An opposition frontbencher has accused the Australian government of having “started a war with China” and allowing the relationship to slip to its lowest level since the Tiananmen Square massacre.
While launching his mostly strongly worded attack on the government’s handling of the relationship to date, the former Labor minister Joel Fitzgibbon also suggested the Coalition should have used this week’s budget to compensate Australian barley growers hit by China’s 80% tariffs.
Fitzgibbon, who is Labor’s agriculture and resources spokesperson, told a National Rural Press Club event in Canberra on Thursday that those farmers had been “directly affected by the poor decisions of their government”.
Appearing at the same event, the agriculture minister, David Littleproud, took exception to the criticism, insisting that the Australian government would not compromise on its values and would continue to seek dialogue with the Chinese government to resolve trade disputes.
Related: Negative views of China soar in western countries, poll finds
Littleproud revealed that he had most recently sought to have a conversation with his Chinese government counterpart in late August but was told the minister was unavailable.
The disclosure adds to the sense that Australian ministers have been frozen out of dialogue with their direct counterparts since the dispute over Australia’s call in May for an independent global investigation into the origins and handling of the coronavirus.
Fitzgibbon took aim at the Coalition’s handling of the relationship with Beijing – including both the Turnbull and Morrison governments – when asked whether Australia needed to reduce its economic dependence on China.