Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference
I am pleased to support the motion moved by Senator Lambie. In fact, it is the same motion, or in the same terms, as the one I proposed for an inquiry a year ago, on 10 June 2020. That proposed motion was, in turn, the sixth in a series of motions over 18 months seeking a referral to a committee on the topic of China, all of which were rejected by the coalition and Labor. Neither has offered a satisfactory explanation as to why the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee should not inquire into the future of one of Australia's most important international relationships.
I would argue that the Senate's refusal to establish an inquiry two years ago, or even a year ago, was a major lost opportunity. Such an inquiry could have engaged the full range of interests and stakeholders involved in our relations with China. The advantages of such an engagement and discussion were clear then and are even more obvious now. Again, this inquiry would be about looking at areas where there is good in the relationship but also areas that we need to avoid, fix or take action in regard to. I think that's even more important now, as we face a very challenging set of circumstances presented to us by the People's Republic of China.
A number of coalition senators and Labor senators have privately expressed to me their interest in support for an inquiry into our relations with China. Senator Kitching was once prepared to co-sponsor a motion, only to withdraw at the last minute. Senator Fierravanti-Wells did vote for this motion when it was last put to a vote, last year, and I thank her for that. In any case, we have a motion before us today.
Our relationship with China is at its lowest ebb since the late 1960s. The way forward is uncertain and fraught with difficulty as we seek to maintain a diplomatic dialogue with Beijing while defending our national interests and our sovereignty. In these circumstances, a wide-ranging Senate inquiry to report by 30 November would be useful and indeed essential to help chart the way forward, and I commend the motion to the Senate.