Sunday, January 1, 2017
Port of Darwin lease deal to Chinese company should be examined by foreign investment watchdog: Labor
PHOTO: Concerns have been raised over the Darwin port lease deal to a Chinese-owned company in light of the close US and Australia military alliance, as seen during the joint forces exercise Talisman Sabre in north east Top End. (Supplied: Facebook)
The lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese-owned company should be examined by the Foreign Investment Review Board, Labor says.
The Northern Territory Government has signed a $506 million deal with the Landbridge Group to lease the port and facilities of East Arm Wharf, including the Darwin Marine Supply Base, and Fort Hill for 99 years.
A policy expert also said the unease within some in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) over the arrangement was valid.
The ABC has spoken to a senior ADF official who said there were concerns about the security implications of a Chinese company owning a mounting port for major operations.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings said the port played a central role in northern defences.
"Increasingly, Darwin is also a centre of cooperation with the United States through the rotation of US Marines using that very harbour," he said.
"So I think there is reason to be concerned about this sale and really the question that needs to be asked is what, if any, assessment of national security implications was made before the sale was agreed?"
Opposition assistant defence minister spokesman David Feeney echoed the concerns of Mr Jennings.
Mr Feeney said there was anxiety within the ADF about the lease, and the port is critical national infrastructure.
He said the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) should examine the deal.
"I think the onus is on the Federal Government to conduct a proper and thorough review and ask whether there are any implications of this," Mr Feeney said.
PHOTO: NT Chief Minister Adam Giles (centre) announces the port lease deal, flanked by Landbridge's Mike Hughes (left) and Port of Darwin chief executive Terry O'Connor (right). (ABC News: Xavier La Canna)
A Northern Territory Government spokesman said there were several reasons the lease of Darwin Port did not go through the FIRB.
The spokesman said the company did apply to the review board, but because the Northern Territory Government was the vendor in the deal and because Landbridge was not a state-owned enterprise it was exempt.
He said these reasons combined with the value of the lease meant FIRB did not examine the lease.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has reiterated the Government's plan to lease Darwin port had been communicated to the Department of Defence and the authority was supportive of the deal.
Mr Giles said the officials the Government spoke to were happy with the agreement.
"We've spoken to defence many, many times about our desire to get a private operator with the port," he said.
"We have spoken about the people or the proponents we were looking at and they were quite happy with what we were doing," he said.
Last month, 30 military personnel from Australia, China and the United States spent a week in the remote Northern Territory bush as part of Exercise Kowari 2015, which aimed to promote friendship and cooperation between the three countries.
After five days acclimatising to the Top End heat and humidity, 10 soldiers from the Australian Army, 10 from the Chinese People's Liberation Army, five from the US Army and five US Marines headed to a remote cattle station in the Daly River.
Captain Pan Kong Bin from the People's Liberation Army told the ABC he had relied on his new friends from the other nations to help him through the tough Territory conditions.
"I got a lot of help from the Aussie soldiers and all the US soldiers and officers. They're very friendly, they're always willing to cooperate and work together," he said.