Council China row

Then-Greater Dandenong mayor Sean O'Rielly receives a gift from a member of a delegation from Xuzhou in 2015. 145203_01 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A Greater Dandenong councillor has explosively warned against “talking up Chinese contracts” as the council questions its 24-year Sister City relationship with Xuzhou.

After a council meeting on 25 May, councillor Peter Brown wrote about China’s “drug dealer” investment tactics in an email to councillors.

He was responding to Cr Sean O’Reilly, who had suggested a multi-lingual video to promote Greater Dandenong’s manufacturers as an “investment destination” for nations like China and Vietnam.

“I would be very careful if there’s a view that we shouldn’t be accepting overseas investment from China and other countries because that would really impair local jobs,” Cr O’Reilly told the Star Journal.

Cr O’Reilly said such an “ideological stance” would be “a step too far” especially with unemployment expected to rise in coming months.

In his email, Cr Brown berated “the Chinese who because we dared question the origins of Covid put an 80 per cent tariff on barley, ceased importing beef from Australian owned cattle exporters (not cattle from the Chinese owned stations), cancelled coal imports (thumbs up to the Greens) and terminated and threatened to terminate a number of other agribusiness agreements”.

“Their tactic is like a drug dealer: get them hooked (on sales contracts) and then blackmail us once our other markets have gone because we sold out to the Chinese.

“As for the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, this is high grade commercial heroin and the ‘Belt’ will become a noose around the neck of any government that chooses to use it.”

In February, councillors voted for a Sister City review to explore more “flexible” and “modern” Friendship City relationships with Xuzhou and possibly other overseas cities.

This was before Australia suffered Chinese trade bans for calling for an international investigation into the source of the Covid-19 virus.

Cr Brown told the Star Journal that the council had already decided in January not to allocate Sister City funds in the 2020-’21 draft budget.

“The landscape had changed for a majority of councillors long before China was questioned for its handling of the coronavirus.

“We based (the review) on the benefits for the City of Greater Dandenong – the majority couldn’t see the benefits of Sister City.”

In February, Cr O’Reilly had led calls for a review of the Xuzhou relationship.

The aim was for the council to be free to explore beneficial business opportunities in other Chinese cities or other nations, he said.

The Xuzhou arrangement had nevertheless been beneficial in that regard, he said.

“There’s no hard feelings at all.

“There’s no event that has provided an impetus for the review.”

Greater Dandenong mayor Jim Memeti said after 20-plus years, it was time for the council to “diversify” and “explore further options” beyond Xuzhou.

“It’s like with China being Australia’s No.1 trading partner – we’ve probably put too many eggs in one basket.”