A mayor and university in regional New South Wales say they are still waiting to see the detail of proposed new rules that would allow the Commonwealth to veto any of their international agreements.

Key points:

  • Wagga Wagga has sister-city relationships with cities in China, Germany and the US
  • The council says it is still waiting to see the details of federal legislation
  • Some in the university sector are concerned about how the new laws will work in practice

The Coalition is pushing to regulate new and existing agreements that state and territory governments, local councils and public universities make with foreign nations.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he would cancel any agreement considered “inconsistent with federal foreign affairs policy”.

The City of Wagga Wagga has three international sister-city agreements, including one in China, and Mayor Greg Conkey is worried.

“I understand [the proposed legislation] may impact on that, which is a real shame because the sister-city relationship is concerning cultural exchange to understand different cultures,” he said.

The acting head of CSU says there is concern in the sector about the proposed rules.(ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)

Wagga Wagga had a setback earlier this year with its Chinese sister city, Kunming, after a group of councillors passed a motion denouncing the relationship.

The regional centre has similar relationships with cities in the United States (Leavenworth, Kansas) and Germany (Nördlingen), and Cr Conkey said they must be looking on at the latest discussion in disbelief.

“There must be a lot of confused people out there in different countries looking at this proposed legislation,” he said.

“They must be very confused, as are we, because we’ve built up these relationships over many, many years.

“Hopefully we can work through this and restore those good relationships that we’ve enjoyed over many, many years.”

Cr Conkey said the impact would be wide-reaching.

“I understand Canberra has sister-city relationships with China, with Beijing,” he said.

“And a number of communities throughout Australia also have sister-city relationships with a whole range of different countries, so it’s just not only impacting China, but it’s impacting those other relationships as well.”

Universities also affected

Charles Sturt University’s acting vice chancellor, John Germov, is also waiting to see the detail but said there was concern in the higher education sector about how the new laws would work in practice.

“We already have the foreign interference guidelines that we’re abiding by,” Professor Germov said.

The office of Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne did not respond to the ABC’s request for comment.


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