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Speaking on Brisbane radio station 4BC this morning, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews implied the timing of the pact amounted to “political interference” from Beijing.
“I think the one thing we should be at least taking notice of and paying attention to is the timing of the announcement from deals in relation to Solomon Islands,” she said.
“(Beijing) is clearly very aware we are in a federal election campaign at the moment.
“Why now? Why right in the middle of a federal government election campaign is all this coming to light?
“We talk about political interference and that can take many forms.”
The comments were quickly criticised by Labor. Shadow Defence Minister Brendan O’Connor said the statement showed Ms Andrews is out of her depth, saying her claims were “conspiratorial fantasy”.
“Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews is so out of depth in her security portfolio she’s embarking on flights of conspiratorial fantasy,” he wrote on Twitter.
“The Government won’t accept they have presided over one of the worst policy failures in the Pacific since World War II.”
A draft of the Solomons and China pact, which was leaked online last week and is believed to be very close to the final, signed version of the agreement, said Chinese warships could stop in the Solomons and China could send police and armed forces there “to assist in maintaining social order”.
Ms Andrews claimed it was “likely” that China would deploy troops to the Solomon Islands in the next year.
“I think it’s very likely that they will proceed down that path,” Ms Andrews said.
“It’s likely that will be the path China will be taking in the Pacific region.”