Dan Andrews has delivered a speech in secret to a pro-China forum, with Australian media banned from the event.
The secretive speech to the Post Pandemic China-Australia Economic Cooperation Forum on Monday night comes two months after the Victoria Premier’s secretive four-day trip to China which was also closed to Australian news media.
The Herald Sun reported that when journalists arrived at Monday night’s Park Hyatt event they were turned away.
Journalists were told the event was open to “Chinese media only”.
Signs outside the function room warned guests not to take photos or videos inside.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp was in attendance and former Trade Minister Andrew Robb delivered a speech. But Australians may never know what was said because Australian media was not permitted to hear.
Andrews told journalists the following day he was not sure if a copy of his speech would ever be made available to Australians, insisting he had spoken from “basic notes”.
He said only that it was “an important event” and that he had stressed the importance of a good relationship.
“They are our biggest trading partner,” he said. “If you’ve got a bad relationship with your biggest customer, your business has got real problems.”
Monday night’s forum was surrounded in mystery from the start with the Premier’s office taking a week to answer media inquiries as to whether he was even scheduled to speak at it.
Last week, Victorian Liberal MP James Paterson used a Senate Estimates hearing to raise concerns about a forum sponsor, China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy (CIIDS).
He called it a “front group” for China’s top spy agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS).
“As a matter of principle, is it appropriate for a MSS front group to be involved in organising a conference in Australia?” he asked.
On Tuesday, Paterson said it was “highly irregular and inappropriate for a Premier to give a speech in Victoria and bar the media from attending”.
“What does Daniel Andrews have to hide?” he asked. “What did he say that he doesn’t want Victorians to hear?
Opposition Leader John Pesutto said it was unacceptable for a State Premier to be delivering secret speeches.
“These are speeches that he’s making on behalf of the Victorian people,” he said.
“No political leader - whether it’s Daniel Andrews or myself - should expect to be able to give speeches in secret.”