Victoria’s Opposition has called for an inquiry into Premier Daniel Andrews’ controversial visit to China as concerns continue to be raised over what shadow immigration minister Dan Tehan describes as Andrews’ “secret trip.”
Andrews is currently in China for a four-day visit before he returns to Melbourne on April 1; Andrews has been criticised for not inviting media along, as well as meeting representatives of an association that the United States has deemed to “influence state and local leaders to promote the PRC’s global agenda.”
On March 30, David Davis, spokesperson for Victoria’s Opposition, said an enquiry by the state’s upper house’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee into the premier’s China visit was “important.”
“Without proper transparency, without proper accountability, we can’t be sure that we are getting the best outcomes that Victorians would expect,” Davis said on March 30, reported The Herald Sun.
“This would be an opportunity to interrogate and question the secretary of DPC (Department of Cabinet and Premier) about what has been achieved and ask what else would have been achieved if the trip had been more open and transparent.”
However, Davis’ call for an inquiry was a surprise for committee chair member and Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell, who said the committee could only consider such a proposal at the next committee hearing on April 28.
The Economy and Infrastructure Committee is made up of nine MPs and is currently chaired by Purcell; the committee’s deputy chairman is David Davis.
“Any members who want to bring an issue for consideration and potentially a self-referral for an inquiry will need to wait as an agenda item,” she told 3AW’s, Neil Mitchell. “It’s at its earlier stages even as a proposal.”
However, the premier would not be compelled to appear before such an inquiry.
“It would be a representative instead—whether or not it’s the best way to proceed is another question,” Purcell said.
When asked whether she had concerns over Andrews’ China trip, Purcell said any member of parliament needs to provide a detailed report on any international travel.
“That would be tabled in the parliament in due course,” she said. “There are procedures in place for reporting back on international travel that is quite transparent.”
However, Andrews has also been criticised for not inviting Victorian media on the trip.
Karen Percy, Media President of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said that scrutiny was important for overseas trips, especially when Australian journalists have been kicked out of the communist country.
“Australia’s relationship with China is sensitive at the moment, and you would think that would actually mean there’s more scrutiny, not less,” Percy told AAP.
“The decision by Andrews not to take journalists with him to China is deeply disappointing. A visit to a crucial trading partner at a crucial time needs media scrutiny. Govts across Oz pay lip service to press freedom & the public’s right to know,” Percy wrote on Twitter.
However, Victorian Assistant Treasurer Danny Pearson has denied any lack of transparency surrounding the trip.
Pearson said Victorian ministers were fronting up to journalists, and Andrews would answer questions when he returned to Melbourne on April 1.
Meanwhile, opposition leader John Pessuto has also criticised the premier’s China trip.
“For Daniel Andrews to go to China and drip feed Australian media, particularly Victorian media and the Victorian people, with very basic information that doesn’t tell anybody what the real purposes of the visit are, is a real slap in the face when it comes to transparency,” Pessuto told reporters on March 30.
“I don’t find it acceptable at all that these types of trips can be conducted to the exclusion of the media.
“We are all entitled to know the full details of the trip.”
On March 28, only a schedule on who the premier was meeting was published, including a meeting with the VP of the “Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.”
Meeting with Chinese Association Criticised for ‘Influencing’ Leaders
Andrews also met with the mayor of Beijing and the Vice President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC).
The CPAFFC was criticised in 2020 by former U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who accused it of “co-opting subnational governments” to “directly and malignly influence state and local leaders.”
The CPAFFC is entrusted by the PRC government with overseeing and developing “sister” relationships between China and localities in the United States and other nations, according to the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center (pdf).
In 2020, the U.S. Department of State withdrew the United States from the formal agreement supporting the China-U.S. Governors Forum, noting “CPAFFC’s actions have undermined the Governors Forum’s original well-intentioned purpose.”
However, Pearson denied Andrews was at risk of Chinese influence or interference.
“I don’t think anyone has manipulated the premier ever,” Pearson told reporters on March 29.
“The premier is his own man, and the notion he’s some sort of Manchurian candidate is just laughable.”
Michael Shoebridge, director of Strategic Analysis Australia, has previously told The Epoch Time that it was good news to see the premier at least coordinating with Prime Minister Albanese before his trip.
“But there is still a high risk that Beijing sees Andrews as a useful and uncritical pro-China voice in Australia’s domestic debate that they can use to drive wedges in the country’s national approach to China,” he said.
The Epoch Times has contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs seeking clarification as to whether The Department holds the same position as the U.S. in reference to CPAFFC, but a response was not received by press time.