Victoria premier Daniel Andrews has insisted the state has a good deal out of its controversial involvement in China’s belt and road initiative.
That comes as the opposition has vowed to dump the agreement if it wins office in 2022.
Victoria struck a non-legally-binding deal with the communist country under its signature infrastructure program last year.
The agreement allows Victoria’s engineering and design firms to bid for contracts for belt and road initiative projects around the world.
It also involves the Chinese government encouraging its country’s building firms to establish a presence in Victoria and bid for state government infrastructure projects.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said China slugging hefty tariffs on Australian barley – affecting some Victorian farmers – shows the deal is a “dud” which has little to do with Victoria’s economic gain.
“This is not about trade, this is not about jobs. Tthis is all about political influence,” he told reporters on Monday.
Mr Andrews maintains the deal, along with many others the state has with China, is “all about jobs right here in Victoria”.
Chinese companies who have been investing in Victorian projects such as the Metro Tunnel have been employing tens of thousands of local workers, he noted.
The leader said that doesn’t mean he is turning a blind eye to China’s human rights record.
He noted his support for Australia’s statement, alongside the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, scolding China over new security laws aimed at protesters in Hong Kong.
“We don’t agree with China on everything,” Mr Andrews told reporters.
“But if you want a good trading relationship, if you want to send more Victorian-made product to China, to create jobs here in Victoria, then a good relationship on the things you can agree on is very, very important.”
Victorian Greens Leader Samantha Ratnam said she wanted to see more details on what Victoria’s belt and road deal involves.
“Victorians should know about what is contained within these type of trade agreements and relationships, and the issue is that we just don’t know and we should,” she told reporters.
A reduced number of politicians returned to state parliament on Tuesday, for the first Victorian sitting day since late April, when emergency laws around COVID-19 were passed.
Debate is set to resume this week on a number of bills, including government legislation aimed at lifting the state’s moratorium on onshore gas exploration and banning fracking.
A bill to crack down on wage theft is also up for debate.