The Coalition Government and Labor Opposition today combined forces to veto a Senate inquiry into Australia’s engagement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“Neither the Coalition or Labor could bring themselves to support a motion that included the C-word – China,” Senator Rex Patrick observed today after the Government and Opposition voted against a Centre Alliance motion for the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee to inquire into the BRI, including the Victorian Government’s decision to sign a memorandum of understanding with China.

Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “surprised that the Victorian Government went into that arrangement without any discussions with the Commonwealth government at all or taking … any advice … on what is a matter of international relations.”

“A Senate inquiry could have brought together the full range of strategic, diplomatic, economic and trade perspectives on Australia’s engagement with the Belt and Road Initiative,” Senator Patrick said.

“However the Government refused to back a Senate inquiry without offering any explanation whatsoever. Similarly, Labor said absolutely nothing.”

“Behind the scenes it was made clear to me that the Government’s recent diplomacy with China has been so ‘successful’ that they fear that any Parliamentary inquiry relating to China would risk a backlash from Beijing.”

“As for the Labor Party, there is no doubt that they would put partisan support for the Victorian Labor Government ahead of any consideration of the national interest.”

“As I observed last week, Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye has demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of Australia’s federal system of government and the partisan fractures of Australian politics.”

“The Chinese Embassy now knows that they have a firm grip on both the Coalition and Labor, so neither will take any step or say anything that Beijing might not like.”

“It is deeply unfortunate that the Coalition and Labor would not support, in an open and bipartisan way, a Senate inquiry into this vitally important foreign and trade policy question.”

“Today’s Senate vote amounts to a dangerous exercise in political and diplomatic self-censorship.”