Despicable Coalition defends Robb’s Chinese sell-out

By Leith van Onselen

Labor and The Greens were on the attack yesterday over former trade minister, Andrew Robb’s, 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. From The Guardian:

Robb’s consultancy was reportedly announced by the Landbridge Group on 2 September, two months after the 2 July election at which Robb retired as MP for Goldstein. Robb retired as trade minister in February 2016.

His appointment raises questions about whether his Landbridge role will contravene the statement of ministerial standards, which states ministers should not lobby or advocate with the government for 18 months after their political retirement. It also states they should not take personal advantage of information to which they had access in their ministerial role…

Labor’s Andrew Leigh said Robb would have been involved in discussions over the Darwin port lease at the time it came to cabinet.

“It’s imperative that Australians know that sensitive data acquired in the public interest isn’t being used in the private interest,” Leigh said.

“The information would have flowed freely. And the 99-year lease over the port of Darwin was an issue which engaged all ministers at the time.

“It’s clear that Andrew Robb would’ve been involved in those conversations and it’s clear Andrew Robb held sensitive information, as he should have, as a cabinet minister.

“I think that Australians today are concerned about Malcolm Turnbull’s ethical standards aren’t being met.”

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said… “The prime minister … needs to reveal his plan for ensuring that Mr Robb does not advocate for the Landbridge Group on trade matters for another year,” she said. “Doing so would be a clear breach of the standards.

When asked about Robb’s appointment, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull admitted that he was not informed before going on to defend the former trade minister:

“He has not raised this particular role with me [but] Andrew Robb was an outstanding trade minister… I mean, it is hard to think of one that had more achievement. Those big free trade deals that he executed with Korea, Japan and China alone, extraordinary”.

Foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, has also defended Robb’s appointment:

“There’s a ministerial code of conduct, Andrew Robb has said he’s aware of [it] and will abide by it… we shouldn’t get into a situation where a former trade minister is not allowed to take up post-parliamentary careers”.

Andrew Robb was also coy when queried on his appointment and whether he is in contravention of the statement of ministerial standards:

“I know the [media] is getting very excited about this,” Mr Robb told Fairfax Media when reached by telephone. “[But] I’ve got a commercial arrangement,” he said, before declining to comment further because he was in a meeting.

No matter which way you cut it, Andrew Robb has done the wrong thing here. Until February this year he was Australia’s trade minister having just negotiated the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. He was a member of parliament until 2 July. And yet he took a job at China’s Landbridge Group – to lobby politicians and sell-off more Australian fixed assets – just two months later (while collecting a parliamentary pension).

Then there are the strategic implications, the AFR has more:

Former trade minister Andrew Robb, who has been criticised for taking a job with Darwin Port owners Landbridge, led a delegation of Australian government officials to Beijing to convince them of the benefits of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature strategic “One Belt One Road” policy last week.

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

Landbridge head Ye Cheng has previously said the company’s investment in the Northern Territory 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

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 last week’s China trip – the Australia China One Belt One Road Initiative – in May when he was still Trade Envoy, along with former Victorian Labor premier John Brumby.

This is a clear breach of the statement of ministerial standards, which 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.

It is also a violation of Australia’s strategic outlook which already has US Marines rotating through Darwin to help police the region, even as Andrew Robb sells out its assets to interests with clear links to Chinese sovereign objectives.

Andrew Robb must step down from this role immediately.

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Unconventional Economist
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  1. reusachtigeMEMBER

    The reason I vote Liberal is because I know 100% in my heart that they will always put profits ahead of people… it’s the Aussie way!

  2. Think we may have found the problem – one person, this Andrew Robb executed three trade agreements with major Asian nations China, Japan and South Korea by himself.
    It is indeed extraordinary, especially considering he has no microsoft excel skills to speak of.

    It’s almost like these people are all competing for the Guinness Book of Records nomination for ‘Largest conflict of interest – Australia’

  3. Why are these buffoons not subject to a mandatory no-private-employment time, given their pensions, AND a non compete in related industry to any portfolio for which they were a minister/parl sec/whatever.

    And, means test the pollie pension.

    I can only see the Greens pushing that forward.

      • LOL Fringe Party policies! Didn’t even see them on the Senate ballot!

        Nope, I would not, about the greens.

        You think they’re as conflicted as the Libs?

        Proof please!

  4. Step down and be stripped of any post parliamentary privileges, including his super.

    It’s hard to think a more blatant, disgraceful and rapid transition into the private sector, let alone one with the potential value of this one. The corpse of the Australian economic sellout was still warm FFS!

    He could not have been acting of sound mind and judgement in this case.

  5. To quote Dilbert, a consultant likes to con and insult people.
    I’ll never vote Lib again after Mr Robb advocated for the TPP.

  6. The capture of the state and political class by corporate and foreign interests on display. The well established path for sitting ministers to moniterise favors performed whilst in office. Our future is being played out in living colour in the US.

  7. TailorTrashMEMBER

    Would be interesting to see a list of all the Australian ex politicians who are now on the China payroll …..everyday a new one pops up ….John Brumby ..a waste of space when he was premier of Victoria …………..seems like while we plan to spend 50 billion on 12 subs ( they will never be built) China is buying all our leadership for few million ( the subs will never be needed )

    • Nah, still need those subs to protect China’s RE investments from future encroachment. I dunno, space mongolians or whathaveyou.

  8. It would be interesting to subpoena Robb’s private emails and private phone logs/phones and see just when discussions with Landbridge started…In all likelihood we’d see another “bleachbit” accident but this time if the AFP is clued-in beforehand they could be right there to slap him with a destruction of evidence charge. Would make for an interesting fishing exercise, see just who he was in discussions with and get a feel for how much the free market valued his influence.

    • You would think at least 1 five eyes agency would be actively seeking that information even now. Not out of fear of him leaking secrets. Just in the interest of protecting the interests of the alliance. After watching China get a foot into the Philippines they would surely take this stuff a bit seriously.

      • I’ll guarantee you the relevant information is stored somewhere, for a start it is clear that every advanced country records every international phone conversation, so I can guarantee a conversation between Robb and his Chinese counterparts was recorded at least twice. From my own experience it’s very difficult to convince third parties to adopt the appropriate encryption and operational security procedures needed to avoid the direct recording of phone conversations. Even if you encrypt the voice phone link your still stuck with the metadata problem, how many calls did Robb make to Chinese individuals associated with Landbridge in the month of Sept, how about July…using these metadata methods you can pretty accurately pinpoint when the two parties started to actively explore a partnership. Metadata pinpointing of the time frame that initial negotiations happened, provides a really useful way to reduce the data set that one is searching. I’m assuming that after initial contact they went to burner phones, so for the actual conversations you’ll be searching the complete set of English language burner phone conversations between Canberra, Syd…and China and correlating this to Robbs known movements.
        All doable, matter of fact all kinda boring run of the mill analysis for any of the 5 eyes.

  9. I would have thought ASIO/ASIS would like someone like Robb on the board to keep an eye on things and/or placate the US.

  10. Nothing short of life sentence in jail, confiscation of all wealth to pay for it, and a suitable humiliation record in parliament (like they did for Trump) would be acceptable.

  11. He has a long history of using his position to make a book. Who else remember the Tourism Australia ad filmed at his family’s restaurant when he was tourist minister?

  12. In a perverse sort of way, could Robb be doing our nation a service? His insensitivity, greed and indeed treason to our nation is so “in your face” that just maybe the general public will come to see how our major political parties have been taken over by corporate and personal corruption. Until the public become outraged, cleansing of the parasites in Canberra will not happen.

  13. Tony Abbott must be pleased at how generously and quickly corporates are rewarding pollies for their public service.

    • adelaide_economistMEMBER

      I do wonder to what extent he gets away with stuff because of his well publicised mental health struggles. No-one wishes him negative health but letting the country get sold out so he can collect a few pieces of silver is not on.

      • blacktwin997MEMBER

        Yeah AE, it does seem that Mr Robb’s strategic announced depression struggle was intended for maximum forgiveness and mileage. I wouldn’t wish depression or bipolar on anyone of course but the personal misfortune tailwind/free pass is becoming epidemic. It’s also eroding sympathy and trust for genuine sufferers which is a tragedy.

  14. I’m just wondering why the double standard??????????? Have a look at what some of the recent high flyers of the Labor Party have gone on to!
    Don’t get me wrong….I hate it all!!!! I just get tired of this one-sided acrimony

    • It’s just that it is such a blatant example of the abuse of ministerial power for personal gain that it cannot be allowed to go under the radar and helps highlight a more general issue.

    • Flawse,

      You will just have to be patient.

      A bit hard for the ALP to cash out on favors from opposition.

      All in good time.

    • +1 . Maybe he is convinced in his own mind that the trade deal he signed was negotiated in good honour, that he exercised supreme self discipline in the negotiations to prevent any personal interests to affect the deal. How are we to know? It has a very bad look.

  15. Aged care will be where Mr Robb will get his just desserts. And funny enough it will be our youth that peer over him serving him puréed medications. Whatever you do Robb, keep it a secret your sellout of our children. Actually, on 2nd thought, don’t.