In February 2016, Andrew Robb quit his role as Australia’s trade minister having just finalised the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement. Robb remained a member of parliament until 2 July 2016 and then immediately took an $880,000 ‘consultancy’ role at China’s Landbridge Group – the owner of the 99-year lease over the Port of Darwin – presumably on the back of the inside information he gained as a senior minister.
The Landbridge Group is owned by businessman Ye Cheng, who is a member of President Xi Jinping’s advisory body Chinese People’s Consultative Committee. Thus, Ye Cheng has very close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
Robb’s appointment to Landbridge clearly breached 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.
Over the weekend, Robb reportedly purchased a Cremorne Point house for $3,985,000, which comes on top of last year’s purchase of a $3,735,000 clifftop house at Palm Beach. From Domain:
The purchase, in wife Maureen Robb’s name, is expected to be a permanent base for the couple, replacing their former Melbourne home in Brighton they sold a year ago for $2,655,000 in his former Goldstein electorate…
The two-storey house is set on 424 square metres and includes separate living areas, a large study, spa and double garage…
The Robb purchase follows their $3,735,000 purchase of a clifftop house at Palm Beach a year ago…
The optics here are terrible and could encourage future Australian politicians to sell-off sensitive national security information for personal profit. The Coalition should make an example of Andrew Robb and eject him from the party.
Meanwhile, at the AFR today, “Junket Jen” Hewitt, who has spent year taking free trips from Fortescue Metals Group to Asia, weighs in:
Australian business leaders are alarmed about the potential impact on Chinese trade and investment due to the ratcheting up of public tension between China and Australia. Australian political leaders are more worried about the potential impact on national security unless they are willing to risk Chinese ire, including some form of economic retaliation.
…Given China is Australia’s most significant trade partner, the stakes are very high – and razor sharp. The recent visit of Australian vice-chancellors to China, for example, is all about Australian universities’ desperate need to protect a business model that relies on charging increasing numbers of Chinese students very high fees to subsidise their activities.
…”What’s the point of trying to sound morally superior on the South China Sea?” puzzles one senior business figure. “China has already done what it wanted to do and will do in future. Australia complaining won’t make any difference on that, but it could easily make a difference to Australia’s trade. It’s obvious China can and will respond to that sort of criticism. And what’s the advantage to Australia in not signing up to One Belt One Road?”
…”If exports are harmed a few percentage points, so be it,” says one senior security figure. “It’s more important to ensure that Australia’s national interests are protected as much as possible.”
…The costs, political and economic, are adding up.
Who are these “business leaders”? Names should be on record so we can judge the interest in the debate. This is not some parlour game. It’s the future of Australian democracy we’re talking about. The debate deserves absolute clarity not innuendo and unknown influences. That’s kind of the whole point.
The Australian does some further hand-wringing over investment:
Chinese direct investment into Australia is on the wane and top Chinese executives have warned that the worsening political climate could hit their multi-million-dollar decisions about local projects, according to a KPMG and University of Sydney study.
The report comes amid concerns from security advisers that the Chinese government is targeting Australian businesses and influential people to pressure Australia into shifting away from a hard stand towards Beijing.
Part of this was driven by mainland companies pulling back from making glitzy acquisitions of entertainment assets as Beijing cracked down on lax investment practices and forced businesses to refocus on their primary trades.
Australia was not as hard hit as other foreign investment destinations by the clampdown on the exodus of capital but local executives surveyed warned about tensions that had flared up in the bilateral relationship.
…“They’re worried but they’re still investing,” he said. “It’s a warning sign but there is no emergency from a business perspective, from investment levels.’’
Given the degree of pull-back in Chinese capital outflow it looks like things are going well, actually.