BRISBANE (CU)_In his election campaign leading up to the vote next month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been touting his record on national security, an issue which is often seen as an advantage at the polls. This is why the recent security pact signed between China and the Solomon Islands was used by the opposition to try and undermine the Coalitions national security credentials, describing it as the greatest Australian foreign policy blunder in the Pacific since World War II. Now the coalition is questioning the timing of the security deal between Beijing and Honiara, accusing China of ‘interfering’ in Australia’s federal election.
“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,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told Brisbane radio station 4BC on Wednesday (27 April). “Why now, why right in the middle of a federal election campaign, is all of this coming to light? I mean we talk about political interference and that has many forms.”
However, the opposition has brushed off the allegations, describing them as a “conspiratorial fantasy”. “Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews is so out of depth in her security portfolio she’s embarking on flights of conspiratorial fantasy. The Govt won’t accept they have presided over one of the worst policy failures in the Pacific since WW2,” Shadow Defence Minister Brendan O’Connor said on Twitter. “When you mess up, fess up!” Meanwhile, Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally said if the government had proof of such foreign interference, then it should be shared with the Opposition. “Offered with no proof. We are in caretaker mode. If Karen Andrews has such intelligence, Labour should be briefed,” she tweeted.
Details of a potential security pact between China and the Solomon Islands first came to light last month, a copy of a draft agreement was leaked online. Just about four weeks later, officials from the two countries announced that the final agreement has been signed by the parties. The announcement was made just a few days before White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell was scheduled to visit the Pacific archipelago. Accordingly, some experts are of the view that Beijing was more likely driven by the desire to reach the agreement as quickly as possible, particularly ahead of Campbell’s visit, while the fact that it coincided with the federal election may have been a bonus.