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The Department of Transport has been ordered to face the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal after it refused to release advice it provided to the Andrews government that rejected claims a Chinese company building Melbourne’s new train fleet benefited from Uighur labour.
CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles, which defeated local bids in 2016 to win the $2.3 billion contract to build 65 new high-capacity metro trains, was identified by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute as one of 82 companies potentially directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uighur workers through abusive labour transfer programs.
Premier Daniel Andrews and Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan unveiling the new CRRC trains in 2018. CREDIT:JUSTIN MCMANUS
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan last year said her department had reassured her that the company was not benefiting from Uighur slave labour.
“I asked some months ago for that to be examined by my department ... and I was advised that there was no evidence of that,” Ms Allan told ABC Radio.
“There was some media reports, as I said, going back some months ago now [about the use of Uighur labour] ... and of course I made immediate inquiries with my department and was provided assurances when it came to the project for the Victorian trains that those allegations were not correct.”
The Victorian Opposition has taken the Department of Transport to VCAT after it initially failed to respond to its freedom of information request seeking access to the documents and advice it provided to the minister. The department told Mr Davis on Wednesday afternoon that it had refused his request.
The matter will be heard on Monday, the opposition spokesman on transport infrastructure David Davis said.
“Melbourne’s high-capacity metro trains are being constructed by a Communist Chinese government-owned train manufacturer, the world’s largest,” Mr Davis said.
“Allegations have been aired internationally that this train manufacturer, or elements of its supply chain, may be utilising the forced slave labour of the persecuted Chinese Muslim minority Uighur population.
“Victorians have every right to see the advice Minister Allan claims to have been provided that our
[high-capacity metro trains] project is not tainted by the use of slave labour ... If the Andrews government has nothing to fear, it should have nothing to hide.
Satellite image of a detention camp in Xinjiang, China, in September 2020.CREDIT:ASPI
“So why the need to go to VCAT to get the advice the minister claims to have been provided?”
The Chinese government has received international condemnation for its network of “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, where it detains Uighurs, a Muslim minority group, in what some experts have called a systematic, government-led program of cultural genocide.
The Chinese government has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses, including genocide, in the region.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Uyghurs for Sale investigation last year found there was mounting evidence that many detained Uighurs are now being forced to work in factories within Xinjiang, and that Chinese factories outside Xinjiang are sourcing Uighur workers under a “revived, exploitative government-led labour transfer scheme”.
CRRC Changcun Railways is a subsidiary of major Chinese state-owned rolling stock manufacturer CRRC, which has also been flagged by the US Defence Department as a cyber-security threat.
Premier Daniel Andrews last year fended off concerns about potential human rights abuses linked to CRRC, saying “we don’t agree with everything that is done in every country”.
“But ultimately we are about getting things done,” Mr Andrews said at the time. “We have sought assurances that it is not an accurate statement in relation to the work we have contracted them to do and have received those assurances.
“We have made our views and preferences and what we want to see happen well known and have received assurances to that end.”
The Department of Transport has been contacted for comment.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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