Senate debates

Monday, 9 September 2019


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference

9:04 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | Hansard source

I thank senators for their input in this debate. Just going to the government's comments about the fact that this is a complex relationship with China, I don't disagree with that statement for a moment, but it's because of that complexity that we don't simply want to leave suggestions and perspectives only to government departments. Government departments don't always see some of the things that other Australians might. Government departments don't always get it right—and I mean that respectfully. We would benefit from the submissions of many. We would benefit from hearing from many. Indeed, there could even be opportunity for the committee itself to visit China to get a close and up-front perspective, perhaps presented to it by the Chinese government.

Labor's solution to this I find quite disturbing. We are facing a fairly significant change in our foreign, economic and strategic policy, and their response to that is that we should all have private briefings. We should all sit in a room and just listen to what government agencies tell us, well away from the earshot of the Australian public, who would be most interested in this particular topic because it is a most important relationship. I take Senator Roberts's point about political institutions, and perhaps 'any related matters' might cover that, but thank you for that consideration.

I'll just close off with a couple of rhetorical questions. I just wonder why it was okay in 2005 and 2006 for the Senate to conduct an inquiry into China, quite respectfully. What's changed that we can no longer do that? Certainly we know the importance to Australia of China has changed. I just wonder whether or not, if I had moved a reference motion for an inquiry into the United States and our relationship with the United States, we'd have, perhaps, a different response from government and the opposition. Just listening to people kind of made me think, 'Why does China fear such an inquiry?' I'm not sure it would. Why would the government and the opposition not go down this pathway? Is there something that the Chinese fear? I think we should think about that. More importantly, why is this chamber not going to support a comprehensive inquiry into what I consider to be the most important relationship we will have—certainly economically—moving into the future? I just can't help but think there's a bit of kowtowing taking place here from both of the major political parties. With that, I put the question.


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