by Dee McLachlan
Imagine what our forefathers would have said if you told them the Minister of Trade facilitated the sale of an Australian port (Darwin) to a Chinese owned company (China) — and then quickly retired to work for them. Well that is kind of what has happened, except that, the Minister doesn’t have to do any work. And he’ll be getting at least three times what he was earning in Canberra for what?
This simply doesn’t pass the smell test.
I wonder what the average Australian picker or packer earning around $26 an hour (before tax) thinks of Andrew Robb’s generous deal. It has been revealed that the terms of his consulting deal with Landbridge are vague and ill-defined, yet Mr Robb gets paid $880,000 a year — even if he does nothing. Maybe this is “normal” in the higher echelons of the global corporate business world.
The former Minister of Trade, Andrew Robb, has to be the poster boy of the PTF — the Political Trough Feeders. What a prime example of taking advantage of one’s privileged government position to gain personal wealth after serving office.
The Financial Review published this photograph (above) on November, 23rd, 2015, taken at the Northern Australia Investment Forum in Darwin. One cannot be sure whether the then Minister of Trade wanted to be part of the photo opportunity or not, as the big news then was around the secrecy of leasing the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company for 99 years. The US was unhappy about it, and to quote the Financial Review article:
“Northern Territory Chief Minister Minister Adam Giles has labelled defence and security concerns over the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin as a joke, and said there were no links between Landbridge and the Chinese Communist Party.“
But today (6/12/2017) the Sydney Morning Herald reported that,
“Billionaire Ye Cheng [owner of Landbridge]… is also a member of the national Chinese People’s Consultative Committee, an advisory body that President Xi Jinping has directed to “uphold the CPC [Chinese Communist Party] leadership without wavering”.
We must ask this shocking question: how was the port “sold” in the first place?
The Port “Sale”
NT Oppostion Leader Michael Gunner described the deal as a “one-off cash grab” by the Country Liberal Party of the Northern Territory (CLP). He also said that a decision “of this magnitude” should be determined by the people.
So how did the sale to a private Chinese company, with ties to the Chinese government, slip through so easily, Mr Robb?
In 2015, I remember thinking that we never heard a debate. We woke one morning and discovered it was a done deal — and that a profitable piece of infrastructure had been ‘sold off’ for a short-term windfall.
And it looks like the $506 million is going to be spent very quickly. $100 million has been earmarked for a Ship Lift Facility to lift boats out of the water… for mainly servicing of Defence and Australian Border Force vessels. The loser in this deal is Cairns. Jobs will just migrate from the Cairns’ ship lifter to Darwin.
$50 million will be for power station upgrades. Are these power stations then going to be sold off? The stimulus also included $58 million for work at government schools and $10 million for private schools. It will probably be spent in less than a decade, missing out on 90 years of future inflationary revenue.
Am I the only one who thinks this is madness? And the $500 million paid by Landbridge appears to be a LOAN from the Chinese government anyway. This in the SMH on 17 July, 2017:
“Chinese government trade bank may get mortgage over Australian port… The Chinese owner of the Port of Darwin lease is using the port as security to seek a loan of up to $500 million from the Chinese government’s trade bank.”
As Greg Buck has said: is this a case of money being printed out out of thin air, to buy (lease) the Port of Darwin (for 99 years)?
And was the then Minister of Trade, Mr Robb, instrumental in facilitating all this?
On 23 August 2015, the Trade and Investment Minister’s office published a media release that stated,
Andrew Robb was at the The Northern Australia Investment Forum in Darwin in November (2015), and is shown in the above photo, chatting with Landbridge owner, Ye Cheng. I wonder if they discussed how Mr Robb was going to be rewarded? I don’t see them back-scratching in the photo — so maybe they communicated through winks and nods.
On the 9th of November 2015, the Free Trade Agreement legislation with China passes through the Senate.
Resignation to Consultancy
Mr Robb then announced his RETIREMENT from politics on the 10 February 2016. (He’s allowed to bow out before his term, but…)
Mr Robb then began working as a consultant to Chinese billionaire, Ye Cheng, on July 1, 2016 — the day before the federal election.
From his own bio, Mr Robb is currently also a Board Member of the Kidman cattle enterprise, Chair of Asialink, Asialink Business and CNSDose, and strategic advisor to Beef Innovations Australia, as well as a range of national and international businesses. In addition, Mr Robb is getting his generous parliamentary pension, plus the consulting fee from Billionaire Mr Ye Cheng.
Good on Mr Robb for being able to take advantage of his connections to feather his nest, but it seems that he has acted inappropriately. Is this allowed? This is what Howard Whitton said,
“The Prime Minister’s Statement of Ministerial Standards require Ministers to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public. This obligation is not time-limited.”
How could a Minister going back into the private sector, after being in Canberra, not have an advantage? Mr Robb’s appointment as a board member of the Kidman cattle enterprise would seem to be a well-trodden pathway. And I would say it is natural that a high profile minister would enjoy a relationship with someone like Gina Rinehart. We sheeple understand that Mr Robb might become a candidate for the new cattle rancher’s board.
But the ‘sale’ of the port, and then become the foreign owner’s consultant, begs the question: when did the consultation begin? Was Mr Robb advising Mr Ye Cheng before the sale went through?
From my humble knowledge of Hollywood bookkeeping, it appears Mr Robb is being back-paid for “consultation” during the development phase of the sale. There is another word for it too: kick-back.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported today:
“Mr Ye frames much of his business activity, including the acquisition of the Port of Darwin lease, in terms of advancing Beijing’s ambitious global trade and infrastructure policy “One Belt, One Road”. Mr Robb has also advocated for Australia to back the policy.
“Former NSW judge Mr Whealy, who now chairs integrity NGO Transparency International, [said] ‘What I take from the letter is that the position of Andrew Robb does raise serious questions for a person formerly of high government position going into business with a company close to a foreign power. It is just extraordinary that aren’t more questions haven’t been asked about this deal.’
“But Mr Robb said his contract was ‘a typical commercial contract’, and that ‘I’m not doing business in Australia, so what is the relevance of my contract with the company? The contract is with a foreign company to do work in other foreign countries’.”
Mr Robb refers to this as typical. There is nothing typical about this scenario. As one government official said, it’s “a ‘disgraceful’ look for a former cabinet minister.”
I wonder if it passes the legal requirements of a retired politician? Should he be jailed for treason for compromising Australia’s interests? I don’t know. It does appear that he is one of the more obvious trough feeders.