Australian defence review finds no national security grounds to overturn Chinese lease of Darwin port
- ‘Australians know this foreign privatisation deal should never have happened on [Prime Minister] Morrison’s watch’, opposition party says
- While not officially released, Australian media have reported on the review commissioned by the cabinet’s National Security Committee
The recommendation from the review makes it more difficult for Canberra to revoke the deal with Landbridge Group, which was confirmed as the subject of an inquiry in May amid growing concerns about Beijing’s impact on Australia’s national security.
The review, commissioned by the cabinet’s National Security Committee chaired by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has not been publicly released but Australian media have reported on it, citing sources.
“The Port of Darwin is a critical strategic asset for Australia. Australians know this foreign privatisation deal should never have happened on Mr Morrison’s watch – that’s just common sense,” Australia’s opposition defence spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, said on Wednesday.
“If the government acts unilaterally beyond defence’s advice and intervenes on the Port of Darwin contract, the associated costs and fallout are on the prime minister’s lap.”
The Australian government is still reviewing the matter, but Morrison has previously said the government would only act on the port lease “if there is advice from the Defence Department or our security agencies that change their view about the national security implications of any piece of critical infrastructure”.
However, the deal prompted scepticism and the suggestion the port would be a naval risk even though Australia could take over the port in the event of wartime conditions.
The Darwin port includes military facilities and hosts visiting US ships but the deal allows Landbridge to run the commercial part of the port only.
Washington has also voiced concerns over not being consulted before the signing of the deal in 2015.
Australian Minister for Defence Peter Dutton said in May that his department was looking into whether Landbridge should relinquish its lease under critical infrastructure laws passed in 2018.