Government Senator Eric Abetz has dramatically upped the rhetoric against China, condemning the Chinese communist "dictatorship" and accusing China of shocking human rights abuses.
"I do not condemn the Chinese people, but I do condemn the communist government in China, a dictatorship which as we speak has about one million Uygurs in so-called re-education camps," Senator Abetz said in the Senate on Monday.
"Christian churches are being destroyed and Christian pastors impressed. Falun Gong followers are being imprisoned and, according to a most recent report, subjected to having their organs sold-just an absolutely shocking abuse of human rights."
His comments come after Prime Minister Scott Morrison hosed down Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton's criticism of China last week, after Mr Dutton said the Community Party's values were inconsistent with Australian values, and accused China of stealing Australia's intellectual property, hacking into its institutions, and attempting to influence university students.
The Chinese embassy in Canberra was angered by Mr Dutton's comments, describing his accusations as irrational, shocking and baseless.
"We strongly condemn his malicious slur on the Communist Party of China, which constitutes an outright provocation to the Chinese people," the embassy said in a statement.
Mr Morrison sought to play down the spat, cautioning against over-reaction and "over-analysis".
But on Monday, Senator Abetz used a debate in the Senate brought on by conservative Cory Bernardi to attack China again.
He pointed to China's membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council, along with Cuba and Somalia.
"We have within the United Nations framework a group of countries that have got themselves or their representatives on to human rights bodies when they do not practice the most basic of human rights," Senator Abetz said.
Senator Abetz's comments also come after the Federation of Chinese Associations in Canberra said the anti-China rhetoric was spreading fear and tension in the Chinese community. The group signed out many Australian politicians", who it said "do not have a "fair" attitude on Chinese-Australians".
Senator Patrick and Labor agreed to the inquiry in August, but Labor changed its mind, postponing the inquiry to September. Labor's Kimberley Kitching, who chairs the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee, told The Canberra Times in August that the inquiry was "not withdrawn. It will be happening. It's just that it's been postponed." But in September it was scrapped.
Mr Patrick accused Labor and the Coalition of self-censoring for fear of Beijing's reaction. And he said in light of Mr Dutton's comments and the Chinese reaction, he would push again this week - envisaging an inquiry that takes a wide look at China's ambitions in the Pacific, investment in Australia, including in critical infrastructure and mining, and "interference in federal and state level politics".
On Monday, Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said she had made repeated request to the government for a detailed briefing for parliamentarians on Australia's relationship with China - with no response to date.
Speaking at an Australian Institute of International Affairs conference in Canberra, Senator Wong said Australia and China were at a new phase in their relationship.
China and the United States now treated each other as strategic competitors in the Pacific, and Australia had to work out how to avoid becoming collateral, she said. She referred to China's increasing assertiveness in the region, reports of interference in Australia and pressure on the Chinese community here. China's "behaviour and ambitions" in the region "appear to be becoming more difficult to shape", and the divergences between China and Australia had become "more apparent and acute", she said.
Senator Abetz's criticism of China was made during a Senate debate on a bill from Senator Bernardi which would have forced all legislation to be considered against "Australian freedoms" - "of opinion, speech, thought, conscience and religion, the rights to life and protection of the family as well as freedoms from torture and retrospective criminal laws", freedoms that would have been elevated above all other human rights. Neither major party supported the bill.