More than 130 deals between states, territories and foreign governments could be ripped up under new powers to manage threats against Australia’s national interests.
China tops the list of at least 30 countries partnering with governments in Australia, with 48 agreements already existing.
New figures also reveal the Queensland Government has the most deals (31) with foreign governments. South Australia has 29 and NSW and Victoria both 20.
Under the proposed new laws, agreements made by public universities, state and territory governments and local councils will be subject to a new national interest test and put on a public register.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison would not weigh in on specific agreements, including Victoria’s controversial Belt and Road initiative, saying he did not want to prejudice any decisions.
“Where any foreign government seeks to undermine the sovereignty of Australia’s foreign policy by seeking to do deals with sub-national governments, Australia needs to protect itself from that,” he said.
When asked if the laws were about China, Mr Morrison said: “These laws are about Australia’s national sovereign interests.”
Sister-city relationships, tourism and trade co-operation as well as science and education deals would all be subject to the review.
At least five deals between the Australian National University and foreign governments will be reviewed and four at both Monash University and the University of Queensland.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said it was in discussions about the implications of the proposed laws.
“It will be very important to discuss the exact definitions and scale of what the new laws are intended to capture,” she said.
“Universities are equal partners with government agencies in the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce, which has devised robust guidelines that build on measures to keep our institutions and intellectual property secure.”
Opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek told Sky News it was important that universities were alert to the potential for foreign interference on campuses.
She has requested a briefing from Australian security agencies about the risks but has called for a “sensible and balanced approach”.
“No one believes that it is acceptable to see foreign interference, foreign governments trying to determine what’s taught or the discussions that are had at Australian universities,” Ms Plibersek said.
“But we also need to recognise that international collaboration is an important part of academic work.”
Seventeen agreements made with councils in Victoria will be put under the microscope, along with seven in NSW and seven in South Australia.
The Australian Local Government Association said it was not consulted prior to the announcement and no concerns about sister-city relationships had previously been raised.