MEDIA – Sky News with Alan Jones – Transcript – The leasing of Darwin Port must be closely examined
DARWIN – 4 May 2021
ALAN JONES, HOST: ALAN JONES, HOST: What the hell are we doing, giving a 99-year lease to the Chinese company Landbridge over the Port of Darwin? Who are Landbridge? Ha! They’re one of the many firms in the Chinese port city of Rizhao who established armed militia units to support the military in an event of war. The units are also known as People’s Armed Force Departments. This is the mob who struck a deal with the Northern Territory Government, no Foreign Investment Review Board involved because they only bought $100 million worth of actual assets, below the threshold of $248 million. The balance was payment for a 99-year lease. Laughingly, the matter was referred to that wonderful Department of Defence, which raised no security concerns, apparently in a meeting of the G20 summit in Turkey in 2015. President Xi told then Prime Minister Turnbull that he encouraged Chinese companies to bid on infrastructure projects in northern Australia, adding, quote, “China hopes that Australia can provide a fair environment for investment of its firms,” unquote.
The new Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, has asked his department to, quote, “come back with some advice about the future of the 99-year lease”, unquote, but this is the same Defence Department who in 2015 argued there were no security concerns.
Well, Luke Gosling is the federal Labor member for the Northern Territory seat of Solomon. He spent 13 years in the army in parachute infantry commandos and defence cooperation programs. He saw overseas service in PNG, Malaysia, and Timor-Leste. He’s worked overseas in countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Albania. He’s also co-founder of the not-for-profit Life, Love and Health, which has raised funds, built schools and brought running water to remote villages and has delivered maternal health care.
He says rightly, in my view, the Port of Darwin should never have fallen under the influence of a foreign power. Scott Morrison was then the Treasurer. What should happen? Luke Gosling, federal Member for Solomon in the Northern Territory, joins me.
Luke, thank you for your time. Do you think the criticism of Scott Morrison that was a little unfair in that the Northern Territory Government allowed themselves to take the money? $506 million, but the only sale of assets was for $100 million, well below the FIRB threshold of $248 million. The balance was for 99-year lease. No one wants to claim responsibility now. Who do you blame?
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Well, it was obviously a decision taken by the Country Liberal Party, the NT Government at the time in 2015. I was very critical of the decision at the time, but people don’t quite understand the role of the FIRB, the Foreign Investment Review Board, is to provide advice to government. Ultimate responsibility rests with the Treasurer. And in 2015, when the port was leased for a year under a century, the Treasurer was the current prime minister, Scott Morrison.
So I think there are a combination of errors. And let’s not forget that one of the ministers in that government then went and took an $880,000 a year job with the company that the NT CLP government leased the Darwin port to. But I mean, it has been an issue that has been –
JONES: Who was that minister?
GOSLING: It was Andrew Robb at the time that took a job with Landbridge, so there were some concerns about where the national interest was in the case of the Darwin Port. Now, at the time, I was a candidate. I wasn’t at that point in the federal parliament, but I still rang around to the Defence Department contacts I had in there, and into the people who worked at the port, which was run by the NT government at that stage and said, “what does this look like? This is a bit concerning and who’s likely to try and get a hold of this port?” And it was sort of laughed off that, of course, a foreign power wouldn’t be able to lease it, it would be going through an Australian company.
But what we saw when the CLP announced the deal is that it was, in fact, a foreign company, a Chinese company that got a hold of the port for a century. Wherever I go in Australia, Alan, people say the same thing, and that is, “what the hell happened in Darwin with the port?”
JONES: No doubt. that, no doubt. And what about the Department of Defence raised no security concerns. I mean, and this mob, Landbridge, along with other Chinese firms, have armed militia units to support the military. And if they are parked on our doorstep, Luke, what should happen?
GOSLING: What should happen is what should’ve happened back in 2015, and Defence take a proper look at not only the strategic circumstances, but any risks they might be to our interests. Now, 2015, six years ago, the world has changed a bit. Our region has changed a bit. We need to make sure that critical strategic infrastructure like the Darwin Port, where we conduct border operations from, where we conduct training exercises, humanitarian relief exercises with our allies, with our partners right here in the capital of the north in Darwin, we want to be owning our own port.
GOSLING: And the shocking thing is that when this deal was done, the Federal Government had just announced a $5 billion North Australian Infrastructure Fund for critical infrastructure like ports. But still, it wasn’t an Australian company that was –
JONES: But the Prime Minister now says that he’ll talk to the Department of Defence and take their advice. But this was the outfit that found no security concerns. Let me ask you this. If it would cost $700 million, as I’m told it would, to tear up the lease, would that be money well spent?
GOSLING: Well, what needs to happen here is that the Federal Government needs to have a look what’s in the Australian interest. My opinion is that it is in the Australian interest that the Port of Darwin is in Australian hands. And I think that’s a pretty uncontroversial thing to say.
JONES: 100 per cent, 100 per cent. Luke, we’ve run out of time, but you’re 100 percent correct. I do want to have you back on the program, too, because I know you’re a vet. So I’ll give you the question and I’d like you to think about it because we need to talk about it. I mean, there is this royal commission, but surely the royal commission is invalidated if the minister for Defence of the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs have anything to do with the terms of reference. I’d like you to think about it. And I want to have you back on the program about that. Vets are very concerned about the terms of reference, aren’t they?
And your point about the Port of Darwin is 100 percent correct. And that applies to the Port of Newcastle as well. Good to talk to you, Luke. Thank you for your time.