NT News

China port decision near

Turnbull calls for ScoMo to leave our deal alone

- CAMDEN SMITH

FORMER Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the federal government should keep its hands off the Northern Territory government’s Darwin Port agreement with Chinese company Landbridge.

The controvers­ial agreement, inked by then NT chief minister Adam Giles with Landbridge officials in October 2015, granted the company a $506m, 99-year lease and committed the company to $200m in investment­s over 25 years.

The deal was criticised by then US president Barack Obama and has been brought into sharper focus recently as Australia’s relations with China deteriorat­ed.

The arrangemen­t is currently under review by the federal government.

Mr Turnbull, who inherited the deal from his predecesso­r Tony Abbott said this week security and defence officials had given the agreement the green light after it had been signed. “I think the government should tread very carefully there,” Mr Turnbull said.

“The advice from Defence, from ASIO, all of the national security agencies was that this was a transactio­n which the federal government should not seek to hold up or interfere with,” he said.

“There are other assets in Australia I would have to say held by Chinese state-owned companies which are particular­ly in the electricit­y sector which are arguably more sensitive than the Darwin Port lease,” Mr Turnbull said.

“We’ve got to be very careful to be seen as a trusted, reliable partner and going back in time and trying to break a lease and that would not be legally straightfo­rward, it could open up a whole Pandora’s box of problems that probably could be best avoided.”

Chief Minister Michael Gunner said Territory Labor opposed the port sale and money spent buying back the port could be better spent in the Territory.

“We have no issue with the federal government’s decision to look at that sale and are happy to provide any support it needs,” he said.

“But our view is that if the commonweal­th wants to spend $500m plus in the Territory, we would love to talk to them about ideas that would generate better economic and overall outcomes than buying back a commercial port.”

CLP Senator Sam McMahon dismissed Mr Turnbull’s comments.

“No one cares what Malcolm Turnbull thinks,” Senator McMahon said.

“I personally asked Defence Minister Peter Dutton to examine the Darwin Port lease to see if it is in our national interest, as that is the prudent thing to do.”

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