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Morrison looks to tear up state deals with China


State government deals with foreign countries like Victoria’s controversial agreement with China could face cancellation under a new Morrison government plan.

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The federal coalition is flagging legislation to review and scrap state, territory, local council and public university deals with other nations.

It would also allow Foreign Minister Marise Payne to nip major agreements in the bud after states and territories notify an intention to negotiate with another country.

All deals would need federal approval and could be revoked later.

Councils or universities would not need approval to negotiate, but would need to tell the minister before striking a deal with foreign government entities.

Victoria’s non-legally binding sign on to China’s belt and road initiative has prompted concerns about foreign influence.

But the state government insists the deal is about boosting jobs and trade in infrastructure projects.

The foreign minister would have the power to terminate private contracts stemming from foreign deals, such as the belt and road initiative.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians rightly expected the federal government to set foreign policy.

“It is vital that when it comes to Australia’s dealings with the rest of the world we speak with one voice and work to one plan,” he said on Thursday.

He said it was important the federal government knew about all state government, council or university agreements.

“Where any of these agreements undermine how the federal government is protecting and promoting our national interests they can be cancelled,” Morrison said.

Within six months of the new regime coming into place, states and other bodies covered will have to complete a stocktake of existing agreements for the Commonwealth.

The minister will have the power to cancel deals if they are inconsistent with foreign policy or are detrimental to relations with other countries.

A public register will detail information about agreements and ministerial decisions.

The government is keen to pass the bill before the end of the year and will introduce legislation to federal parliament next week.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the changes would ensure all international agreements would be consistent with Australia’s values.

“It is vital for Australia’s prosperity, security and sovereignty that our foreign policy is driven by our national interest,” she said.

In recent weeks, security agencies briefed state and territory governments on implications for agreements that would be covered.


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