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The so-called bromance between Scott Morrison and Daniel Andrews doesn’t have the same affection these days.
Their spark at the start of the pandemic quickly faded when Victoria’s second wave rolled in.
But like any good couple, the ideologically opposed political leaders have often agreed to disagree, while trying to steady their relationship on common ground. Road and rail projects have been a safe space, with Morrison having watched and indeed mirrored Andrews’ hugely successful political strategy on infrastructure.
They share an interest in building things (with the exception of the East West Link) and their pragmatic co-operation has gone some way to resolving the federal-state disconnect that left Victoria short-changed.
In 2018, Morrison’s last budget as treasurer delivered $5bn for airport rail and $1.75bn for the North East Link. There were significant differences of opinion between Canberra and Spring Street on how to deliver a train to Tullamarine, but Morrison and Andrews have all but sealed the deal.
Scott Morrison and Daniel Andrews. Picture: Mark Stewart
Politics wasn’t expected to be a problem with the North East Link, the biggest road project in Victoria’s history connecting the Eastern Freeway and the M80 ring road. That was until the Herald Sun revealed this month that Victoria’s Belt and Road deal with China could be a major roadblock. To understand why, it’s worth a quick recap.
Andrews signed up to the Communist Party’s controversial infrastructure initiative in 2018. Morrison was one of his harshest critics. Andrews ignored him and visited China to spruik Victoria’s infrastructure pipeline, including the North East Link.
Last September, his government picked a shortlist of consortia for the main North East Link construction contract: OneLink, led by CPB; ViaNova, featuring the Chinese-owned John Holland; and the Spark group, including China Construction Oceania and Italy’s Salini Impregilo.
Andrews then signed a framework agreement with the Chinese government describing infrastructure as a “key area of jointly promoting the Belt and Road Initiative” and committing to increase “the participation of Chinese infrastructure companies” in Victorian projects.
Morrison didn’t let up on Andrews, arguing the deal wasn’t in the national interest. In June, he told Andrews to rip it up.
This didn’t affect the North East Link, until the PM unveiled new laws to give the commonwealth oversight of agreements between states and foreign governments.
Artist impressions of the North East Link, which will carry up to 135,000 vehicles a day.
The powers, to be legislated within months, enable him to scrap Victoria’s Belt and Road deal. The problem for the North East Link is the law can also shut down subsidiary arrangements like construction contracts.
Since the shortlist was determined, OneLink dropped out. ViaNova is in the running, despite speculation about a non-compliant bid, although John Holland caused headaches on the West Gate Tunnel. Spark is in a strong position, but its bid is inextricably linked to Belt and Road.
While we don’t know much about China Construction Oceania — it doesn’t even seem to have a website — we do know it is the local arm of the Chinese construction giant that is the “leader of the Belt and Road Initiative”. If Andrews chooses Spark, there is a tricky legal question to be answered about whether its contract is directly linked to Victoria’s Belt and Road agreement.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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