SPEAKING ON A MOTION | BARLEY TARIFFS
Mr Melhem: Now, listening to debate on this motion, if you look at the actual motion itself, on condemning China, or any other country for that matter, for placing 80 per cent tariffs on Australian barley or any product, every sensible person will say, ‘Absolutely, that’s something we should not accept or tolerate’.
The tariff war finished in the 1990s. In the 1980s and the 90s the whole world came together and started talking about liberalisation of trade and abolition of tariffs, and Australia was leading the way. In fact the Labor government led by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating was the one which actually opened up the economy. Listening to debate from the opposition, I wish they had put this motion without getting into the politics—without using that, looked at it with a bipartisan approach and basically just focused on that particular issue itself without talking about the Belt and Road Initiative. An MOU was signed before the last state election. It is no different to Western Australia and various other jurisdictions, and it is not a legally binding agreement. In fact Victoria is getting a lot of benefit out of that cooperation. In fact Victoria’s sister province has now for about 30 years—
Mr Davis: Forty.
Mr Melhem: What is it, 40 years? Thank you, Mr Davis. So our relationship with China goes back. But no, we have to spoil this, we have to go down the gutter and play politics and turn it into a race issue—
A member interjected.
Mr Melhem: I am sorry, but it is. It is a race issue. I am not enjoying standing up and saying this, but what comes to mind is Pauline Hanson. I think John Howard had the guts and the conviction to kick her out of the party when she started making such remarks.
I did not see the opposition jumping up and down when not long ago America—Mr Trump—imposed tariffs on Australian steel and Australian aluminium. I have got to say the federal government did the right thing. They stood up, they took it up to Trump and they said, ‘We’re supposed to be friends and allies—don’t put tariffs on us’, and, credit to them, he reversed that decision. That issue has been subject to a review now. I totally oppose it. I think no tariffs. We have to fight this. We have to stand up and say to the Chinese government and to any government which wants to impose tariffs, ‘We oppose it, and we’re not going to work with you’. We have got to go and argue our case, but let us not turn it into politics.
The comments Ms Shing made were absolutely right. Chinese immigrants came to Australia definitely before I came to Australia; they were among the early settlers. They are proud people. The opposition is playing this game. There is a COVID-19 investigation, and yes, I will support that. There should be an independent investigation about the origin, what went right and what went wrong with COVID-19 and how we can avoid that; no-one can say no to that. But to turn it again into a political issue with Chinese Australians getting attacked on the street, getting verballed and feeling like they are second-class citizens, to me that is not the country I know. We should refrain from using that as a political issue, but unfortunately the conservative side of politics always likes to take this colonial type of approach. It is disgusting really. I think you basically just did yourself a disservice by politicising this issue.
They talk about, ‘The Premier signed a secret agreement with the Chinese government about the Australian agreements’. Well, let me tell you, I was supposed to speak on another motion that Mr Davis put and I went and googled ‘MOU between Victoria and China’. And guess what? It is there. I printed it. I have got a copy if you want a copy of it, Mr Davis. I am happy to give you a copy. It is signed by the Premier. You are nodding, Mr Davis. For the record, he is acknowledging he has got a copy of it, so it is not a secret. There is no secret deal. I congratulate the Premier for standing up for Victorian jobs and for Victorian businesses to make sure that Victorian companies can invest and grow their jobs here and export to China, and obviously everything is two-way traffic. Do I condemn China imposing an 80 per cent tariff on our barley? Of course. I do not support that, and I hope they see the light and they drop it. I expect the Prime Minister and the trade minister actually can do better than what they have done so far, working with the Premier of Western Australia, which is another state that has a lot of work and a lot of business with China, and basically sort out this problem.
Now, even friends have arguments from time to time. We call China a partner, yet the only thing I have heard from the opposition is, ‘Oh, the Communist Party, they’re the enemy’. Well, let me tell you, as far as I am concerned China is not the enemy. Do I agree with their system of governance? No, I do not. I like democracy. But that is their system. I am not going to tell them how to suck eggs and how to run their country. But we should not be attacking them simply because we do not like their politics, while on the other hand we want their business. Well, make up your mind. You do not want to do business and do trade with them, or you want to have a total boycott. If that is what you want, then let us close the border and say, ‘Okay, we’re not going to do any dealing with China’. Should we have a blue with China about the 80 per cent tariff? Bloody oath we should, but with a bit of respect. Have a bit of respect and a bit of dignity and stop using it as a political football.
I think the opposition, if they have got half a bit of intelligence, will actually support what the Premier has done in terms of the MOU and strengthening the working relationship and trade between Victoria and China. We have seen a lot of benefit coming out of that. I did hear some debate about, ‘Maybe we should use our influence to say to the Chinese partners they should lift the tariff’, and I agree. But you cannot attack them on one hand and then ask for help on the other. You have got to make your mind up. So while I support that there should not be any tariff on any barley from any country, including China, definitely I do not support the intent brought by the opposition to this house in relation to an attack on China and the Chinese people, because I think it is unfair and uncalled for.
Motion agreed to.