Ever since the Victorian Liberal opposition made a mess of its campaign for the state election and the Labor government increased its majority1, the Liberal Party have been trying desperately to pretend they are electable. This is a difficult proposition because the Victorian Liberal Party has been taken over by religious nutters, just as religion is in decline across the country2. That aside, during the most dangerous crisis Victoria faced, the first and second waves of Covid-19, all the Victorian opposition could do was snipe from the ineffectual sidelines. The worst at this were the leader of the opposition Michael O’Brien, Tim Smith and Georgie Crozier. When state premier Dan Andrews locked down Victoria, they whined about it. Tim Smith and others were demanding that restrictions be eased and when Andrews refused, he was called a Dictator Dan or Chairman Dan. This was also a constant theme in the Murdoch media. What they were asking for was for business as usual, which would essentially be the Swedish approach to dealing with the pandemic. This has turned out to be a disaster for Sweden. While Australia has had 29,626 cases of Covid-19, with 910 deaths, Sweden, with a population of 10,150,000, just under 40% of that of Australia, has had 938,343 cases and 13,923 deaths. To express it another way, Australia has had 35 deaths per million population, while Sweden has had 1,372 deaths per million. Sweden is still getting over 5,400 new cases and 5 deaths per day4. Funny how you don’t hear the halfwits in the Murdoch media spruiking the Swedish model as much as they used to do5,6.
Not only were assorted members of the opposition in Victoria whining about lockdowns, but the Federal coalition government was doing the same. The premier Dan Andrews implemented a path based on the agreed suppression strategy from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s own national cabinet. This path was designed to suppress the virus by eliminating community transmission in Victoria, based on expert modelling. So, what did Morrison do? He described it as “hard and crushing news for the people of Victoria”.7
In parliament, Frydenberg whined about Andrews’ response to the second Covid-19 wave, and said about his young children: “Six months lost from schooling. Six months that they will never, ever get back”8. Poor little kids. I wonder if they knew any of the elderly who had died in federally regulated aged care facilities during that Covid-19 wave. Like so many conservatives, Frydenberg is only becomes concerned about anything when it affects him personally.
Despite all this whining from the Liberal Party both in Victoria and federally, it has not made the Victorian Liberal Party more electable. Indeed, there is constant chatter about a challenge to Michael O’Brien’s leadership, and he has so far seen off one challenge from a Brad Battin9. His leadership is so shaky that it is suspected that he will eventually be replaced by Matthew Guy, who led the Liberals to a stunning defeat in the last state election1.
So, what do the Liberals do to keep the pressure on Victoria? They tear up the agreement the Victorian government had with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The scrapping of Victoria’s BRI arrangement came before the agreements were even fully formed, and certainly before they delivered any real benefits for either party. In addition, none of the agreements were legally binding. Victoria signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China in October 2018 to be part of the BRI which already involved more than 100 countries and international organisations. Infrastructure was a key part of the agreement, which promised to “increase the participation of Chinese infrastructure companies in Victoria’s infrastructure construction program.” This involved encouraging Chinese infrastructure firms to establish a presence in Victoria and bid for major projects10.
The Victorian deal had upset the Morrison government, who say they are worried about Chinese influence in Australia. On the surface, this could even be believed as it is a constant theme in conservative politics and in the Murdoch media. However, if the government was really concerned about Chinese influence in Australia, they would have not leased the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company for 99 years. The deal was signed off by Andrew Robb, the Liberal Trade Minister at the time. A year later, Robb, ‘retired’ from parliament to assume an $880,000 a year job as a ‘consultant’ with the same Chinese company11,12. They also allowed a 98 year lease of the port of Newcastle to a consortium which included a Chinese state-owned corporation13. One could also possibly believe that the federal government was concerned about keeping assets in Australian hands, had they not approved the sale of Bellamy’s, one of Australia’s largest manufacturers of baby formula, for $1.5 billion in 201914; or the Van Diemen’s Land Company, Australia’s largest dairy company, in 201614; or water entitlements in the Murray-Darling Basin15.
This demonstrates what the government’s game is. It is just another way to attempt to bludgeon the Victorian government, and if it damages them economically, well and good.
While I agree with the thrust of your article, it should be noted that the Van Diemen’s Land Company has never been in Australian hands. It was originally an English Land Company and remained that way for many years. When we first moved to far north west Tasmania in 1957 you could buy shares in VDL but the company was still controlled from the UK and was pretty poorly run. Eventually it was sold to the New Plymouth City Council in New Zealand–goodness knows why they bought it, although it was much better managed with them. A few years ago it was controversially bought by a Chinese group who promised the world, but, as I understand it, have not delivered on most of these promises. There has been a lot of internal fighting with numerous articles in the local papers about flaws in the management processes. This is an ongoing saga that may take years to play out.
While I realise that many companies operating in Australia are owned by foreign interests, at least you can ‘trust’ companies owned by shareholders to attempt to make a profit to the exclusion of all else. This is not so true of state-owned companies from China or elsewhere, who are more prone to do what is in the political interests of their nation, whatever that may be at the time. Couple this with the fact that Xi has made himself president for life, and that makes them doubly untrustworthy. What I tried to get across in this essay was that the hypocrisy of this federal government is boundless.
One of the snags with foreign ownership, and takeovers of companies in Australia, is the activities of the Foreign Investment Review Board. In the case of the sale of VDL (and other companies) the FIRB puts various conditions on the transaction. However, if the promises are not carried out in a timely manner, which is apparently the case with the Chinese owners of the VDL, it is not clear who is meant to hold them to account and how it is to be done.
Incidentally if you ever get a chance to go up to the VDL Woolnorth property right up in the northwest corner of Tasmania it is well worth the trip. The BOM have an air monitoring station at Cape Grim and you are not allowed to drive up to it, but about a kilometre to the south is a small building with display material overlooking the ocean. The last time that I was there you could barely stand up in the wind and the waves were truly impressive. There are also some nice Tertiary fossils. However, these days you need to go on a guided tour. Cape Grim is also the site of the 1828 Cape Grim massacre.
Thank you Jim and admin. I did not know anything about the Van Diemen’s Land Company. Having had a bit of a look now at their history,their interactions with Tasmania’s indigenous people, with thylacines, and with the forests of Tasmania, all I can say is it is not a company I would ever want to buy anything from, or own any shares in, or have anything at all to do with.