ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has hit back at new laws announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that would give the Foreign Affairs Minister the power to veto agreements between the territory government and foreign governments.
The ACT has three sister-city deals, and a 22-year-old memorandum of understanding between the ACT government and the Hangzhou Municipal People's Government on Environmental Management Technology, Building Techniques, Information Technology, Education and Tourism Promotion is on a watch-list of deals the federal government is already aware of that would be covered under the new legislation.
Mr Barr said on Thursday it was more appropriate for such matters to be considered by Federal Parliament than solely by the executive arm of government.
"A Treaties Committee has been appointed by the Commonwealth Parliament to review and report on all treaty actions proposed by the government before action which binds Australia to the terms of the treaty is taken," he said in a statement.
"This would be the appropriate place of review rather than just the Foreign Minister."
His comments are in contrast to those made by South Australian Premier Steven Marshall, who said he would look at the detail but was broadly on board with what had been announced.
"We've got excellent exports. We've got excellent investment coming into South Australia, international students," he said on ABC News Breakfast.
"We want to maintain good relationships with China. We think this is really important. We understand where the Prime Minister is going on this. We'll be supportive."
State and territory leaders were briefed on the new laws and the national security environment in recent weeks, but Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was not part of the meeting due to COVID-19. On Thursday he said in a press conference he was only focused on the pandemic, but was waiting on Mr Morrison to release a list of other markets than China to export to.
Labor's federal spokeswoman on foreign affairs, Senator Penny Wong, said the opposition would look at the legislation but supported the idea the government should be able to make decisions in the national interest. However, she called for an explanation to Parliament about the international situation.
"It is disappointing Marise Payne still stubbornly and point blank refuses to brief the parliament, to ensure the parliament understands some of the implications of our current environment and what we have to do as parliamentarians," Senator Wong said.
"It's disappointing that the government has inadequately engaged with the states preferring to have a discussion through the media."
The university sector has been cautious in its reaction to the announcement, with Universities Australia's chief executive Catriona Jackson saying the peak body was in discussions with both the Education Department and DFAT to learn about what the new laws would capture.
"Universities are equal partners with government agencies in the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT), which has devised robust guidelines that build on measures to keep our institutions and intellectual property secure," she said
"It is critically important to strike the right balance between national security and the research collaboration which is driving so many advances in knowledge - including the search for a COVID-19 vaccine."
The Australian National University, which had two agreements on a watch list the government is already looking at, didn't answer a series of questions, but a spokeswoman said the university looked forward to seeing the bill and reviewing the detail.
"We have always worked closely with the government on matters of national security and will continue to do so," the statement said.