Prime Minister Scott Morrison has backed Liberal senator James Paterson after China’s embassy in Australia complained about his criticism of Beijing’s foreign interference activities, saying he will always stand up for free speech in Parliament.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed on Monday the Chinese embassy in Canberra lodged an official complaint with the federal Parliament about a speech by Senator Paterson in which he accused Beijing of trying to divide democratic states.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the embassy’s comments are “ironic” because the whole point of James Paterson’s speech was that “Australia, as a liberal democracy, believes in free speech”.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
China’s embassy said Senator Paterson, who is head of Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, had displayed “bias and hostility” against its country, which would impede exchanges between Canberra and Beijing.
Mr Morrison said on Monday the embassy’s comments were “ironic” because the whole point of Senator Paterson’s speech was that “Australia, as a liberal democracy, believes in free speech”.
“And none more so than in our Parliament. And for Australians who are elected to our Parliament to be able to speak very plainly about what they believe the issues are that are needed to secure Australia’s defence interests,” he said.
“And James Paterson does a tremendous job on that. And I will always stand up for Australia’s liberal democracy.
“Our model for how we run our country is one that gives people their freedoms. And one of those most important freedoms is their freedom of speech.”
Mr Morrison suggested that one of the issues the Chinese embassy has with Australia is that people have the right to free speech, appearing to allude to a list of 14 grievances that was handed last year to Nine News and this masthead.
“Well, I’m not going to sell out Australia’s free speech. It’s never going to happen,” Mr Morrison said. “Australia is a free country where you can speak your mind and under our government you can be very sure that will be retained and always stood up for in whatever form is necessary.”
In a speech to the European Parliament last week, Senator Paterson urged nations to work together with like-minded democratic governments to counter foreign interference from countries such as China.
China’s embassy said the speech spread “false information about so-called security threat of China’s influence in Australia”.
“His speech misled the European parliamentarians and the public, which once again reflects his bias and hostility against China,” the embassy said.
“We firmly oppose any speech and action from the parliamentarians to impede the normal exchanges between the people of our two countries and disrupt the relationship between China and Europe.”
It is not the first time the Chinese embassy has taken issue with Senator Paterson, who has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party and was one of the founding members of the bipartisan group of MPs known as the Wolverines which was formed to speak up more about China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
In 2019, China refused to allow Senator Paterson and his colleague, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, into the country on a study tour planned by think tank China Matters.
At the time, the Chinese embassy said Senator Paterson and Mr Hastie would need to “repent and redress their mistakes” before they were granted visas.
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