Fears over China’s plans for Aussie port
A parliamentary committee has called on the Federal Government to redeem an "unacceptable national security risk" and bring the Port of Darwin back under Australian ownership.
Among recommendations made by the Joint Standard Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, who are looking into Australia's trade links with China, was a call for the Morrison government to look into whether the 99-year-lease of the Port of Darwin, for $506 million to Chinese-owned Landbridge, could fall short of recently enacted foreign relations laws.
If the port's lease was "not deemed to be in the national interest", the committee, chaired by Queensland LNP MP George Christensen, recommended "taking measures to have the Port of Darwin brought back under Australian ownership".
The Northern Territory capital controversially leased the port - one of Australia's "most important strategic assets" - to Landbridge in 2015.
Speaking to the ABC in 2019, executive director of the Australia Defence Association (ADA) called it "a seriously dumb idea" on the State Government's part.
"If (Landbridge's) offer was the best offer, but it introduced a major element of strategic risk for the whole country, they should have had the common sense to realise they take the second best offer or the third best offer and not have any strategic risk," he said.
"You don't farm out the risk to everyone in Australia over 99 years to save you some money in the early 20-teens.
"It was a seriously dumb idea by a government that really hadn't thought through the consequences, and even if it had, was prepared to ignore the long-term costs, both financial and strategic, they were inflicting on the rest of the country."
Leasing the port "to someone who runs the risk of being a potential adversary over the next 99 years, it's the equivalent of leasing the Port to the Japanese in 1938", Mr James added.
"When you look at a largely unknowable strategic future, it's actually shackled Australia's ability to adequately defend itself, and the tragedy is it was done unnecessarily."
During their meeting, the committee also recommended looking into the national security risks associated with other Australian ports and infrastructure owned by, or leased to, foreign corporations under the new foreign relation laws.
"On top of that a record should be kept of all foreign investment and state-owned companies buying up Australian assets, particularly totalitarian dictatorships, is not in the national interest," Mr Christensen said.
Labor members of the committee did not provide a dissenting report, according to the NT News, but made additional criticisms about the deal between the then-CLP government and Landbridge in 2015, describing it as a "catalogue of failures".
"By contrast, the NT Labor Party identified the transaction as shortsighted and contrary to the Territory's long-term interests," they noted.
In 2019, Chief Minister Michael Gunner described the deal as a "very positive investment" for the future of Australia, though he had voiced his opposition to leasing the port originally.
Last May he said he wouldn't buy back the port from Landbridge even if he had the $500 million to do it, saying he would rather spend the money on job-creating projects.
"My advice for the Prime Minister, if he's going to go down that path is, don't buy back the port, invest in things that will grow jobs in the Territory," he said.
Originally published as Fears over China's plans for Aussie port