Friday, December 18, 2015

Crouching (Turn)Bull, Hidden Rabbit Part 2: Was Darwin Port the reward for Keshik Capital funding

by Ganesh Sahathevan

Recent stories  in Australian media suggest that the matter of Malcolm Turnbull's son  Alex's  Singapore hedge fund Keshik Capital and its sources of funding should be looked at in the context of his father's decision to back the decision to privatize the strategically important Darwin Port to China's Peoples' Liberation Army linked Landbridge.

PM Turnbull was at first not interested in hearing any arguments against the Darwin Port transaction, even from US President Barack Obama (see story below). He did give the impression of someone locked into a deal that he would not back out of, regardless of the facts.Indeed, as the reports below show, he was prepared to lie to justify the decision.  Asian leaders caught misleading the public like Turnbull did are usually assumed to have a pecuniary interest in the matter, and it is hard to see why the same should not apply to Australian politicians, especially here where his son's business in Asia needs significant amounts of cash.

Compounding the impression that there are elements of the Darwin Port transaction that Turnbull is not telling us about is  the story published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday 15 December 2015 headlined  "Malcolm Turnbull aghast at Darwin Port sale a week before it was announced" . The SMH  story has clearly been leaked to  repair the damage to  Turnbull's image caused by his  approval  if not tacit  backing for the Darwin Port transaction. The SMH story suggests a Prime Minister desperately trying to defend what he knows is a wrong decision for it  does not sit well with these  statements  Turnbull made  in the weeks prior to the SMH story:

(But according to an announcement by the Darwin Port Corporation on November 16, the lease includes East Arm Wharf commercial port outside Darwin and the Fort Hill Wharf close to the city's CBD.Fort Hill Wharf is advertised as a "cruise ship and Defence vessel facility").
a) Mr Turnbull, speaking in Manilla, said the fact the port was being privatised was no secret and was announced publicly last year.  "The fact that Chinese investors were interested in investing in infrastructure in Australia is also hardly a secret," the Prime Minister said. "The NT Parliament conducted an inquiry. I had a committee that looked into it earlier this year and it reported in April and recommended that the ... NT Government consult ... with FIRB [Foreign Investment Review Board] and with the Australian Defence Department." Mr Turnbull said the department had no concerns because "it didn't affect the Australian Defence Forces". "And under our legislation, the Department of Defence or this Federal Government can step in and take control of infrastructure like this in circumstances where it's deemed necessary for purposes of Defence," he said (in fact it has since been reported that  Landbridge holds veto over Darwin military traffic).

b) PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull believes US President Barack Obama could have benefited from a subscription to the NT News to stay up to speed on the lease of Darwin’s port to a Chinese-owned company. Mr Turnbull said the deal was no secret and had been the subject of a number of inquiries, and was widely reported.
In talks in the Philippines, the president said the first the US heard of the deal was in The New York Times, to which Mr Turnbull joked that Mr Obama needed to subscribe to the NT News instead.

Given the above comments the very headline of the SMH story (copied below) screams damage control by someone desperate to hide something.The other articles provided below suggest a PM trying hard to justify his decision,regardless of the facts.


Malcolm Turnbull aghast at Darwin Port sale a week before it was announced

December 15, 2015
Heath Aston

Political reporter

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was so concerned about the sale of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company linked to the Communist Party that he asked for a review of Australia's foreign acquisition law a week before the controversial deal was announced by the Northern Territory government.

An insight into the concern around the cabinet table when the port deal came before the national security committee was revealed by Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson on Tuesday.

He told a Senate inquiry into the much-criticised sale that Mr Turnbull had requested advice on whether the Foreign Acquisition and Takeovers Act needed to be changed.

The port of Darwin. Photo: Fairfax Media

The takeovers law deems that the sale of a state or territory-owned piece of infrastructure does not have to be approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board – something Mr Richardson described as "an apparent systemic issue" with the act.


Due to the exemption, the Commonwealth would have been powerless to intervene to stop the sale even if federal security agencies had raised objections.

Both Defence and ASIO gave their blessing for the sale to proceed.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

But the signing of the 99-year lease over the port to Landbridge Group angered Australia's key military ally the United States and led to a direct rebuke by President Barack Obama when he met Mr Turnbull in Manila recently.

The secretary of Landbridge, He Zhaoqing, is a former military officer and Landbridge runs what it calls "a people's armed militia".

Mr Richardson, a former Australian ambassador to Washington, conceded it was an "oversight" that the US was not briefed that Landbridge had won the 99-year lease but also argued it was the US embassy's job to monitor a process that had not been kept a secret.

Department of Defence secretary Dennis Richardson. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"It was an oversight ... Any criticism we should have advised the US in advance is fair and I take accountability," he said.

He said Defence, which had been monitoring the port sale since early 2014, had cleared the deal as if a FIRB process was going to go ahead because Treasury had only alerted officials of the exemption on September 15, a month before Landbridge was named as the winning bid.

"We did our due diligence very carefully. Nothing that has been said since the announcement has given us pause for thought," he said.

Of the October 6 discussion by the national security committee, Mr Richardson said: "Specific attention was drawn to the fact that, even if departments and agencies had have objected, there was nothing the Commonwealth would have been able to do about it because of the 1976 Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act," he said

"As a result of that the Prime Minister asked the Treasurer [Scott Morrison] and the Attorney-General [George Brandis] to review that aspect of the legislation to see whether it should be changed."

Earlier, Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said there were real security and intelligence concerns around the sale.

He said the Chinese would have a "deep driving interest" in watching the operations of "competent Western military organisations" and the Port of Darwin hosts about 100 naval vessels a year. Northern Australia is also to host up to 2500 US marines in coming years.

"I would see that as 100 intelligence-gathering opportunities in terms of the interest China would have to find out big things and little things about how naval forces operate," he said.

He said the 99-year horizon is the same period into the future as the Gallipoli landings are in the past and there is no way to know what the defence relationships will be like between the US and China and their relationships with Australia, Mr Jennings said.

"It's impossible to know how the broader strategic world is going to look over the broader term of the lease."

Mr Jennings warned that the sale had the ability to affect the US alliance and the US Navy would "deep concerns" about tying up and unloading in a Chinese-run port.

Mr Jennings pointed out that the US had knocked back Dubai Ports from buying into American ports.

Later, Mr Richardson, who was Washington ambassador at the time, said the Dubai deal was cleared by authorities but was overturned after it was announced.

"It ended up being a political decision," he said.

Michael Hughes, director of Landbridge Australia told the inquiry that company approached FIRB on June 19. He said there were "no issues raised through the entire process" by FIRB or Defence.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has labelled the backlash to the port sale as "xenophobic".

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PM Malcolm Turnbull gets it wrong on whether Darwin port is used by military

By political reporter Anna Henderson
Updated 21 Nov 2015, 1:02am
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made a significant error in trying to justify the decision to lease Australia's crucial northern port to Chinese interests, by claiming it is not used by the military.

Key points:

  • Malcolm Turnbull's statements on Darwin port questioned
  • PM previously claimed port was not used by military, but facility is advertised as catering to "frequent naval visits"
  • NT Government has leased port to Chinese-owned company
The Northern Territory Government sparked international controversy last month when it decided to lease the Port of Darwin facilities to a Chinese-owned company.
Some defence analysts have warned the company, Landbridge, has strong links to the Chinese Communist Party. They have also warned China will use the lease strategically to secure a presence in the north of Australia.
The ABC has also been told US president Barack Obama raised the sale directly with Mr Turnbull in a face-to-face meeting this week.
On Friday Mr Turnbull was questioned by Darwin radio station MIX 104.9 about the sale of the port.
"The port that is being leased is not being used by the military, it is a commercial port," he said.
But according to an announcement by the Darwin Port Corporation on November 16, the lease includes East Arm Wharf commercial port outside Darwin and the Fort Hill Wharf close to the city's CBD.
Fort Hill Wharf is advertised as a "cruise ship and Defence vessel facility".
The Darwin Port Corporation website promotes the wharf as catering to "frequent naval ship visits" for visiting international and domestic naval ships.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister has since issued a media statement, which said Mr Turnbull was making the point that the Darwin facility "is a commercial port not a military port".
The Prime Minister has repeatedly defended the lease arrangements.
"Naturally Defence has access to the port if required," the statement said.
"Regardless, Defence has made it very clear it has no security concerns about the lease."
The Prime Minister also stressed Defence could step in and take over management of the port for national security reasons.
But Luke Gosling, the Labor candidate for the federal seat of Solomon in Darwin, said the Prime Minister had misunderstood the port lease deal.
"According to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory's release, the facilities that are included in the lease of the port for 99 years — almost a century — includes facilities like Fort Hill Wharf that are used not only by the Australian Navy but also the militaries of other countries as well, so it would be good if the Prime Minister, when coming to the north, knew what he was talking about," Mr Gosling said.

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