Warning over call for port nationalisation

Darwin Port Darwin Port. Image: Gaynor [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

A port expert has warned that acting on a call to “nationalise” an Australian port will result in a loss of business trust.

South Australian Labour MP Nick Champion said that Darwin Port, which Chinese company Landbridge Group has a 99-year lease for from the Australian government, should be “nationalised” but Neil Davidson, senior analyst - ports & terminals at Drewry, told Port Strategy that this would “undermine trust” in future deals.

“If the government reneges on a done deal, then it would undermine trust in all other Australian port deals,” he said. He added that the Landbridge contract, signed in 2015, was for a lease rather than an outright sale, “so it wasn't a privatisation in the true sense of the word”.

Power play

Concern over China’s growing influence in the ports sector has been exacerbated by its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which Australia has not signed up to, while China’s military presence in the Indo-Pacific region is also being monitored.

Mr Champion told ABC: “It's a very important port because we have significant defence facilities in the Northern Territory and that's the part of the world I guess we have to pay a great deal of attention to.

"We should look pretty clearly at making sure that that port is in government hands, and it's for those reasons I think it should be nationalised."

Mr Davidson pointed out that “if the lease was designed and negotiated properly, there will be various safeguards and requirements relating to Landbridge's behaviour and performance, and measures available if these are not met”.

In 2016, US$18.5m was committed to projects aimed at expanding the port’s reefer, general cargo and cruise ship capability.

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