Joel Fitzgibbon: Canberra Matters | 'National interest' includes exports too

Few people in the Hunter have heard of Baocai Zhang. But our local coalminers might know who he is.

Zhang is the Chairman of Yancoal, the company which now competes with the Swiss giant Glencore, for the title of biggest coal producer in the Hunter Valley. Yancoal therefore, is also one of the biggest employers of mineworkers in our Region.

While some of the big multinationals are responding to environmental activism by moving away from coal, Yancoal is further building its coal portfolio. It now holds a mainly majority interest in eleven coal mining operations across three states. It's no secret that more acquisitions are likely.

Like all companies, I'm sure Yancoal is primarily interested in profits, but it pursues profitability while maintaining a good working relationship with the CFMEU. Yancoal is no doubt also interested in securing reliable sources of coal, thermal coal in particular. That's fine by us.

Security of supply in coal, iron ore and high-quality food products is important to China, a country of more than 1.3 billion people which is quickly growing out of developing-nation status.

Its rapidly growing population wants not just or coal and iron ore, but also our high-quality, green and clean wine, infant formula, beef, and grains. Most important, they've demonstrated a willingness to pay good money for our superior products.

Indeed, China is the customer for 36 percent of Australia's exports - $130 billion worth each year. Their demand for our food and mining products creates hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs. So too does the money invested here by companies such as Yancoal.

China and Australia are very different countries: one big, one small. We differ in both ethnicity and culture. We must therefore always be mindful of our different systems of government and be robust and strong always in matters involving our national security.

But that doesn't have to involve unnecessarily offending our biggest trading partner.

For example, the global community was always going to have an inquiry into the source and spread of COVID-19; it is plain silly to suggest otherwise. It wasn't necessary to further damage the China relationship, a relationship which has been in decline since 2017.

Sure, as China's economic growth continues at pace, the world becomes a more complex place and balancing our various interests grows more challenging. But we have to take the wins while tackling the challenges.

We are a proud middle power. We've always punched above our weight in defence of the values and principles we share with countries like the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. But when our Government starts chasing votes at home at the expense of our important international relationships and export markets, we all lose.

That's exactly what Malcolm Turnbull began to do three years ago and it's a practice that Scott Morrison has unfortunately followed.

If we are smart, we can keep the many jobs that Chinese investment and product-demand creates in our mining, agriculture, tourism and educations sectors, without in any way putting at risk other Australian interests. Let's hope Scott Morrison sees the error in his ways.

Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources and the federal Member for Hunter.