Former trade minister Andrew Robb appeared on ABC’s The Business last night where he offered the following defence to accepting an appointment to the Chinese Landbridge Group – the owner of the 99-year lease over the Port of Darwin – just two month’s after he left parliament:
Ticky Fullerton: “Speaking of self-interest, you yourself have moved forward to a new career offering you experience both on free trade and obviously contacts and networks in the Australia-China space. Was Landbridge the right choice though to get involved with given the controversy over the Port of Darwin?”
Andrew Robb: “Absolutely. Firstly I think the controversy was largely contrived by certain people with other agendas… There’s a lot of politics being played, in many cases China and US are like bulls in a paddock. There is a power change taking place. China will emerge and share power with the US sometime this century… We’re often the meat in the sandwich.
That Landbridge deal had gone through FIRB… It was cleared by our defence. The uproar occurred after the event….”
Ticky Fullerton: “And what about your own role at Landbridge because the Prime Minister said he hadn’t been notified”.
Andrew Robb: “Why should I? I’m sorry, but I have now left politics”.
Ticky Fullerton: “Well you’ve got the Australian defence association and the opposition are jumping up and down…”
Andrew Robb: “Well they are all playing politics”.
Ticky Fullerton: “What about questions of ministerial conduct?”
Andrew Robb: “Again, they are implying that I will act unethically and where’s the evidence? I mean, I have been a senior cabinet minister and I know the responsibilities that I have got. I have got no intention of breaching those responsibilities. They are just using this opportunity to score some cheap political points. I want to see the Northern Territory and Northern Australia – I have probably been one of the strongest champions of that issue – and here’s someone that is going to come in and spend tens-of-billions. He’s now creating an industrial park next to the Port so that goods can go out of Australia. All of this money would not have been spent and he has got bigger visions for opening up the Northern Territory. So, I feel very comfortable with encouraging him to spend that money. But the thing is, what he wants me for is my knowledge of other countries and other governments. He’s got a global strategy for his company and he wants me to help him outside of Australia more than he wants me to help him inside of Australia.”
Let’s be clear: the statement of ministerial standards clearly states that ministers should not lobby or advocate with the government for 18 months after their political retirement, nor take personal advantage of information to which they had access in their ministerial role.
Until February this year Robb was Australia’s trade minister having just negotiated the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. He was a member of parliament until 2 July having just served a stint as the government’s special trade envoy. In both roles Robb would have had access to sensitive information.
Therefore, the statement of ministerial standards should clearly preclude Robb from taking a role at Landbridge until at least November 2017.
Landbridge is also a shadowy firm involved in all sorts of stuff from chemicals to armed militias. It is widely considered to be beholden to Beijing in some way. At the very least the Darwin Port is the butt end of Beijing’s One Belt, One Road trade bloc monster. So here we have a trade minister out of the job for six months, a job that involved intimate consultation on the US’s competing regional trade deal, the TPP, tipping his intelligence directly into the Beijing trade bloc.
Robb must resign.