Shadow foreign affairs minister Penny Wong has accused the federal government of endangering Australia’s relationship with China by using alarmist rhetoric for domestic political gain.
In an address to a Canberra book launch on Wednesday, Senator Wong will say Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been indulging in political opportunism in foreign affairs.
“My concern is that not only does he not fully comprehend Australia’s interests in relation to China, he doesn’t even seek to,” she will say.
“It’s always about the domestic political advantage – either in the internal fights within the Liberal Party in pandering to the far right, or in seeking to pursue some partisan advantage over the Labor Party.”
Senator Wong will also take aim at Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo over his comments that free nations are once again hearing “the beating drums” of war.
“Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war, let us continue to search unceasingly for the chance for peace while bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war,” Mr Pezzullo told staff in an Anzac Day message last month.
He also said Australia should strive to reduce the likelihood of war “but not at the cost of our precious liberty”.
Mr Pezzullo’s comments came days after Defence Minister Peter Dutton said conflict over Taiwan should not be discounted as tensions between the US and China rise in the Pacific.
Senator Wong will call that rhetoric unhelpful, and say inflating the threat of war will actually serve China’s purposes.
“Two of the people most responsible for keeping Australians safe are instead talking tough for political purposes, and in doing so they are playing directly into the CPC’s narrative and providing Beijing with the leverage that comes with a sense of inevitability about crisis, conflict and war,” she will say.
“The first job of national leaders is the safety of their citizens. Our leaders do not make us safe by beating the drums of war with China.
“Foreign policy should not be the prosecution of domestic politics by other means because, as I’ve said, in diplomacy words matter.”
Australia’s relationship with China has deteriorated sharply over the past year, as the country hit local exports with a wide range of trade barriers after Australia called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
The federal government also tore up Victoria’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative agreement with China last month, prompting China to freeze activities under its Strategic Economic Dialogue with Australia.