VICTORIAN POLITICAL REPORTER
The Australian May 19 2020.
PAEC deputy chair and Liberal MP Richard Riordan opened his questions to Ms Allan on Wednesday with reference to Ms Kitching’s comments, asking: “Minister, your Metro tunnels and West Gate tunnel projects are now are wildly over budget, and short on Australian materials.
How much of Victoria's new $24.5 billion in borrowings will you need to finish these projects, and how much of that is likely to come from your arrangements with the Chinese government?”
Ms Allan initially sought to deflect the question by focusing on a comment Mr Riordan had made in passing about public transport in his electorate, before Mr Riordan interjected: “Minister, back to the tunnels. What are your commitments with the Chinese government?”
PAEC Chair and Labor MP Lizzie Blandthorn then intervened, asking Mr Riordan to keep his questions “relevant” to the terms of reference of the inquiry, which is looking into the government’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s very relevant. We’re wondering how it’s funded. Go for it, minister. Have you got an answer?” Mr Riordan hit back.
Ms Allan said: “In regards to the Metro Tunnel, and I think you also mentioned the West Gate tunnel, these are two really important projects that have been talked about for a very, very long time and we’re really pleased to be getting on with them and seeing work happen on the Metro Tunnel.”
Ms Allan replied: “I believe Premier and Treasurer have previously appeared before this committee in the last week or so (and) they’ve both indicated that when it comes to that $24(.5) billion facility that's being provided for in the legislation that passed through the parliament …, the expenditure of those funds will be accounted for in accordance with the requirements set out in the Financial Management Act, and I’ve got nothing further to add.”
Mr Riordan continued to urge Ms Allan to return to the issue of Chinese involvement in building and funding Victorian infrastructure projects.
Ms Allan replied: “That question that you go to around commitments made with China and commitments on our projects, I think it’s more than a little overstepping the bounds of the terms of reference for this inquiry and the bounds of any sort of decent public discussion about public delivery of transport infrastructure projects in this state.
“We have responsible and appropriate discussions with all of our contractors who are, some of them are international contractors, some of them are domestic contractors.
“We talk with all of our contractors on all of our projects all the time on how best to deliver those projects, and importantly, the thousands and thousands of jobs.”
Mr Riordan then asked: “Will you rule out using the Belt and Road agreements with your government and the Chinese government to help finish these projects?”
Ms Allan then sought Ms Blandthorn’s assistance to have the question ruled out of order on the basis that it was “not relevant” to the inquiry terms of reference.
“I think Victorians think it’s a relevant question,” Mr Riordan replied. “She’s asking for (Ms Blandthorn’s) protection so she doesn’t have to answer the question.”
“The budget is in crisis because of coronavirus, the government has made a commitment to borrow another $24.5bn, these projects are overblown, and Victorians need to know and want to know where the money's coming from and I think it’s an entirely reasonable question, which the minister has now for the best part of 10 minutes dodged answering.”
“This is the biggest borrowing project in the state's history, and you will not allow questions about where that money is coming from. That is ridiculous,”
Mr Andrews broke ranks with the federal government in October 2018 when Victoria became the only Australian jurisdiction to sign a memorandum of understanding with Beijing on the controversial BRI on trade and investment — a scheme seen by Canberra as a vehicle for Chinese regional and global expansion.
The four-page MOU said Victoria would work with China to promote the “connectivity” of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people, while acknowledging the state was “welcoming and supporting” of the BRI and would promote “the Silk Road spirit”.
Mr Andrews travelled to China to sign a second BRI deal in October last year, agreeing on areas of co-operation including increasing the involvement of Chinese companies in Victoria’s $107bn infrastructure program.
Extract From Article. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/minister-refuses-to-clarify-chinese-links-to-245bn-loan-plan/news-story/3532bb9a84d081a692970ee44364095a