Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Why are the Chinese so interested in Tasmania?



Why are the Chinese so interested in Tasmania?


Martin Flanagan
What's happening in Tasmania? It's hard to say but it's happening awfully fast. In 2014, the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hobart. Author and political commentator George Megalogenis says the Chinese are now Hobart’s second largest immigrant group.
In 2015, Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman declared that "In China and Tasmania, governments at all levels are collaborating actively ...". In 2016, Australia's biggest dairy farm, which is in Tasmania, was sold to a Chinese company. In April this year, the Tasmanian members of its board resigned en masse over governance issues.

China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan arrive in Hobart in 2014.
China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan arrive in Hobart in 2014.
Photo: AFP

In 2017, the Financial Investment Review Tribunal reported that 23.4 per cent of Tasmania's agricultural lands were foreign owned, but that figure is only publicly available because there's a national register for agricultural lands. Sophie Underwood from the Freycinet Action Network says no one can say for sure how much of Tasmania is now foreign owned without looking at every single land title in the state.
As a ratepayer of the Glamorgan/Spring Bay council on Tasmania's east coast, I went from knowing absolutely nothing of the Chinese-funded Cambria mega-development proposed for Swansea to learning that the council was voting on the first stage of the process the following evening through a news story in the Hobart Mercury on April 23.
Councillors only learnt of the proposal days before, although it has since been reported in The Guardian that there were senior council executives who knew but were bound to silence by commercial confidentiality agreements. The effect of this was that no organised resistance could be mounted before the mega-development received its first go-ahead from the council. That is, there was a political bias in the process. The next stage of the process requires opponents to lodge their objections to the council by next Thursday about a massive project which is still unclear in its details.


News of the mega-development broke in China three days before it broke in Tasmania. In TheMercury story, Mr Ronald Hu, the chief executive of Cambria Green Agriculture and Tourism Ltd, said, "The Tasmanian Planning Commission would be the final approval body". The report in the Chinese media did not suggest there were any possible impediments to the proposal. The proposed mega-development was reported as fact.
I have respect for Chinese culture and its great thinkers. The Book of Tao informed my youth. I have no fear of Australia becoming, in time, a predominantly Asian country if it has democratic values. I would vote for Penny Wong as prime minister. This is not an issue of race but it is, among other things, an issue of political culture, of two very different political cultures, one immensely more powerful and wealthy than the other, and what can happen when they meet behind closed doors.