China controlling the vital Port of Darwin
Darwin’s port, which has been leased under a 99-year deal to Chinese company Landbridge Group.
The Chinese company that controls Darwin’s Port has announced plans for a huge expansion of its operations, including a one-kilometre extension of its quay line.
Landbridge Group, which won control of the port for 99 years under a $506 million lease agreement with the NT Government in October 2015, announced the plans in a press release today.
The $25 million development plan would "meet future increases in cargo volumes in the areas of dry bulk exports, liquid bulk imports, live cattle and container and general cargo throughput", Landbridge said.
The company, owned by Chinese billionaire Ye Cheng, said it would extend East Arm Wharf by "1,000 metres" and "expand cruise ships facilities" at nearby Fort Hill Wharf.
Landbridge wants to increase cruise ship visits to Darwin’s Fort Hill Wharf. (ABC News: Elliana Lawford)
Darwin Port CEO Terry O’Connor said Landbridge intended on "more than doubling the length of the existing wharf area, so the wharf area moving towards the city".
"We’re also looking at almost quadrupling the size of the existing container yard," he said.
The company said it expected to issue tenders for dredging and civil works in the harbour as early as next month, despite having "engaged consultants to start the process of planning and finding out the full extent of the environmental impact statements that we would need to do".
"The dredging that we’re talking about here is relatively minimal, only 60 to 70 thousand tonnes, which we would dispose of onshore," Mr O’Connor said.
"We certainly wouldn’t see it having any impact or significant impact at all outside what normally occurs in the immediate area where you dredge."
NT Chief Minister Adam Giles told 1057 ABC Radio he welcomed the news of Landbridge’s plan and said more facilities would mean Territorians would "start to see a reduction in prices" for goods and services.
"It is in line with what we wanted to occur with an investor for the port. One of the reasons we pay a lot for goods and services that come over our port, is that our port is not big enough," Mr Giles said.
He said Landbridge’s plan to increase cruise ship capacity at Fort Hill Wharf would be a boon for tourism.
"To expand the cruise ship terminal to be able to take two cruise ships … to see a new terminal itself, the dredging that’ll go on, these are big investments in tourism, which government could never, ever afford to do."
The NT Government’s 2015 lease deal with Landbridge led to claims it had not consulted with the government and defence strategists over the implications of Chinese interests having control of the port – assertions refuted by the company.
The Department of Defence in a statement to the ABC said it had been aware of plans to expand the Port since early March and supported the development of the Port’s capacity.
Landbridge ‘must follow environmental process’
Mr Giles said the $25 million investment stated by Landbridge was a "very early figure" and was adamant the NT Government "won’t put a dollar in".
He said he had told Landbridge they needed to run a high level of community consultation in regards to the expansion.
"As a private investor they are able to apply for environmental approvals just like anybody else in the territory," Mr Giles said.
"But if they’ve got major financial commitments that they want to see expansion, to me that’s fantastic, it’s all about jobs and growth."
Chair of the NT Environment Protection Authority Dr Bill Freeland said the organisation would likely undertake an environmental impact assessment after a notice of intent was issued by Lands and Planning Minister Dave Tollner.
He said Landbridge would probably be required to also make a referral under a Commonwealth Act.
In May 2015, the ABC revealed the $130 million Port Melville development, located north of Darwin in an area listed as internationally significant for wildlife, was open for business, despite no formal environmental impact assessments from either the Northern Territory or Commonwealth governments.
The area at East Arm includes a number of WWII points of interest, including the site of the secret camp site of Z Special Unit, the elite Australian commando unit which was the inspiration for the modern day Special Air Service.
A nomination for the commando camp to be heritage listed was rejected by the Government in 2015, with planning minister David Tollner saying such a move would impede development.