Former trade minister joins Chinese port owner as consultant – November 2016

Filed under: Economy and Finance, Economy, Politics, Australian Politics, Foreign Affairs,

Former trade minister Andrew Robb has become a “high-level economic consultant” with the Chinese company Landbridge Group that now operates Darwin Port.

Two years ago, he signed-off an historic free trade deal with China,

A Landbridge Group company statement said Mr Robb was appointed to his new role by chairman Ye Cheng at an “auspicious” ceremony two months ago.

Landbridge Group was awarded a 99-year lease over the Port of Darwin last year in a $506 million deal with the Northern Territory Government that sparked concerns at the highest levels of the Australian and US defence authorities.

The Landbridge statement said “the process of internationalisation of the Landbridge Group and the results achieved had greatly impressed him (Mr Robb)”.

“Working for Landbridge Group was a wonderful and pleasing thing, and he wanted to jointly write a wonderful new chapter together with Landbridge,” the statement said.

The company statement also quotes board chairman Ye Cheng as saying that in order for Landbridge to achieve its global goals “it will be necessary to draw on experts such as Mr Andrew Robb who have global vision and global influence”.

The Australian Financial Review reported that Mr Robb led a delegation of Australian Government officials to Beijing in October to convince them of the benefits of Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature strategic “One Belt One Road” policy.

The Federal parliamentary Library Briefing Book says of the policy, “The ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative is a Chinese economic and strategic agenda by which the two ends of Eurasia, as well as Africa and Oceania, are being more closely tied along two routes–one overland and one maritime. Supporters suggest that the initiative permits new infrastructure and economic aid to be provided to needy economies. Critics claim that it facilitates Chinese economic and strategic domination of the countries along these routes. OBOR provides a global context for China’s growing economic links with Australia.”

Mr Robb has been accused of possibly breaching ministerial standards by Labor and the Greens for becoming an adviser with Landbridge so soon after retiring from politics.

Landbridge's Darwin Port interests and the One Belt One Road policy are intertwined.

Landbridge chairman Ye Cheng has said the company's investment in the port helped serve the Chinese strategic and foreign policy goal, also known as the “Maritime Silk Road”, enthusiastically touted by Chinese leaders as a way to connect China with Europe via Central Asia via massive Chinese investment in new infrastructure projects.

The Financial Review commented: “Sceptics say the policy it is an attempt by Beijing to create a strategic bloc to counter the influence of the United States.

“Mr Xi has called for the Australian government's Northern Development Strategy to be included in the initiative, which the Chinese government say is worth billions.

“Mr Robb helped launch and is on the advisory board of the organisation that arranged [the] China trip – the Australia China One Belt One Road Initiative.”

The statement of ministerial standards says ministers cannot lobby or advocate on behalf of private enterprises with the government for 18 months after they step down “on any matters on which they have had official dealings as minister”.

The Prime Minister said Mr Robb had not informed him of the appointment before it became public.

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