Australia

'Take a chill pill': Andrew Forrest defends inviting Chinese consul-general to Greg Hunt press conference

Andrew Forrest (right) at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Melbourne, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Source: AAP

Mining magnate Andrew Forrest has laughed off criticism for inviting the Chinese consul-general to speak at a government press conference in Melbourne.

Billionaire Andrew Forrest has downplayed the fuss over inviting the Chinese consul-general to a government press conference reportedly without the federal Health Minister Greg Hunt's knowledge.

The relationship between the two countries is strained, with China openly criticising Australia for leading global calls for an international inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.

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Mr Hunt and Mr Forrest held a joint press conference on Wednesday in Melbourne to announce the mining magnate's Minderoo Foundation had sourced 10 million COVID-19 testing kits.

But the announcement was overshadowed by the surprise appearance of Victoria's Chinese consul-general Long Zhou. 

Mr Forrest invited Mr Zhou to address the media, sparking criticism from several members of the federal government for allowing "the Chinese Communist Party to ambush a Commonwealth press conference”.

Long Zhou (centre) departs a press conference at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Melbourne, Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Long Zhou (centre) departs a press conference at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Melbourne, Wednesday, April 29, 2020
AAP

On Thursday morning, Mr Forrest laughed off the criticism and declared the consul-general's presence “the biggest non-story ever".

“I’m the most Australian person I know … I put Australia first,” he told the Nine Network.

“Take a chill pill.”

At the end of Wednesday’s press conference, Mr Hunt walked away, seemingly annoyed.

Mr Forrest said Mr Hunt was irritated by a journalist asking a question, rather than at the consul-general's presence.

“The minister did walk out looking a bit grumpy and the media jumped all over that. [It was] amazing to watch,” Mr Forrest said.

“He looked a bit grumpy because a journo almost tried to trip him to stop him leaving and ask him a whole heap of questions.”

At the press conference, Mr Long took the opportunity to talk up China's response to the pandemic, but did not take questions.

"The virus has, knows no ideology, border or race and in the face of the epidemic the testings of all countries are closely interlinked. We're all in this together," Mr Long said.

Several conservative government backbenchers, including Matt Canavan and Andrew Hastie, have criticised Mr Forrest's action.

"This guy drops out of the sky in his private jet and enables the Chinese Communist Party to ambush a Commonwealth press conference. Yeah, we're not happy," Mr Hastie told The Australian.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was refusing to back down on his push for a global coronavirus inquiry, continuing the tension between the two counties.

Ambassador Cheng Jingye has floated a Chinese consumer boycott of Australian products, including agriculture, education and tourism, in response to the probe.

The Chinese embassy also controversially released details of a private conversation with Australia's top diplomat.

Chinese state media has launched a series of scathing attacks, with one likening Australia to gum stuck to the bottom of China's shoe.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

Additional reporting by Evan Young, AAP.

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