Senate debates

Monday, 9 September 2019


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference

8:27 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | Hansard source

I thank fellow senators for the opportunity this evening to speak to this. It's clear there's a strong interest among members and senators in the management of Australia's relationship with China. There have been many expressions of this interest, including this proposal from Senator Patrick for an inquiry. Labor note the government will not be supporting an inquiry, but we believe that the call for an inquiry reflects the broader desire amongst parliamentarians to be better briefed on the points of convergence and the points of divergence in Australia's relationship with China.

China is, and will continue to be, of great importance to Australia, the region and the world. The key question for Australia is: how do we make the relationship best work for us? It is reasonable and appropriate for parliamentarians to want assurance that our national interest is being served, and access to quality briefing is critical in constructive parliamentary engagement. Last month, in the interests of a calm and mature debate and the hope of continuing a bipartisan approach to the relationship, Labor wrote to the foreign minister requesting that relevant agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Office of National Intelligence provide a detailed and comprehensive briefing for parliamentarians on Australia's relationship with China. Labor have not received a response, but recent events have only emphasised that Australia's relationship with China is complex and consequential and getting more so.

Last week, Labor formally reiterated our request for a comprehensive briefing, which we maintain is a critical first step in parliamentary engagement. We have also determined that the proposed inquiry is not the best approach to the discussion at this time. Labor are also establishing caucus processes for engagement on this subject, because Labor believe it is the job of all parliamentarians to protect and advance the national interest. The national interest is best served by a bipartisan approach to the relationship. This does not mean uncritical support for the government's approach. Rather, it means a sensible, calm and mature discussion, without seeking to exploit complexities in the China relationship for political advantage.


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