Senate debates

Thursday, 3 December 2020


China-Australia Relationship

5:06 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate notes that the current dispute between China and Australia is more deep-seated than a trade spat involving wine, coal and timber.

The motion I moved is the opening paragraph in Robert Gottliebsen's newspaper article in The Australian yesterday, and I'll quote it again:

When China declared that Australia had been "evil" it suddenly became clear that the dispute between the two nations is more deep-seated than a trade spat involving wine coal, timber etc.

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia who is involved in the governance of Australia, I want to focus on Gottliebsen's meaty fourth paragraph:

From President Xi down, there has been little respect for Australia for a long time and many in China believe we are a foolish country that makes mistakes at almost every turn, led by defence.

He then details serious flaws in the governance of three Defence projects, the submarine 'shemozzle', as he calls it, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and the Hunter frigates. We obviously are 'a foolish country' based on this, and the obvious point of his article is our shoddy governments over many decades, both Liberal-National and Labor.

People in this country are feeling concerned about the seriously deteriorating state of our country. We have lost our economic sovereignty. We're losing our national sovereignty. We're plunging towards catastrophe economically, and dependence with a complete loss of security. People are fed up and, across many communities and industries—and I mean right around the country—people are feeling dispirited, hopeless, confused, aimless, wary, concerned and even fearful, because most can sense our country's destruction. Yet, 100 years ago Australia was No. 1 in the world in income per person and had the highest GDP—gross domestic product—per person.

There's a worse aspect beyond economic demise though. Bullies like China prey on those perceived as being weak. Gottliebsen rightly says that, due to poor, and even stupid, decisions, we're rightly perceived as being weak in defence. Yet he barely scratches the full extent of the deterioration of our security, because our productive capacity has been dismantled, and our economic security has been smashed, destroyed. We are vulnerable. Now, as a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, that is what I will discuss, because, like bullies in a schoolyard or in a workplace, China preys on those it perceives as weak or foolish. By the way, when I raise China, I refer to the Chinese Communist Party and not the millions of Australians of Chinese descent now in our country, descendants of those who came during the gold rushes almost two centuries ago, and those who immigrated more recently.

Not only does the Chinese Communist Party assess other nations against China's values and standards; the Chinese Communist Party assesses our country against our own values, and from that it finds out: Does our government have courage? Does our government have integrity? Do the politicians in this country and this parliament have the strength of character needed to lead a country? I've been thinking about this for some years now and I've made a list of Australian values: mateship; a fair go; support; loyalty; being fair dinkum; telling the truth; honesty; fairness; freedom to live; freedom of speech; freedom of thought; freedom of belief; freedom of religion; freedom of faith; freedom of interaction; freedom of exchange; democracy; our flag; our nation; family; care; respect for people; respect for community; respect for the law; respect for the environment; making sure government fulfils its three primary roles, which are protecting life, protecting property and protecting freedom, and stays out of everything else; and our Constitution. We value our Constitution, especially competitive federalism, and we value human progress. Australia has led that improvement in progress in the past 150 years. It has been amazing progress, right across the world.

So let's assess governments against these values and their impact on our productive capacity. Productive capacity depends on many things, but particularly energy costs—the primacy of energy. An ever-decreasing cost of energy has led to 150 years of human progress. Australia has gone from having the world's lowest electricity prices to having the world's highest, yet we're now the world's largest exporter of energy—gas and coal. China imports a lot of our coal, but the production of coal in their own country is eight times our total production—not just our exports but our total production. They make us look like small producers of coal. They have the largest coal reserves in the world, along with the United States. They use our coal. They're building steel power plants out of our coal, and they're building hundreds of coal-fired power stations.

We legislate to use their wind turbines and their solar panels. We subsidise them. It drives up the cost of our electricity, and we pay them for unreliables—their solar and wind generators. We pay them for components of electric vehicles, which we also subsidise. And then we have Chinese companies, affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, owning electricity networks in our major cities. Then we have the Queensland Labor government stealing $1½ billion a year through the generators. All of this destroys jobs and destroys competitiveness.

Then taxpayers pay people, quite often foreigners, to come in and squat on the land, just to get carbon dioxide credits. It's called carbon dioxide farming. It takes good farmland and destroys it with noxious weeds and feral animals—pests—and then that has to be reclaimed at some later date; who knows when. Then we have Angus Taylor, the Minister for Energy and Emissions, a farmer. He knows that the EPBC Act is hurting him—I've had conversations with him—but he just smiles, rolls his eyes and puts up with it. He is a sceptic on climate change—sceptical that we are affecting the climate. He's been slammed, and he's now coming back into parliament and driving up electricity prices. Matt Canavan, Barnaby Joyce: strong sceptics in their beliefs. Barnaby Joyce was the Deputy Prime Minister. The Chinese know that. They watch him. They saw him come into cabinet and they saw him run for election in New England, when he moved out of the Senate and into the lower house. And Malcolm Turnbull, to get Mr Joyce elected, showered $400 million of taxpayer funds on unreliable wind power. Then Matt Canavan and Barnaby Joyce were both in the cabinet, and they suddenly became alarmists, spouting alarm about carbon dioxide.

So I asked Matt Canavan in the Senate one day where his evidence was, and he just slid away from me. Now that he's out of cabinet and Mr Joyce is out of cabinet, all of a sudden they're becoming a little bit sceptical again in their words. But the Chinese Communist Party see this and that tells them a lot about the lack of leadership in this country.

The Chinese have their own agreement within the Paris Agreement. It says, 'We will continue doing whatever we want, continue growing our economy, continue constructing our country, developing our country and putting in place infrastructure, and then in 2030 we may consider something.' Meanwhile, this parliament in this building has legislated to destroy our economy to comply with Kyoto. That's not an agreement; that is stupidity and economic suicide. The Chinese Communist Party watches us pay academics to tell lies about climate and to misrepresent the climate science. We even put some of them in charge of or in senior places in the CSIRO and pay them $800,000 a year to destroy our country. Dr Andrew Johnson went from head of the climate research agency department in the CSIRO to become head of the Bureau of Meteorology. Under him and his predecessors, the Bureau of Meteorology has been shown to be concocting the data and misrepresenting temperatures.

We pay people like Ove Hoegh-Gulberg and Ian Chubb, former chief scientists, to destroy the science, to misrepresent the science. In 1975, Whitlam signed an agreement saying we'll comply with the Lima Declaration to shut down our manufacturing and export it. The following year, Liberal Prime Minister Fraser ratified the deal. In 1992, Paul Keating's Labor government signed the Rio Declaration, which is about 21st century global governance. Then we had the Kyoto protocol destroying our country, stealing our farmers' property rights. And now we have the Paris Agreement exporting jobs and shutting manufacturing.

Then the current Prime Minister has the temerity to say, 'We will fiddle with the industrial relations system to bring back manufacturing.' How the hell can you bring back manufacturing when you have the highest electricity costs in the world and a big component of manufacturing—the largest component, usually—is the cost of electricity? How the hell can you do it with a tax system that favours multinational companies and lets them off scot-free? How the hell can you do it with overregulation? How the hell can you do it with a lack of water? How the hell can you do it with a lack of infrastructure? The Chinese are watching this and they're helping us destroy our electricity sector and export even more jobs, because our prices for electricity are going up, businesses are shutting and then the jobs start up in China.

We are now reversing the last 170 years of human progress, because the key to human progress is decreasing the price of energy, which raises productivity, raises wealth, raises the standard of living. That ended in this country 24 years ago. We have ceded governance to the UN: Lima, Kyoto, Rio, Paris and many other agreements. How does this comply with Aussie values? How does it comply with being fair dinkum? Worse, the granddaddy who concocted this climate change rubbish was Maurice Strong. He concocted it when he created and then took over as head of the United Nations Environment Program. He pushed that program, starting from the 1970s, and in the 1980s he ramped it up. In 1988 he formed the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a fraudulent organisation. And the Liberals, Labor, the Nationals and the Greens have fallen for it all. Maurice Strong was a crook. He was wanted by the police in America and died in exile in China. Who's the beneficiary of all this destruction of Western civilisation? The Chinese government.

That's what the people in this chamber and the chamber across the hall there have done to this country by blindly following the UN diktats. How does that comply with our values? It doesn't. It breaks our values. What about water ownership? Destroyed by separating water ownership from property ownership. What about the Murray-Darling Basin and the corruption that is rife? What about the family farms shutting down? What about water projects? What water projects? That's it; there aren't any. And yet look at what amazing water projects the Chinese Communist Party has put together to develop its country.

What about infrastructure? Hardly anything built and no plan. The north is exposed without the Bradfield scheme and we see floods destroying Townsville. There is destruction and a waste of water flowing out to sea. We see the state governments joining in. The Labor Party in Queensland has reef regulations which are shutting down agriculture. Vegetation protection legislation is destroying agriculture. Firebreaks aren't allowed and are being destroyed when farms are under fire. We put animals and fungus ahead of humans.

The Queensland Labor government put a Chinese company in charge of the electoral roll and then there is Queensland local council corruption linked to the Labor state government. This extends well beyond Ipswich and Paul Pisasale; it is systemic and it is widespread. We have foreign banks that were deregulated under John Howard and we saw the result of that through the Hayne royal commission. We see Adani frustrated by both the Liberal-National and Labor governments in Queensland and by the federal government, which was weak. That's one man from India, which has a booming, growing economy, who wanted to spend $17 billion in our country. He was thwarted for eight years. That's a blight on us that not even the Chinese can miss—that no-one in the world can miss. We go on and on and on.

I give Senator Rex Patrick credit for moving a motion to get an inquiry into the relationship between China and Australia six times—and I supported him every time. Both the Labor Party and the Liberal-Nationals squashed it. This is what the Chinese are seeing, yet Australians are wanting far more. Australians want leadership. Australians want security, reassurance, confidence, leadership, trust, pride and freedom—a restoration so that we can be No. 1 in the world again. What does Australia need? It needs principled leadership based on values. It needs disciplined leadership based on data and facts instead of ideology paying off donors. It needs honest leadership and strength of character. It's the simple ability to say: 'I'm wrong, I'm sorry—can you help me? Please explain.' We need visionary policies, and that is what will take us back to being No. 1.

5:21 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in this debate. I note the time, so I'll keep my contribution very short to give others an opportunity, albeit a very short one.

I think that perhaps it would be the understatement of the year—and we have had many serious issues to consider this year—to say that we are seeing an aggressively assertive China in the way it is dealing with the rest of the world. But I think it's very important to make the point that Australia's position in standing up for its own position in the world and its own sovereignty, making decisions based on our national interest, has not changed. We are a trading nation and we are a nation which supports the free flow of trade and goods according to international rules and norms. That's something that we expect to benefit all nations and we certainly hope that all nations commit to that as well, including China.

It is for China to explain itself and its actions. We have always welcomed China's economic growth, and trade has lifted many people out of poverty right across the world and right across the region. We need to make sure that all nations in the world engage with each other in a way that is respectful of each country's sovereignty. We support the peaceful development and prosperity of our region.

Clearly, Australia is now facing a number of trade issues in our relationship with China. Some of them are very recent and some of them date back a number of years. Clearly, the rhetoric has escalated in the last few weeks and months. The cumulative impact of these issues means that the perception is growing, particularly following Ambassador Cheng's remarks in April, that there are other factors driving China's trade actions against Australia. But Australia has not descended into tit for tat. We have been calm—the Morrison government has been calm—we have been consistent and we have been measured. It is a matter for the Chinese authorities to explain plainly and clearly what is driving these concerning actions which are disrupting our bilateral trade.

As I said, this is a very important matter and the clock is ticking down. I'm sure we'll have many more opportunities over the week ahead, and certainly into next year, to discuss these matters further. I will leave my contribution there for now.

5:24 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate being given a few minutes at this juncture to make some comments on behalf of the Labor Party. I, too, will try to finish in time to give Senator Patrick a few minutes. On the face of it, Senator Roberts' notice of motion is pretty anodyne. Labor will be supporting the proposition. I did have some misgiving, though, that it would be the vehicle for the kind of bellicose language that Senator Roberts is prone to giving, and those misgivings proved to be well-founded. He did cite an article by Mr Gottliebsen yesterday that talked about people regarding Australia as foolish. I don't accept that characterisation. Senator Roberts has made no small contribution himself to the view that many countries across the region have about some of the darker recesses of Australian thinking in relation to the region.While he's free to speak his mind, words have consequences. It didn't take too long there to move from views about the government of China to an alleged one-world government, across to the Bradfield scheme and the usual rhetorical flourishes that Senator Roberts has about things that move from the real to the world of conspiracy theories very, very quickly.

As the resolution says, this is a more deep-seated problem than a trade spat. The language 'trade spat' I think is an effort to diminish the seriousness of the economic issues and trade issues that confront the country. Peabody coal announced today that it would be standing workers down at its Helensburgh mine for eight weeks—very high-quality metallurgical coal exported around the world. That is a very serious issue in the Hunter Valley. The resolution touches on timber, wine and coal. But lobsters, sugar, copper, beef, wheat and barley are all important regional industries and important regional employers. Many, many tens of thousands of jobs rest upon those industries. What I want to see is a more thorough, thoughtful, careful and strategic debate within this parliament over the course of 2021. And I want to see a more thoughtful, strategic approach and, indeed, a plan from the Morrison government, about how we're going to deal with not just the trade questions but about Australia's relationships across the region, including our relationship with China.

The problem is that the Morrison government has failed to prepare Australia for the new realities in the region. Mr Morrison has no plan to diversify Australia's export markets and no plan to deepen our relationships with the other countries in the region. Just today the Morrison government has put a bill through the Senate that confirms it's solely responsible for foreign relations. That means Mr Morrison and the minister need to show leadership and actually take responsibility, instead of just using foreign policy as another vehicle for slogans and splashy headlines. As a result, Mr Morrison has made a bad situation worse.

Foreign policy and strategy are not just about events. When significant events have occurred, the Labor Party, our leader, Mr Albanese, the leader here, Senator Wong, and our spokesperson on foreign policy have supported the government in a bipartisan way. Whether it's events like the disgraceful tweet from earlier this week, the Labor Party has provided bipartisan support. But strategy isn't about events; strategy is about having a clear view of what the national interest is, a clear construction of what is in the interests of Australia and Australians and then prosecuting a strategy that delivers a good outcome for the country in terms of our economy and in terms of regional peace, stability and economic growth across the region—of course, a strategy that's consistent with Australia's values. The problem is that there has been a clear articulation of those positions across previous governments but there has been a sense of strategic drift and lack of a policy approach from this government over the course of the last seven years.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be agreed to. A division having been called, it will be deferred until Monday, when the Senate next sits. The debate is adjourned accordingly.

5:30 pm

Photo of Sam McMahonSam McMahon (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

on indulgence—I seek leave to withdraw a question I asked during cross-chamber banter. Interjections are always disorderly, so I would like to seek leave to withdraw that.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

You don't need to seek leave. I will take the comment as having been withdrawn, not being here at the time.