Ns News Online Desk: The Australian government is planning to introduce legislation which would enable it to veto agreements made by local governments and public organizations with foreign governments.
The foreign relations bill would require any deals with foreign countries to get final approval from the foreign affairs minister.
PM Scott Morrison said it was vital that Australia “speak with one voice”. The move may threaten a controversial deal Victoria state agreed with China.
The state’s decision to sign up to China’s Belt and Road initiative – a global infrastructure project that aims to expand global trade links – drew criticism from the federal government, as well as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Chinese-government run Confucius Institutes operating at Australian universities could also be affected by the new laws, amid growing alarm at what Canberra has called unprecedented levels of foreign interference on campuses.
Under the new powers, which are subject to parliamentary approval, all states and local governments, as well as universities, must notify the federal government of their existing agreements with foreign governments. Any further negotiations they enter into will also be subject to approval by the foreign affairs minister.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that there are at least 19 agreements by states and territories, 11 by local government and 12 by universities that will be scrutinized by the federal government.
“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,” Prime Minister Morrison said, announcing the legislation.
“Where any of these agreements undermine how the federal government is protecting and promoting our national interests they can (be) cancelled.”
New agreements would be signed off by Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who said: “It is vital for Australia’s prosperity, security and sovereignty that our foreign policy is driven by our national interest.”