Landbridge Group’s managing director stands down amid security review of Darwin Port

by | Nov 10, 2021 | Business, News | 0 comments

Landbridge Group managing director Mike Hughes – who was instrumental in securing the 99-year lease of the Darwin Port for the Chinese-owned company – has resigned amid a national security review of the deal.

Mr Hughes was in the role for more than seven years and helped negotiate the controversial lease of the Darwin Port to Landbridge with the then-CLP NT government and senior bureaucrats in 2015.

Landbridge’s Mike Hughes

That deal and China’s ownership is the subject of a Department of Defence review, under national security grounds, that has been completed but is awaiting a decision from the Federal Government on how to proceed.

It’s been speculated the Morrison Government would be looking at different options including the most drastic involving forcing Landbridge to divest the asset under critical infrastructure laws passed in 2018 on national security grounds.

Other options include “security views” of the port by the government to ensure any potential risks are dealt with or expanding on the critical infrastructure laws to impose other regulations on the port operator that would mitigate any national security concerns.

National security experts have previously called on the government to change the current lease arrangements, suggesting they were impacting on relationships with Japan and the US, countries that have raised concerns about the 99-year lease of the strategically positioned port to Landbridge.

Others have called for the Federal Government to buy it back, but warned that would increase already simmering tensions with China.

Federal Labor had previously called for the review of the port deal, while Chief Minister Michael Gunner has roundly rejected any changes to the current arrangement which he had previously said was a “win” for the Chinese Government.

“It’s both an Australian government win and a Chinese government win,” Mr Gunner said at a 2019 reception at the Chinese Embassy in Darwin to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

“So I think it’s a positive sign of what you can achieve if you work together as a commercial port doing commercial things.”

Head public servant Jodie Ryan was on the committee that selected Landbridge as the winning tenderer for the lease of the port in 2015 ahead of Australian and European bidders. Mr Gunner however said earlier this year that the decision caused “reputational harm” to the Northern Territory.

The review was handed to Defence Minister Peter Dutton in recent weeks but has not yet been considered by the national security committee of Cabinet. A decision is expected early next year.

The Australian reported Mr Hughes would stay on as a “part-time advisor” with Landbridge and was replaced as managing director by Matt Wallach, the head of subsidiary company Westside.

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