this fundamental proposition. We can't take on the wealth and power accrued by our citizens, thanks to growing technological and international economic opportunities, without also taking on and having to manage a growing risk with it. State and territory governments, for example, have become central actors in the advocacy and prosecution of their jurisdictions' trade and investment interests, to great effect. Often our state governments vie for the same market share abroad in a competition stiffer than the State of Origin. All's fair in love and trade. The Northern Territory's got the goods, and that's the horse that I'm obviously backing.

But there are clear and compelling reasons that Australia should speak with one voice internationally in the years to come, because when push comes to shove the most powerful tribes in the world are still nation-states like ours. The biggest ones, the great powers, still command vast economic, cultural, ideological, industrial and military power. Subnational actors—like big tech companies, the Fortune 500, transnational activist networks and independent entrepreneurs—independently and collectively account for more global economic activity than many countries on earth. At $2 trillion in valuation, if Apple were a country it would be the eighth-largest economy on earth this year, after France. It would come ahead of Italy, Canada, South Korea, Russia, Brazil and, yes, Australia, which would be at a projected 13th place in 2020. That's a humbling fact, but it's important to understand the national and global foundations that these economic giants enjoy. Apple is a global economic Goliath for sure, but it is still an American and Californian Goliath. You can see that in the 10 per cent of GDP it earns the US economy. It still depends on the arteries of the global economy, whose plumbing is laid by nations, as we all have rediscovered recently. The global economy still relies on the rules and norms that powerful nation-states negotiate, uphold or undermine through multilateralism, bilateral arrangements or unilateral actions.

Peace and security is one such global public good, and that's where no subnational actors can compete. That's why foreign affairs, defence, and trade and investment are national powers in the hands of the federal government. In a world that's not getting any less dangerous, when the threats to Australian national interests are growing, we need to have enough trust in ourselves, our institutions and our values to get behind national interests that are always so far above politics, as exhibits in the Australian War Memorial remind us.

That's why I support the principle of this bill: that foreign affairs should be a power that rests, in the final analysis, federally. This is a sensible national-interest proposition, and that's why I regret that this bill was so sloppy in its presentation. It was announced in haste before it was ready and before affected entities were consulted, just so Scott Morrison could change the headlines from the tragic neglect in aged care on the same day his minister walked out on scrutiny in the Senate.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Sorry, honourable Member for Solomon. I call the honourable minister.

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I just ask that the member for Solomon refer to the Prime Minister by his correct title.

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's not a responsible way to steward the national interest. Labor has called on the Morrison government to rewrite the legislation and focus on delivering robust, carefully written laws instead of just grabbing headlines. This is a very important debate of national strategic importance. It should have been delivered after much, much greater consultation with relevant stakeholders and after bipartisan consultations, I would have thought.

We want to play a constructive role, because we take foreign affairs, national security and strategic policy seriously, but, if the government refuses to play fair and take our feedback, of course we'll do what we can to amend the bill, focusing on flaws we've identified through the Senate committee process. These include the lack of a requirement for the minister to provide reasons for terminating arrangements made by the states, local governments and universities; the lack of clear definition of critical terms, and broad discretion for interpretation that exposes tens of thousands of contracts to sovereign risk; no capacity for oversight or review of ministerial decisions; and uncertainty around the bill's effect on the 99-year lease of the port of Darwin to a Chinese company, an issue close to my heart.

The common theme of Labor's concerns is that, while we will uphold the national interest, we don't think a lack of transparency and accountability is part of that interest. This government has a sub-par record, to say the least, on transparency and accountability. There is a case down the road, in the ACT Supreme Court, that puts on display the federal government's tendencies in this area—and 'puts on display' is a generous overstatement of the facts; that's why it's so important that there be clear definition of critical terms in this bill. I'm by no means a lawyer, but I understood that to be Law 101 sort of stuff. It's concerning that there's such a broad discretion for interpretation that exposes tens of thousands of contracts to sovereign risk—a risk posed by a foreign minister's pen flick.

But what's so bewildering in this bill to me, as the member for Solomon, is the great gap, the great hypocrisy, in this bill. On the one hand the bill could be interpreted by the government as giving it a power of veto over every university library that orders from abroad; every international scientific collaboration in our country in the most important fields in our economic future; and every local government funded University of the Third Age, community meditation group and martial arts association that has contractual arrangements with foreign businesses.

You might say these are absurd examples which no sitting minister would ever dare act on—a critic might argue that. Yes, they might be absurd, but the fact that they might plausibly fit into a reasonable interpretation of the text does tell you a lot. That's why Labor is trying to clean up definitions that are so open to interpretation you could drive a semitrailer through them. On the other hand, what gets me is that, at the same time as the bill might leave a taekwondo club unduly worried, the government explicitly, and before having even tabled the bill, discounted out of hand its application to the Darwin port.

Allow me to pause for a moment as I try to wrap this mere mortal's mind around this fantastical proposition by the federal government—I mean, seriously! At the same time as this bill possibly imposes on local and state officials around the country the extra work and responsibility of scouring through their every engagement with foreign counterparts—interactions numbering in the tens of thousands a year, if not millions—the federal government straight out decreed, before any debate, that Darwin port was off the table. 'Nothing to see here! Carry on as you were!' If this wasn't such a grave issue, it would crack me up—and I'm sure it would crack a lot of others up. But it is a serious issue.

The port of Darwin should never have been sold. It is one of the most important pieces of critical infrastructure in our nation for both defence and commercial purposes. This has been my longstanding position since before I came to office. A lot of Australians and Territorians support the idea of the government reviewing the lease or even buying back the port. This same coalition government which oversaw the sale of the port for 99 years and whose then trade minister consulted for Landbridge, the company which leased the port for 99 years, is now telling us that this can't be discussed and it doesn't come under a bill about contracts with foreign powers.

To those opposite, to the federal government, I simply ask: why? Seriously. I'm asking for a lot of friends. I'm asking for the member for Spence. I'm asking for a lot of friends in Darwin, in the Northern Territory and all across Australia—and for our allies and strategic partners. Does the Territory just not make the cut in terms of the government's national interest analyses? I can tell you that Territorians are sick of being treated like mushrooms by this federal government—kept in the dark, fed fertiliser, and not really taken seriously until there is a buck to be made. We're sick of it! I heard the member for Goldstein earlier, having a go at Victoria. I heard him argue that it's not politics when he and the government use this bill to try to bash the Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews. I heard him argue that it is politics when Labor expects the government to avoid double standards by looking at all deals equitably, regardless of which party is in power.

I thought that was the definition of the national interest, or does the government have another much looser definition of the national interest? It's an open question. We've seen how vague its definitions of key terms are. Is the Morrison government, the Prime Minister's government, suggesting that we should cover our eyes and ears when a potentially dubious deal is done by our own party? Is that what they're suggesting? And should we scrutinise only those potentially dubious deals done by our political adversaries? That is the stuff of an autocratic state.

These are the kinds of obvious problems with the bills as they stand and with the government's partisan attitude to them. Even the majority report of the Senate committee, written by those opposite—the government's own senators—recommends further consultation to resolve major questions. This bill is a patch-up job to make up for the government's seven years of failure to protect the Australian national interest. Those opposite, the federal government, have encouraged Australian universities to become more reliant on income from international education; overseen Australian exporters becoming 18 per cent more reliant on a single market, with no plan to help them diversify or survive through tough times; signed a secret federal Belt and Road deal in 2017; and allowed the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company. That is this government, which is in its eighth year; all of that happened under its watch. But to have a crack at the Victorian Premier, they just threw this legislation together. It has more holes in it than you would care to try to fix. But we are going to try to fix it.

We do look forward to the Morrison government giving this proposed bill further consideration and invite those opposite to work in a bipartisan way to advance our shared national interest—our shared national interest. 'National': that means everyone. As I said at the outset, we support the objectives of this bill. There's a lot of repair work to be done on it, and I look forward to taking part in those debates in the time ahead.

6:18 pm

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to say that the Labor Party really are lost—they're lost at sea on this one. Every single speaker who has come into this House on the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 claims to support the bill and then spends their entire time arguing against it. I think it goes to the problem with the Labor Party right now; they don't know if they're Arthur or Martha. They don't know what they believe in, the poor dears!

Here we have it again: we actually have a bill addressing a very serious issue of foreign policy and we still don't know what the Labor Party actually believe in. 'We support the bill,' they say, 'and, therefore, let's withdraw it, kick it into the long grass and just think for a little bit longer until we come up with a different idea.' This is the problem with the modern Labor Party! They haven't got a clue—not a clue!

The leader of the attack today was the deputy opposition leader. Guess what he started with? He started by claiming that the foreign minister's suggestion that the international institutions might need to be improved is nothing but sloganism—sloganism!

Imagine that, Deputy Speaker. This is the position of the Labor Party. What that implies is that the Labor Party are perfectly happy with all international institutions as they stand today. They're happy with them because the Labor Party have nothing to offer. They have no policy prescriptions, period. We're not talking about some obscure area of government public policy. We are talking about our foreign policy. We are talking about our national interest. We are talking about the security and safety of our nation, which is the core, No. 1 principle and objective of government. And the Labor Party are lost.

I think what we all know is that we are amidst a period of unprecedented uncertainty for those of us living today. That was the case before COVID-19. COVID-19 hit, and all of the complexities of the international political economy were accentuated. And here we are today. There is a need for us to do what nations do with foreign policy—that is, have an outward expression of who we are as a nation, of what we believe in. And what we believe in is best defined by what unites us. What unites us is not ethnicity, not the colour of our skin, not our history, not our gender, not how we walk, not how we talk. The one thing that unites us in this country is a common set of values, and those values are liberal values: freedom, equality, rule of law et cetera—the very values that define the nation we are but also the world in which we wish to operate.

It's one thing for a Commonwealth government to reflect those values in foreign policy and act accordingly. But it's a far greater challenge for other tiers of government—state and territory governments, and local councils—to do the same. It's very difficult for other tiers of government, and also universities, without the demonstrable expertise that lies with the Commonwealth, to get it right and to be consistent. That is the challenge we face and that is why today I stand to commend the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020. This is why it's so vitally important. This bill plugs a gap. It plugs a gap in what should be a team Australia approach.

As some of those opposite have themselves said, Australia should speak with one voice. Internationally, it is vitally important that we speak with one voice, we coordinate and we act in a united fashion. But we need instruments to assist other tiers of government in this regard. A team Australia approach means that we continue intelligence briefings to premiers and chief ministers. It means seeking a level of bipartisanship on foreign affairs where we can. It means continuing to share intelligence with the Leader of the Opposition. And, in the words of those opposite during this debate, it means to speak with one voice. But, to plug that gap, we need the measures outlined in this bill.

We know that, in reality, states and territories, in an increasingly globalised world, will continue to engage with foreign governments and their entities. And with that engagement comes a commensurate degree of risk—risk that actions of states and territories or universities may not align with the foreign policy adopted by our nation. We cannot afford for such inconsistencies to exist. If they do exist, we need to make sure they are not exploited by foreign powers—foreign powers that understandably will pursue their own interests, but unacceptably may pursue their interests at the expense of our own, and that is what we must be mindful of. It is of a concern that no formal mechanism is in place today that provides the Commonwealth with oversight of arrangements entered into between Australian states and territories, and foreign governments. This is the gap to which I refer. This is the gap that needs to be plugged, and this bill does so.

It would be unreasonable if we were to expect states and territories, let alone local councils or universities, to have a full understanding of Australia's foreign policy—the specific risks and the sensitivities. Thus the mechanisms in this bill will assist, not constrain, other tiers of government along with universities and so forth. I want to emphasise that very point. In no way does this bill discourage states, territories and others from entering into arrangements with foreign governments and their entities, but it does propose that any such arrangements must align with Australia's broader foreign policy and our national interests. I think all Australians would agree that that simple objective is more than fair enough. To this end, the bill enables the minister to prevent negotiations or entry into arrangements or to invalidate existing arrangements where they are found to be inconsistent with Australia's foreign policy or where they adversely affect Australia's foreign relations.

The Labor speaker before me referred to the Victorian government's engagement with the People's Republic of China in relation to the Belt and Road Initiative, otherwise known as the BRI. It is important to therefore emphasise that this bill, regardless of the media surrounding it, including reference to the Victorian BRI deal, is country neutral. It is a framework that does not seek to target any one particular state. It's an act which is concerned with protecting and managing Australia's foreign relations with all foreign states, across all levels of government in Australia and it applies to all arrangements, whether or not they be legally binding. Nevertheless, let me openly address Labor's claim about Victoria's BRI deal, because it is a good case study on what a team Australia is not about.

As some in this House will know, the BRI is a mechanism used by China, the PRC, for prioritising overseas lending, investments and trade. The point here is not about one's view on the BRI and whether it's good or whether it's bad. The point is not about how the foreign minister might conclude on Victoria's deal with China on the BRI after an assessment under the terms referred to in this bill. The point here is simply this: it is ludicrous that despite the Australian Commonwealth government having neither signed up to nor endorsed the BRI, the Victorian government decided to go ahead and sign themselves up anyway. They did so without proper consultation with the Commonwealth. They did so without having the likes of DFAT do a detailed due diligence for their consideration. Therein lies the problem, because we cannot afford to see Australia picked off polity by polity. What we should see is Australia act as a united country, and a united nation, when it comes to foreign affairs.

This bill will ensure that the Minister for Foreign Affairs can assess arrangements between state and territory governments and foreign governments and entities related to them, and whether or not they would adversely affect Australia's foreign relations or be inconsistent with our foreign affairs—our policy. We know that any arrangement, whether by state, territory, university or other, with a foreign power will typically involve complex foreign policy considerations. These considerations are exclusively the remit of the Commonwealth government, and this bill reinforces that fundamental principle. It gives effect to the head of power that lies with the Commonwealth. The bill therefore carries my support, and I'm happy to commend it to the House.

6:30 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

Like so many things that this government does, the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 suffers from the marketing and spin around its being prioritised over its substance and effect. It's another case of 'all sizzle, no sausage' from this Prime Minister.

I'll start with the fact that Labor supports the objective of this legislation, and if Liberal members had been listening to the speeches that have been given by Labor members on this bill they would have understood that Labor supports the objective of this legislation. I'll make that clear again: Labor supports the objective of this legislation, which is that there should be greater federal oversight and review mechanisms of arrangements between sub-national governments and foreign government entities. In particular, and all the Labor speakers who've spoken on this bill today have made this clear, Labor supports there being a federal legislative scheme that gives the foreign minister power to terminate arrangements—that is the term the bill uses—between state, territory and local governments and government funded universities and foreign entities if the agreements adversely affect Australia's foreign relations or are inconsistent with Australian foreign policy.

Our concerns lie not with the stated intent of this bill but with the many flaws in the scheme that this bill would establish. In a way, it's not dissimilar to the support Labor offered from the outset to the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme bill that was brought to this parliament on 7 December 2017 by former Prime Minister Turnbull. That bill suffered from a number of deficiencies. It had to be very substantially rewritten by the time it passed this parliament in June 2018. But it was supported as to its intent that there should be transparency of foreign influence in relation to a range of Australian activities. The problem with the bill as originally presented to this parliament was that it was far too broad in its reach. In particular—and this is something that this bill suffers from, too—the government had simply not thought through the effect of its first proposed Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme bill on the universities of Australia. So too for this bill, the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill; the government hasn't thought through the effect on Australia's universities.

There are a very large number of concerns about the bill that's now before the parliament. I certainly haven't got time to go through all those concerns, but a number of my colleagues who spoke earlier today have outlined the concerns that not merely Labor but also many, many parts of the Australian community have expressed about the legislation that this government has brought before the parliament. To begin with, it's worth noting that our nation already has a range of legal protections, processes and institutions in place to help protect us from malign foreign interference. Yet the government has failed to explain how this bill complements and interacts with the suite of existing legislation, processes and institutions that already works to safeguard Australia's sovereignty, build domestic institutional resilience and regulate international engagement. This includes the countering foreign interference legislation. It includes the defence export controls. It includes the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act passed by this parliament in 2018. It includes the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act passed by this parliament, also in 2018, and the University Foreign Interference Taskforce, or UFIT.

It has been extraordinary to listen to a number of the speeches that have been given by Liberal members on this bill. You would think that none of this long-established set of safeguards and controls that have been built up painstakingly by successive Australian governments over decades even existed. But you'd be forgiven for thinking that, because both the government and the Liberal members who've addressed this bill in speeches today have made hardly any reference to these long-existing safeguards and controls.

It's also clear that, in the Prime Minister's haste to distract Australians from his government's tragic neglect of the aged-care system, the government failed to consult with any relevant stakeholders in the development of this legislation. For example, universities were not consulted before the announcement of this bill on 27 August this year, despite the potential impact on the sector, which is already suffering from the loss of foreign students caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and from the Morrison government's bloody-minded ideological vendetta against education, which led it to exclude universities from the JobKeeper program. Even more astonishingly, state and territory first ministers were only advised about this bill the day before it was introduced to the parliament. That kind of arrogance from this Morrison government does nothing to further support for a scheme such as this; nor does that kind of arrogance and haste give the Australian community confidence that the Morrison government actually might know what it is doing.

The drafting of this bill was self-evidently rushed, and it means that a range of fundamental issues have not been properly considered. We invite the government to properly consider them before this bill passes both houses of this parliament. Just to give an example, the bill excludes procedural fairness. It excludes the operation of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. It excludes any form of merits review. Some might be thinking: 'What does it matter if merits review is excluded, given that the Morrison government has decided to make the AAT into a taxpayer funded retirement home for Liberal Party former MPs, staffers and failed candidates? So maybe it's a blessing that merits review has been excluded.' But judicial review of ministerial decisions is also very important. Perhaps there, again, one might comment that even that would have limited use without a requirement for the minister to provide reasons for any of the decisions which the minister is empowered to make under this bill. The bill fails to provide clear definitions of critical terms, including the terms 'foreign policy' and 'foreign relations', which you might think were absolutely central to the scheme that this bill proposes to establish. The broad discretion this leaves to define those terms as the government of the day or the minister of the day might wish to define them leaves the ambit of this legislation entirely unclear, and ironically, given the laudable objectives of the bill, it exposes tens of thousands of valuable contracts, agreements and arrangements to sovereign risk.

With respect to Australian universities, it is also clear that the bill's undefined—or broadly defined, in some cases—key terms, the regulatory gap that a number of previous Labor speakers have referred to in that private universities are not covered, the lack of transparency and the lack of procedural fairness will all limit university international engagement. For decades it has been understood just how important international engagement is for all of Australia's universities. The bill will create sovereign risk concerns for Australian universities. It will generate significant administrative burdens for Australian universities. The point has been made—and universities have made this point publicly already, over and over again, but there is no indication the government is yet listening—that in its current form the bill could apply to tens of thousands of arrangements between Australian entities and their foreign counterparts. There are thousands of agreements reached on all manner of activities between Australian universities and universities in other countries, and it will undoubtedly impact significantly on universities if this bill continues to take the form that it currently has and if it continues to be expressed in this broad way.

The bill, I might say also, provides the foreign minister with broad discretionary powers and as yet provides not one bit of oversight for the regime. It means that the regime that this bill would establish, like so many other things that this government has done and wishes to do, would lack transparency. The government has entirely failed to provide clarity on how the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company permitted by this government—this government—in 2015 would be treated under the regime established by this bill. As Senator Penny Wong said earlier today:

… this bill is the sloppy result of a Prime Minister who puts his political interest above the national interest

That is why Labor has called on the government to rewrite this legislation. I say again, so as to leave no room for doubt, that Labor supports the objectives of this bill, but the legislation itself is so sloppy that it must be rewritten. If the government refuses to do that, Labor intend to do what we can to address the flaws that have been identified through the Senate committee process. Somewhat reluctantly, I commend this bill to the House.

6:42 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 and the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020. This legislation is timely for the security and wellbeing of Australia. This legislation clarifies the capacity of the federal government to do one of its most important jobs—that is, protect Australia's interests and interact with other nations on behalf of our citizens. If there is one task we are trusted with in this place, it is the defence of Australia and its interests. Before we ask questions about what sort of country we may become in the years ahead or how we will cut taxes or where we will build a new road, we must first secure the ability of our people to govern themselves, free of outside malign interference. Each person who has a seat in this place only does so because they represent those Australians who have elected them. This is fundamental to the integrity of our system of government. It is what ensures the sovereignty of the Australian people.

On questions of foreign policy, it is the federal parliament and the federal government that have the unique responsibility in this area of policy. There was a time when defending this nation from foreign influence meant submarines, defence personnel and aeroplanes only. It meant patrolling seas and intervening when foreign agents entered our shores. That's still relevant to today's security environment, but just as relevant is the need to ensure we don't foolishly roll out the red carpet to those who seek to compromise Australia by entering into deals and arrangements that put Australia at risk.

Foreign interference is exerted not only militarily but economically and culturally as well. Many countries have become increasingly aware of the ways that foreign powers have sought to influence their domestic political affairs through financial arrangements, cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, combined with trade sanctions and threats. For instance, in 2017 the Swedish Institute of International Affairs found Sweden had been the target of a wide range of foreign interference activities from Russia that were designed to influence that country's decision-making. In recent years, Sweden's Civil Contingencies Agency not only prepares for natural disasters but now monitors websites for exaggerated news stories that could breed fear among the Swedish population.

Earlier this year the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a report looking at the Chinese Communist Party's coercive diplomacy. Tracking reports over the past 10 years, the report found 152 cases of coercive diplomacy, affecting 27 countries in the European Union. The volume of cases has increased significantly since 2018. These coercive actions involve things like the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals, restrictions on travel—as experienced by my friends the member for Canning and Senator Paterson when their visas to China were denied last year—boycotts, trade restrictions and other threats. The report describes the tactics used against countries as being 'divide-and-conquer tactics'. It states:

The CCP intentionally isolates countries in this way to retain comparative strength and ensure the effectiveness of its coercive methods.

Sometimes we think of Australia as being singled out for special treatment in recent times by the Chinese Communist Party, but, in fact, this is happening all over the world. For instance, in November 2010, China blocked salmon imports from Norway on the spurious grounds of food safety after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a Chinese dissident in Oslo. Sales of salmon to China collapsed by 61.8 per cent between 2010 and 2013. The situation improved after 2016, when Oslo agreed not to support actions that undermined China's interests.

In March 2017, the Chinese government organised boycotts against South Korean businesses after South Korea agreed to host the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system. Hyundai reported a 42 per cent drop in sales, and Kia recorded a 54 per cent drop. South Korean supermarket Lotte had nearly all of its stores in China forcibly closed due to unspecified fire code violations. In October 2019, a US congressional delegation were denied entry visas into China. Chinese authorities wouldn't allow them entry unless they cancelled their scheduled trip to Taiwan. In December last year, the Chinese Ambassador to Denmark made threats during a meeting with the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands autonomous territory that they wouldn't enter into a free trade agreement if Huawei were not given a contract to develop the region's 5G infrastructure. In the same month, the Chinese Ambassador to Germany threatened economic consequences against Germany after draft legislation was written to exclude untrustworthy vendors such as Huawei from developing Germany's 5G infrastructure. Just this year, Australia has also experienced a significant amount of threats and trade restrictions.

In this environment, it's essential that the Commonwealth government retains primacy and oversight in all areas of foreign policy, in order to counter the divide-and-conquer tactics of foreign powers. This bill ensures that our own people don't recklessly or naively give foreign governments the keys to the country. The events of recent years have given us reason to be concerned that foreign actors could more easily interfere with our sovereignty. The Victorian Labor government under Daniel Andrews has been rightly cited in relation to this legislation. His courting of the Chinese Communist Party to give state owned Chinese companies access to Australia has implications well beyond his own state's borders. Premier Andrews has made numerous trips to China's as Premier, and, in October last year, at a roundtable in Beijing, the key message prepared by his department set out the Andrews government's desire for Chinese firms to establish an office in Victoria and to bid for Victorian projects. His talking points stated that the Victorian government's vision for Victoria is to be China's gateway to Australia.

The Chinese Communist Party's Belt and Road Initiative is a mechanism by which China will invest in infrastructure, including roads and telecommunications, across the globe. The Victorian Labor government had pitched for rail and road projects in Victoria to be part of this scheme and, in 2018, signed a memorandum of understanding that compromises the future security and sovereignty not only of Victoria but of all Australians. This act of the Andrews government alone is evidence for why this bill is essential. The Belt and Road Initiative has been described by Peter Cai from the Lowy Institute as one of President Xi's most ambitious foreign and economic policies. He says that the Belt and Road Initiative has geostrategic and economic goals. He further says:

The two goals are not, in fact, contradictory. China is using OBOR to assert its regional leadership through a vast program of economic integration.

Professor Clive Hamilton's submission to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee regarding this bill puts plainly the risks facing Australia. When a former Greens candidate and former director of The Australia Institute can see the problems we're facing, the situation is very serious indeed. He states:

… until recently it has not been evident that a foreign state has been building relationships with subnational governments and with universities as a means of influencing or interfering in Australia's foreign policy and shaping the national conversation in ways more favourable to the foreign state.

… As long as subnational governments and universities continue to live in a state of innocence, they will remain easy targets for the CCP's influence campaign.

He also refers to the Chinese Communist Party strategy of 'using the local to surround the centre', which is described as using good relations with local actors in order to put pressure on the national government. He says:

The Victorian government's decision to sign the state onto a Belt and Road Agreement with Beijing, and to make the state China's "gateway" to the nation, is a classic example of "using the countryside to surround the city" (that is, Canberra), or in this case, use the countryside to bypass the city to achieve the objective and undermine national foreign policy.

The federal government needs the power to prevent a state entering into an agreement that is not only inconsistent with Australia's foreign policy but actually undermines it. The federal government must be able to exercise its responsibilities to the Australian people without that task being compromised by state and territory governments or universities. We do not want to put ourselves in a situation where another country can turn off our trains or shut down our telecommunications or our water supply. The Victorian government's actions would risk this. The actions of the Victorian government compromise the security not only of Victorians but of all Australians.

One hopes that the Victorian Labor government were simply naive when they did this deal, but history would suggest that that's unlikely. Sadly, the Labor Party has a long history of compromising Australia's foreign policy, exercising extraordinarily poor judgement in who they seek to align with, whether it's the Whitlam government's recognition of the annexation of the Baltic States or Kevin Rudd, in more recent years, selling out traditional allies in order to secure a seat on the UN Security Council. Labor's track record is disastrous when it comes to standing up to regimes that compromise the freedom of their own citizens and act aggressively on the international stage.

The Morrison government is clear that Australia will always stand by our values and protect our sovereignty. This bill is important in ensuring we can maintain our sovereignty given the shifting geopolitical environment we operate in. State and local governments and universities do not have the requisite knowledge or experience of foreign policy or Australia's strategic interests. Even if their intentions are good, their capacity to assess the strategic implications of their partnerships is limited.

This bill will fill the gap that currently exists by giving the Minister for Foreign Affairs a scheme which the minister can maintain to oversight Australia's international engagements. The legislation would give the minister oversight over arrangements made by Australia's public universities and state, territory and local governments and a foreign government or its related entity such as a foreign government controlled university. The minister will have the capacity to determine whether those arrangements adversely affect Australia's foreign relations or if they are inconsistent with Australia's foreign policy. If they're problematic, the minister can prevent negotiations and arrangements from proceeding. The minister can also cancel or vary existing relationships. Importantly, there are a number of considerations the minister must balance in making this judgement. Among those considerations, the minister must take into account the importance of the arrangement in assisting or enhancing the functioning of the state or territory, whether the declaration would significantly curtail or interfere with the capacity of the state or territory to function as a government and whether it would have serious financial consequences for the state or territory. In some circumstances the Commonwealth would also be liable to pay compensation for financial or other impacts that result from a ministerial declaration.

Some of the criticism that this bill has attracted is related to the inclusion of public universities within its scope. There are principled reasons for this inclusion. Publicly funded universities are strongly engaged in international affairs regarding research relationships and partnerships. They do so as institutions established largely by state and territory law. They are publicly funded and they have the potential to significantly impact Australia's foreign relations and foreign policy. Frankly, I don't think our universities, in particular the group of eight, have taken this issue seriously enough.

This bill does not seek to squash foreign partnerships and collaboration but simply to ensure that those partnerships do not unwittingly compromise Australia. It doesn't compromise the institutional autonomy of universities; it simply gives the minister oversight to intervene when that university is risking Australia's interests—its security or its intellectual property—through its partnerships with a foreign government. As DFAT explained to the Senate inquiry, this bill will not apply to bilateral arrangements between Australian universities and foreign universities that enjoy the same institutional autonomy with which we're familiar in Australia.

The vast majority of foreign universities will remain unaffected by the bill. This aspect of the bill is also essential because of the genuine risks that exist in the university sector. It's concerning that many universities are concerned about their institutional autonomy in relation to the way their own government will have oversight of a very small and distinct aspect of their work when their real concern should be around the risk of their campuses being used for foreign interference.

The treatment of Drew Pavlou by the University of Queensland when he protested against the Chinese Communist Party's treatment of Uighurs and the people of Hong Kong, the two contradictory statements issued by UNSW when one of its academics published a tweet about human rights abuses in Hong Kong, and the infiltration of China's Thousand Talents program don't leave people with confidence in our universities. The sort of influence foreign actors have in universities has been long known. Earlier this year, Professor Salvatore Babones from the University of Sydney described Confucius Institutes as places:

… not so much designed to indoctrinate the students who take their courses as to influence the administrators of the universities that host them.

He wrote:

Rising totalitarianism in China has turned the tables on Western universities: Instead of spearheading the liberalization of China, they are uncomfortably vulnerable to Chinese pressure in the opposite direction.

I declare: I'm a director of the Ramsey Centre for Western Civilisation, and it beggars belief that some of the Group of Eight universities were afraid to host a Ramsey centre to study our own culture and our own civilisation but that they were very quick to adopt the Chinese Communist Party sponsored Confucius Institutes.

Our public universities are a key part of Australia's international relationships, and we've all got good reason to be proud of the research and academic work that they do. This bill is not in any way designed to damage or compromise universities. It will do exactly the opposite. Rather than hamstringing the universities, this bill will protect them from foreign interference that they may not even be aware of.

It's unfortunate that we're in this situation where this legislation is needed. But we would be naive to ignore the very real challenges that Australia faces. This legislation arms us to better confront these challenges in the years ahead. We must not allow Australia's sovereignty to be eroded by stealth. The naivety of those universities and state and territory governments who do not believe this is essential legislation demonstrates the need for these measures in the first place. The national parliament and the minister for foreign affairs must always be able to retain the oversight and the key policy-making functions of our foreign relations and our foreign policy. That is in the interests of all Australians.

6:57 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I watched in horror the 60 Minutes segment on the University of Queensland. Unfortunately for me, I have had the dubious privilege of being president of almost every organisation within that university. I was the vice president of the student union for three years. I was president of the law faculty. I was president of the college and president of the combined colleges council.

The University of Queensland has the Maltese cross as its emblem. The 720 knights of St John stood up against the Ottoman Turks who were taking 50,000 Christian slaves a year. Almost everyone in the harems stretching from Portugal through Spain and back to what we now call Turkey was a Christian woman. If you doubt me, the two greatest leaders of the Middle Ages, Peter the Great and Suleiman the Magnificent, both had wives who had been Christian slaves.

The incident spoken of on 60 Minutes bears detailing again. Some idealistic youths—and we hope we always produce idealistic youths—got together. There were about 20 or 30 of them. They had a little demonstration, which was really a meeting; they were just talking to each other. And along came a bunch of thugs. They weren't Australians; they were foreigners, from China. And I do not condemn the Chinese people. Heaven only knows, I'd say probably a fifth of our population in North Queensland have Chinese ancestors, including one of our little party's members of parliament. The youths were bashed by these people. It was on television—the whole thing was recorded. They physically bashed them, pushed one of them over on his back—it was lucky he didn't smash his head down and crack his skull—and kicked all their gear to pieces. The outcome of this was—nothing. Here was a clear-cut case of brutal assault—assault and battery. And it was on television. We know who did it and we could see the actions: totally unprovoked assault and battery. After 11, 12 or 13 months there was no action by the police force.

When I went on the second 60 Minutes and said that I was going to have an inquiry in this place, three of the crossbenchers had the guts to stand up—only three of them—and say that they were going to second the motion. That meant the government didn't have the numbers, so then, and only then, we got a serious inquiry. Was action taken? Yes, it was. There was action taken by the University of Queensland. The names of their senate will go down in infamy, because not one of them has absented himself from the decision. So their names will go down as people who in time of war would be called traitors to their country. That's because they took action—they took action against some Australians who were speaking their mind about the brutality that was taking place by the Chinese government. This wasn't the Chinese people; it was the Chinese government against students in China.

They didn't demonstrate against the Uighurs. It's quite clear that there were 10 million people in that province and now there are only nine million people. The release of satellite photos indicate that the concentration camps—and we know what they mean from the infamous British in the Boer War, from the infamous Turkish murder of a million people in their country during the First World War and, of course, from Hitler—are doubling in size. These boys had the temerity to speak up, as every generation of Australians has spoken up, bravely, courageously and intelligently. And they were punished by the university—punished by their own university. It is supposed to be the cradle of intellectual thought; the protector, the nursery—the womb—of intellectual thought. Here, it was the persecutor of intellectual thought and freedom of thought.

If you stand up, you might be surprised. I'm a nobody; I can just stand up and say, 'I'm going to move in this parliament; the people of North Queensland have given me a voice and I'm going to use that voice to stand up in this parliament and have a fair dinkum inquiry and go after these b-a-s-t-ds with a hatchet upraised'. They are traitors to Australia, and that is not an overstatement. When our country is divided into four parts, the port in the north-western portion is now owned by China. The only development project in that area is the Ord stage 2 and stage 3. The hypocrisy of the Liberal government in condemning Labor on this came when they gave stage 2 and stage 3 to China. I'll repeat that, slowly: that the only development project available in the north-western quadrant, a quarter of Australia, is the Ord stage 2 and stage 3. It was given, not sold—and 31 Australians applied for that water—to China. Not to China—to the Chinese government. I must always make that distinction.

We could talk about 'Dictator Dan', the man who brings us fantasy land. I think watching him is a great comedy show. I can't look at him without laughing. What's his latest fantasy? His first one was the Belt and Road, that the Belt and Road would bring trade to Melbourne. What trade? What's Melbourne going to sell to China? Motorcars, is it? What is it going to sell to China? Oranges? Is it going to sell oranges to China?

So, Belt and Road: yes, it was successful. What it brought in was COVID-19, straight in on the Belt and Road, straight into Melbourne! So Mr fantasy land said, 'Oh, we're going to do something about it.' The rest of Australia are killing themselves laughing. And I feel sorry for you if you're a Victorian. I mean really, I feel sorry for you, because you're the laughing-stock of the country. And of course that leadership—there was some stupid act by we people of Australia giving four years. To quote the great but much-maligned Bjelke-Peterson: if you can't do it in three years, then you're not entitled to four! And that's a good call.

Who owns Australia? Well, we only have three exports now; the rest of them are so small they hardly warrant mentioning. We have only three exports: iron, coal and gas. Let's start with iron. By some miracle—God bless Twiggy Forrest and Fortescue; God bless them. But 60 per cent of our iron is foreign owned. The top six companies mining coal, which account for almost all of our coal exports, are 100 per cent owned by foreign corporations. I'll name the six corporations: Glencore, BHP, Yancoal, Anglo American, Peabody and Whitehaven. Whitehaven is an Australian listed company, but it's majority shareholding is overseas. So, there you go: all six of them are foreign owned. The other huge export item we have is gas, which is probably about $60,000 million or $70,000 million a year. I think the next biggest one might be aluminium or cattle or gold; they're about $10,000 million. So, that's the big three.

Let's have a look at gas. It was sold by the government of Queensland and the government of New South Wales and the federal government of Australia, Liberal and Labor. It was sold holus-bolus for 6c a unit. Mount Isa Mines is going broke because we have to buy our own gas at $16.60 a unit. Who was responsible for that? What, penguins in Antarctica were responsible for that? If you did not have the foresight to see that some of that gas should have been kept for Australia—so: the other huge gas producer in the world is a little tiny country called Qatar. It's one of those backwoods Middle Eastern countries. They sell 107 billion cubic metres, and we sell 105 billion cubic metres. So, we both sell the same amount of gas. Qatar gets $27 billion a year in revenue from that gas. The Australian figure provided to me by the library is $600 million, but I think it's more like about $4,000 million. So, they get $27,000 million, and we're lucky if we get $4,000 million out of the gas.

Who is responsible for this? Penguins in Antarctica? My fellow colleagues in this place, when you go to bed at night and you ask yourself who sold out this country, look in the mirror and you will have your answer. I hope and pray that my grandchildren, when they ask, 'Who did this to us?' will remember that at least one person in this place stood up. And some of my colleagues on the crossbenches have stood up—at least some have stood up.

And it's much worse than that. Our water and sewerage: society cannot exist without water and sewerage. Our water pumps and our sewerage pumps come from China, but they are not bought-off-the-shelf technology; they have to be poured. I know, because the foundry that did a lot of this work in Australia is in Innisfail, the heartland of the electorate I represent. Now, if you have a fight with China, you can't get the parts to pump water into Sydney or Brisbane or wherever. You can't pump the sewage, because you can't get the pumps. And by the time you founder the pieces—you have to pour them in a brass foundry—by the time you've done that, you are talking about weeks and maybe months.

Agriculture is the saddest story of all. The biggest farming operation in Australia is Van Diemen's dairy, owned by China. The second-biggest, and the biggest landowner in Australia, is the AA Company, owned by foreigners. The third-biggest farm in Australia is Cubbie Station, owned by China. The fourth-biggest in Australia is Consolidated, owned by overseas interests—arguably China. The fifth-biggest is Kidman's. Well, we'll leave a question mark over Kidman's. I said at the time when the federal government knocked back the sale to the Chinese company CRED, 'Don't worry about it; straight after the election, CRED will be back wearing a different suit of clothes.' I'm not going to make any accusations; I'll just leave it at that. But bigger than all those put together will be the Ord stage 2 and stage 3, and it was given to China.

You have a very limited amount of time to turn this around. If you're bringing in half a million people from China every year and the Chinese government declare them to remain Chinese citizens, they might become naturalised Australians but the Chinese government is a much more powerful force than Australia. If you cower in your hidey-hole and say, 'Oh, they're too big for us; they'll cut off our exports,' it's a pity you didn't get off your backside and create some experts or create a motor vehicle industry. Jeez, that's hard! All we have to do is say that all vehicles bought under a government contract will be Australian made, and you have yourself a motor vehicle industry. All you have to do is build two giant oil refineries and bring in ethanol, as Brazil did, and you can get all your petrol from Australia. So don't worry too much about the $100 billion that goes to China. You can replace that tomorrow if you get off your backside and develop your country. If you say it can't be done, I note that when England joined the common market 30 per cent of our exports vanished, and Jack McEwen—I sit under his picture—went out there and got those new markets for us in Asia. The VIP countries are almost as big as China—Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. (Time expired)

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Kennedy for his contribution. Before I call the next speaker, I would like to remind the member for Kennedy, although it is a broad-ranging debate, of the importance of remaining relevant to the legislation and also of using appropriate language. For the benefit of the House, I indicate that spelling certain words out, in the correct way or otherwise, does not constitute appropriate language.

7:12 pm

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 and the Australia's Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020 are very important pieces of legislation. One of the most important roles of the Commonwealth government is to conduct Australia's external relations and foreign affairs. There is but one actor in Australia with international personality that can enter into and conduct diplomatic relations with other countries; negotiate, ratify and implement treaties; and represent our nation in international bodies and fora. That entity is the federal government. In a federal system such as ours, with multiple levels of government, this can present challenges. State and territory governments and local governments often have a reason to engage with foreign governments, perhaps to encourage investment, to foster cultural or educational exchange or to promote ties in specific areas, such as clean energy or agriculture—any number of things. On the whole, this should be welcomed. Most of these engagements add to the breadth of Australia's international ties and are all to the good.

However, this state of play does present some challenges. One is that there is no formal visibility of such arrangements by the Commonwealth government, which means at times that we're not making the most of them. The other is that from time to time there is a risk that arrangements entered into might be at odds with, or perhaps even undermine, Australia's broader foreign policy interests and objectives. At times, unscrupulous foreign governments may seek to exploit a lack of knowledge and expertise about such objectives at the state government level for that very purpose: to undermine or subvert a policy of Australia's that they do not like. This could be as innocent as a local council entering into a friendship agreement with an entity that might claim status in international law but which Australia does not formally recognise as a country entity, such as Somaliland or Western Sahara. It could be lending support to a particular perspective on an international issue that is highly contested, perhaps involving a border or a territorial dispute in areas such as Crimea or Nagorno-Karabakh. Or it could be endorsing a campaign which Australia is resolutely opposed to, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

When it comes to foreign affairs, it's vital that Australia speaks with only one voice, and this legislation will help ensure that we speak with one voice on the international stage. It will remedy a gap in Commonwealth oversight and in Commonwealth knowledge and it will create a process where all levels of government can work together effectively in a way that is consistent with our foreign policy objectives. Under this legislation, the foreign minister will have the power to review any existing and any prospective arrangements between state and territory governments, local governments, public universities and foreign government or related entities. The foreign minister will be empowered to determine whether such arrangements are in any way contrary to, or likely to adversely affect, Australia's foreign relations. And arrangements that may adversely affect Australia's foreign relations, or are inconsistent with our foreign policy objectives, can be prevented by the minister from proceeding or can be terminated.

This bill is not directed abroad or directed at any particular country, it is directed internally, towards Australian entities and institutions, and is designed to ensure that our own systems and processes are up to speed. The bill's not to intended to discourage non-federal entities from pursuing agreements with overseas counterparts, or to overly impose bureaucracy or to be intrusive. The bills are intended to be proportionate and risk-adjusted, and it's for this reason that these bills establish an approval regime and a notification regime—two separate regimes. So-called 'core' arrangements, such as those between state and territory governments and foreign national governments, are rightly subject to a higher level of scrutiny under these bills as they have a greater prospect of impacting on, and potentially undermining, Australia's foreign policy. For this reason, for core arrangements, approval will be required from the Minister for Foreign Affairs before commencing negotiations or entering into such an arrangement. So-called 'non-core' arrangements are lower risk and are subject to a lower level of scrutiny and oversight; just a simple notification regime. This covers things such as agreements between states and overseas provinces or local councils, or sister-city relationships. In this instance, notification of the foreign minister is all that will be required.

The bill also empowers the foreign minister to look back and review any pre-existing arrangements at this level concluded prior to the passage of this legislation. When it comes to universities, it's important to be clear that the legislation only affects Australian public universities to the extent that they enter into arrangements with foreign governments, or with foreign universities that do not enjoy institutional autonomy. So most university-to-university arrangements will not be captured and the arrangements that do meet this test will only be subject to the notification regime.

The Senate Legislation Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade recommended two amendments to this legislation in its report of 5 November, to better define 'institutional autonomy' for the purposes of assessing arrangements with foreign universities and a three-year statutory review. I support both of these amendments and I understand the government will shortly introduce these.

In conclusion: in a more globalised and interconnected world, and in a more contested and uncertain strategic environment, ensuring Australia speaks with a single and coherent voice on the international stage is more important than ever. This bill will allow us to do just this. I commend it to the House.

7:18 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

You always have to be suspicious when this government comes in and says that they've got a bill to deal with 'foreign interference'—in their words. Year after year, I sit and watch this government pass free trade deals that have allowed state-owned companies from other countries to come in and sue the Australian government; it has opened up holes in our labour law and our migration law that are big enough for planeloads of exploited overseas workers to be flown through; and it has created the situation where—including in my electorate of Melbourne—unions, through very good investigative work, have found many workers working in, effectively, slave-like conditions. They have been brought in under visa and labour-hire arrangements enabled by this government, with Labor's support. They're working for a few dollars an hour, sleeping several people to a room, working in unsafe conditions and being told that if they don't like it, they'll be put on the first plane back.

That is the kind of exploitation that has been allowed, and the kind of opening up of Australia's governance arrangements to overseas actors that has been facilitated by this government and by Labor. They have systematically put the needs of big corporations—and, in some instances, overseas governments—ahead of local interests. And they've done it for money. You don't hear the government being concerned about so-called foreign interference when big corporations come knocking and say, 'We would like you to rewrite our rules.'. The government just says, 'Tell us where to sign.' The government says, 'Jump,' and Labor says, 'How high?' And all of a sudden we have another free-trade deal—and another one and another one and another one.

I repeat the point: the agreements that the Liberals and Labor have signed up to allow corporations from other countries to sue the Australian government if the Australian government takes action in the interests of its own people. They can force them to have the laws changed. And the government has the temerity to come in here and say it's concerned about foreign interference! Seriously? If you were really concerned about that, you wouldn't have entered into a string of free-trade deals that essentially allow large multinational corporations, including some state owned corporations from other countries, to come in and tell the Australian government and the Australian people what to do. But that's what they've done. When they come in here and say they have a bill that's about ensuring that Australia has a consistent foreign policy, and about helping minimise what they say is foreign interference, you look at it and think, 'Okay, are they going to start to unwind some of these free-trade deals?' No. Even though those trade deals minimise Australia's ability to legislate for the benefit of people in Australia, they're not going to unwind that.

And then I looked at the bill and thought, 'Is something else going to be in there that would go a long way towards making sure Australia can operate democratically—that is, getting big money out of politics?' No, that's not in there either. Why should that be in this bill? That should be in this bill for a very simple reason. For many of the scandals that we have seen over recent years, which have been about so-called overseas actors attempting to influence the Australian political system, what has been therein? Money. Therein has been to use money to try and fund candidates in the Liberal Party or the Labor Party and get them elected and get them into parliament and then seek to influence them in that way.

Surely, if you are concerned about that and you are concerned about the integrity of the Australian democratic system, the place to start is by reforming our donation laws to get the big corporate money out of politics—because that is a way that people can be influenced. Suggestions about how this bill can be improved, if that is something the government is seriously considering, would include a ban on political donations from certain sectors, full stop, which some states have done. Let's take it across the country. Mining, property development, tobacco, alcohol and gambling industries? No, you can't donate. And then you say there is a cap of $1,000 for everyone else; that's what you can donate each year. If you do that, you close off one of the main routes of influence over politicians—and it closes off all influence. Even big corporations in Australia might not like that, because it might mean they have a bit less influence over decisions that politicians make. But it would go a long way towards restoring some integrity to our democratic system.

Again, if the government is concerned about people in Australia acting in a way they think undermines integrity and democracy here, let's have a proper corruption watchdog—not the toothless tiger that the government is proposing, where politicians won't be publicly held to account, but a proper national ICAC. Those things would have the dual benefit not just of countering potential foreign interference but also of removing the pervasive corporate influence that degrades our politics.

In relation to universities, if the federal government wants to ensure that there is no risk of foreign interference in our tertiary institutions, provide them with secure, adequate funding. That might be a start. Put universities in a position where they don't have to go cap in hand, looking for funds. Fund them properly. Legislative changes over many years have shifted the cost of university education onto students and away from government, with dire consequences for student debt and university funding. The Greens are going to keep calling for proper funding of our universities, including increasing research funding, increasing the Commonwealth contribution to enable free higher education and increasing funding per Commonwealth supported place student by 10 per cent. Then our universities won't be compelled to seek financial support from elsewhere.

Aside from the fact that the bill is ineffective in what it sets out to do, because it doesn't include the things that actually would get to the source of interference in our democratic process, we are very concerned about the inadequate consultation process leading up to this bill. A large number of Australian universities have made it clear that this bill is unworkable. I quote from the Universities Australia's submission: it will 'deter the collaboration that is the lifeblood of Australian research'. The Greens are going to move amendments in the Senate to exempt universities from this legislation. In addition to the tertiary sector's concerns, experts like Professor George Williams have flagged that there are issues with the constitutional validity of the bills. The very concept that it is only the Commonwealth that can do it is something that needs to be further consulted on.

I want to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the coalition members' recent treatment of Chinese Australian citizens. At a Senate inquiry hearing on issues facing diaspora communities in October, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz asked the only three Chinese Australian witnesses to 'unconditionally condemn the Chinese Communist Party'. No other witnesses were singled out in this manner. To single out and question those three witnesses in that way is completely unacceptable behaviour, and Senator Abetz must apologise. The fact that he has not is an indictment on his superiors, including the Prime Minister. We must be very careful in our debate around foreign interference to ensure that multicultural Australians—particularly those with Chinese heritage—do not feel singled out. They should not be subject to loyalty tests, and nor should they feel that every time they speak about global issues or China or foreign interference they must condemn the Chinese Communist Party.

The Greens do not support these bills. We encourage the government to come back to parliament with legislation to implement donations reform and a proper anticorruption body and to reverse the trend of stripping our universities of funding and instead invest in our education system.

Debate interrupted.