STATES HAVE A ROLE IN WORLD

29 August 2020

It is hard not to be cynical about the Federal Government's latest hardline headline-grabbing national security laws to guard against foreign interference in light of the extraordinary inconsistency of this Government's failed approach to China.
 
Let's not forget, it was this Coalition Government that in 2017 entered into a secretive deal linked to China's Belt and Road Initiative, which is believed to involve co-operation in building infrastructure in third-party countries.
 
The Government still refuses to let the public know exactly what it signed the nation up to.
 
Let's not forget also that in August 2018, it was then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull who said he looked forward to working with China on the BRI-linked projects.
 
And only three months later, after he unceremoniously pushed Turnbull out the door, the current PM Scott Morrison welcomed "the contribution the Belt and Road Initiative can make in meeting the infrastructure needs of the region".
 
No Australian should forget that under this Government a 99-year lease for the Port of Darwin - a strategic asset was granted to a Chinese company.
 
And all Australians should be reminded that it was the Coalition that pressed Parliament to agree to an extradition treaty with China following its signing by then attorney-general Philip Ruddock in the dying days of the Howard government.
 
All Labor MPs and senators act in the national interest. We always have and will continue to do so.
 
There is no dispute that foreign policy is the responsibility of the Commonwealth, but the States will always have an important role in our relationships with other nations. It is the States that are principally responsible for the administration and oversight of our most significant export industries.
 
Take for instance, the iron ore industry of Western Australia.
 
The ownership of the ore remains with the State, and the State collects the royalties for the benefit of WA and the nation.
 
It was the concerted effort of political and business leaders of WA that built the nation's largest export industry following the eventual partial lifting of the Federal embargo on iron ore exports in 1960.
 
For many years, the Menzies Liberal government opposed the export of any iron ore at all from Australia.
 
It was the Liberal premier of WA, Sir David Brand, after whom my seat is named, that pressed the case for the creation of a new industry with PM Robert Menzies.
 
Eventually, the Western Australians prevailed, but it took until 1966 for the Menzies government to end in its entirety the Federal embargo on the export of iron ore.
 
It was the efforts of the State government of WA to influence Federal foreign policy that sowed the seeds of an industry that employs many thousands of people and is now worth $100 billion a year to Australia.
 
A more recently developed export industry managed by the States is international education.
 
An industry worth $37.6 billion to Australia, sadly unsupported by the Morrison Government during the COVID-19 crisis, also employs many thousands.
 
International education depends upon the relationships between universities across the country and the nations that send us their best and brightest young people for a good quality education.
 
Australian universities know their markets well, and have spent decades developing relationships abroad with little assistance from a Federal Government that seeks to apply cut after vicious cut to the higher education sector.
 
It is difficult to understand how the Federal Liberal Government expects Australian universities to survive without the international education industry the universities themselves have created.
 
In WA, Premier Mark McGowan introduced the visionary policy of an Asian Engagement Strategy, and appointed the State's first Minister for Asian Engagement, Bill Johnston.
 
Peter Tinley now carries out that ministerial responsibility which establishes a strategy for WA to build and diversify its export markets and improve our people-to-people relationships with our near neighbours.
 
The States of Australia, along with large trusted institutions such as universities and business, will always have an important role in Australia's engagement with the world.
 
We all have a responsibility to work together to protect Australia's sovereignty.
 
No one is arguing against the importance of our national independence and the need for Australia to protect its democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech, and the contest of our parliamentary system.
 
But any legislation by the Federal Government that seeks to restrain the ongoing good work of State governments needs to respect the important productive relationships States have built, which have been manifestly in the national interest for decades.
 
The Prime Minister spends a lot of time telling the nation how good the National Cabinet is, yet he launches public attacks on the ongoing work of the States to diversify their economies.
 
Surely, in matters of national security and national interest, consultation, collaboration and co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States is what true national leadership should look like?
 
Instead, the Government blindsided the States with its latest marketing push, and Australia is offered no leadership at all.
 
Australia deserves better.
 

This piece was first published in The West Australian on Saturday, 29 August 2020