Minister says China timed Solomon Islands security deal to damage Coalition’s election chances

A senior federal government frontbencher has effectively alleged China timed the announcement of its security pact with Solomon Islands to hurt the Coalition’s chances at the federal election, suggesting it could be an act of “political interference” by Beijing.

Australian officials fear the agreement could allow China to establish a military presence in the Pacific Island country down the track, and the news that it had been signed sent shock waves through the federal election campaign last week.

Labor has used the revelation to try and undermine the Coalition’s national security credentials and accused the government of a catastrophic foreign policy blunder, while some senior ministers have hinted that China may have used bribery to secure the pact.

This morning, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said she believed it was “very likely” that China would attempt to send its troops to the Solomon Islands.

And she suggested the timing of the announcement might have been deliberate, saying Beijing was “clearly very aware we are in a federal election campaign at the moment”.

“I think the one … thing we should be at least taking notice of and paying attention to is the timing of the announcement from deals in relation to Solomon Islands,” she told Brisbane radio station 4BC.

“Why now, why right in the middle of a federal election campaign, is all of this coming to light? I mean we talk about political interference and that has many forms.”

Labor has already scoffed at the suggestion, with the Shadow Defence Minister Brendan O’Connor saying Ms Andrews was “so out of depth in her security portfolio she’s embarking on flights of conspiratorial fantasy.”

“The government won’t accept they have presided over one of the worst policy failures in the Pacific since WWII. When you mess up, fess up,” he wrote on Twitter.