Opinion pieces

Review of foreign purchases vital, no matter financial cost

(First published in The Mercury 5 May 2021)

Many of us felt extremely uncomfortable with the Port of Darwin being leased to Chinese interests for 99 years. We were right to feel uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.

In 2015, the Port of Darwin was leased to Landbridge Industry Australia, a subsidiary of Shandong Landbridge Group, a Chinese company whose billionaire owner Ye Cheng was named by the Chinese Government in 2013 as one of the top 10 “individuals caring about the development of national defence”. Shortly after the purchase of the lease Cheng tellingly, if perhaps, accidentally, told state-owned news organ Xinhua News Agency that “Landbridge has a port in Rizhao [eastern China] and now we have a port in Darwin. This is our involvement in One Belt, One Road." If that wasn’t enough, the company was later found to have extensive links to the CCP and the People’s Liberation Army.

At the time, the Department of Defence “examined the possible security implications” of the lease of the port but did not have any concerns. Former Secretary of the Department of Defence, Dennis Richardson, unbelievably told Senate Estimates on 21 October 2015 that “no part of defence had a concern from a security perspective in the respect of the sale.”

The announcement of the lease was not without criticism from security experts. Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defence Association, wrote that “there has been an utter failure to examine the matter in a mature, holistic and grand-strategic context that draws together all the Australian (and allied) sovereign-freedom-of-action implications over the next century.” Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that “the Port of Darwin debacle should force reconsideration of how Australia deals with the national security implications of foreign direct investment proposals.”

The announcement of a review into the Port of Darwin is, therefore, an overdue and vital step in maintaining the integrity of Australia’s critical infrastructure, and protection from possible foreign economic and military interference.

The purchase of the Port of Darwin is not an isolated investment decision but a deliberate, calculated purchase as part of a larger plan by the CCP to expand its economic reach through a network of global maritime hubs known as the “the 21st century Maritime Silk Road”, which in turn is part of the larger and more well-known global Belt and Road Initiative. The CCP has a consistent record of buying ports in vital shipping areas and using its economic leverage to extract military and strategic advantages.             

The Port of Piraeus in Greece China’s main gateway to Europe and in 2010, the China Ocean Shipping Co., known as COSCO, started buying stakes in the port. Just six years later, COSCO had full control of the port. China now holds stakes in over a dozen European ports.

Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, close to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, was ceded to the Chinese Government in 2018 – along with 15,000 acres of surrounding land – for 99 years. Sri Lanka’s president turned to the Chinese Government for loans and help to build the project only to incur such crippling debt as to offload the entire port, giving China an economically and militarily important territory, and one only a few hundred miles from India, their rival and fellow emerging superpower.     

The Port of Djibouti is now buttressed by China’s first overseas military base (known as its “strategic strongpoint”, in Beijing). Less than two weeks ago U.S. General Stephen Townsend warned that “the Chinese base is turning into a ‘platform to project power across the continent and its waters’” and that China is “looking for other basing opportunities (around Africa)”. Unsurprisingly, the Port of Djibouti is strategically located at the crossroads of one of the busiest shipping lanes routes in the world, linking the Persian Gulf, Europe, the Far East, and the Horn of Africa.

Another Australian port, as part of China’s massive investment push into Victoria, was also in China’s sights. Victoria’s China Strategy Progress Report 2018 outlined how the China Investment Corporation – a state-owned investment fund – had joined the Lonsdale Consortium to purchase 20 per cent of the 50-year-long Port of Melbourne lease.

The CCP has never allowed a foreign nation to interfere with its ‘internal affairs’ with the purchase of maritime infrastructure that is so militarily, economically, and strategically important, yet the Darwin Port lease was inexplicably believed to be in the nation’s interest.   

Australia faces unprecedented levels of foreign interference aimed at undermining our political system, critical infrastructure and social institutions. Given the new powers of the Federal Government under the Foreign Relations Bill, it is a timely and appropriate decision from Minister Dutton to review all investments and the purchase of critical assets by foreign nations which have the potential to subvert our national interests and security – no matter the financial cost.

Tasmanian Liberals the only party that can lead Tasmania

(Published in The Examiner 20th April February 2021, publication available here)

We don't only want it; we actively pursue security.

Be it in our relationships, jobs, health, housing, plans, or our nation's defence; we instinctively seek a secure future. 

We accordingly plan, hope and often worry for that secure future.

It applies to politics as well.

Particularly in uncertain times, we rightly seek security, leadership and a plan we can believe in.

We need a stable majority government to deliver that security.

For those with good memories, Labor's Eric Reece and Jim Bacon delivered on that score, as did the Liberals' Robin Gray, Ray Groom and Will Hodgman.

Our economy benefited as did our futures.

On the other hand, from the mire of the recession-induced by Green-Labor minority governments in Hobart and Canberra, we suffered the corrosive impacts of sacked nurses, the prison in chaos, schools closed, a burgeoning debt, and the highest unemployment rate in the country.

In opposition, the Liberals both state and federal under Hodgman and Tony Abbott saw the obvious imperative to turbocharge the Tasmanian economy and help it become self-reliant and sustainable.

In the years since the elections, federally in 2013 and state in 2014, Tasmania has gone from recession to the turnaround state to the standout state.

This hasn't happened by accident.

Laser-focused policy and targeted expenditure have delivered what we have now - the best economic credentials in Australia of all the states and territories.

Indeed, we have an economy growing faster than the Chinese economy.

Impressive by anyone's standards.

These objective assessments are facts that cannot be sidestepped by political spin or empty rhetoric. CommSec's eight indicators paint the picture - Tasmania is the standout.

The constant throughout Tasmania's transformation has been the state Treasurer Peter Gutwein, who of course is now our Premier.

From shadow treasurer, providing believable, doable and achievable outcomes, Tasmania has again blossomed, seeing our children return home - the best indicator of confidence.

They rightly sense a secure future.

Their decision will be bolstered by the positive forward-looking plan offered by the Premier who rightly seeks a mandate in what we all hope and pray is now the post-COVID era.

Even if fate would have it otherwise, the aggressive infrastructure program and forward plan, including the Launceston City Deal, indicates confidence (not to be confused with arrogance) in our future.

Minister Michael Ferguson's stewardship of this area is exemplary, as is Minister Sarah Courtney in Health.

When it comes to Energy and Agriculture, two significant potentials for Tasmania, Minister Guy Barnett presents another example of vision, enthusiasm and drive.

And if recourse is needed to the backbench, John Tucker (Lyons) and Felix Ellis (Braddon) are two standouts, highlighting the vast depth of the Liberals' talent pool

The Liberal plan sensibly has as its priority a continuing commitment to keeping us safe and secure from COVID.

The plan includes a determination to diversify our economy, to future proof it for sustainable jobs.

A strong economy in turn will provide the necessary resources to provide the essential services on which we all rely.

And, what is a plan without ensuring our young get the best education, training, apprenticeships and jobs to secure their futures?

So good is the Liberal plan that Labor has had to descend to the dishonest scare campaign that the Liberals intend to privatise TAFE.

Simply false. Simply wrong. Simply desperate.

All done because Labor doesn't have a viable alternative plan for TAFE.

The success we've built thus far and the positive future-proofing plan is all potentially losable given the vagaries of the Hare-Clark system, which at the last election saw the Liberals gain 51 per cent of the primary vote (not two-party preferred!) and end up with a meagre one-seat majority.

In previous elections when the Liberals were struggling, many a traditional Liberal voter switched to Labor simply to secure majority government and the benefit it brings.

One cannot help but wonder at Labor's disarray (eg the state president publicly threatening to sue the state leader - really! Couldn't it at least have waited until after the election?).

The raw enmity and division are on full display for all to see, showing how unworthy Labor is for government.

As Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke so cogently put it, "If you can't govern yourselves, you can't govern the country" or, in this case, the state.

Those who consider themselves to be traditional Labor voters need to do the right thing by our state and lock in the security of a stable majority government by voting Liberal - the party with the record, the team and the plan.

Let's lock it in, Tasmania.

There's no virtue in divisive identity politics

The woke who revel in seeking to identify every imagined ill in society on behalf of their current favoured identity minority need to take stock.

Martin Luther King put it well when he asked for his children to be judged on the basis of character rather than skin colour.

The public splutterings by some and sundry, ever so desperately signalling their virtue, including local councils, wanting to change Australia Day out of "respect" for our Indigenous brothers and sisters and holding ceremonies on different days, might like to stop and ask what those whom they assert they are championing actually want.

Why? Because according to recent Roy Morgan polling 73 per cent of self-identified Indigenous Australians actually support 'Australia Day' while 27 per cent favour 'Invasion Day'.

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine explains:

"Perhaps most surprisingly amongst all the arguments about what the day should be known as is the views of people who consider themselves Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Amongst this group 73% say the day should be known as 'Australia Day' compared to only 27% that say it should be known as 'Invasion Day' - a significantly higher level of support for 'Australia Day' than amongst other Australians."

That's right, 73 per cent of Indigenous Australians support and understand 'Australia Day'.

So those activists who relentlessly bombard us with "change the date" because of their "solidarity" with the Indigenous are in fact embarrassingly out of step with those whom they are allegedly championing.

How silly must the management of Cinema Nova now feel?

In response to only one objector (who felt uncomfortable with it) the cinema pulled the innocuous "Reflect. Respect. Celebrate." Australia Day advert from their screens.

One suspects the silliness of renaming the Coon Cheese brand (named after its developer, Mr E. Coon) is similarly out of step with the sentiment of our fellow Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.

Spare a thought for those with the surname Coon!

Some eight years ago the ABC developed new offices in Brisbane. Before opening, a smoking ceremony was held to "cleanse" the building and to "expel bad spirits". This was done by way of a non-Christian ceremony - in fact an Indigenous smoking ceremony.

When asked why this methodology was preferred, Senate Estimates was told that it was a "symbolic event" out of solidarity with our Indigenous community.

According to the ABS and inconveniently for the ABC, the religion to which the Indigenous community overwhelmingly subscribes to in Queensland is, in fact, Christianity.

The ABC, one assumes, was symbolically telling the vast majority of the Indigenous community that their beliefs didn't matter.

Virtue signalling by the non-Indigenous board and management was far more important than the wishes of the majority they so patronisingly sought to champion.

If the majority of the minority being "championed" by the woke don't understand their patronising and misguided intentions, one assumes it's their own fault and not the virtue signallers.

But back to Australia Day. The voices of Indigenous leadership on this, be it Australia's first Indigenous Commonwealth parliamentarian, the late Liberal Senator Neville Bonner, or up and coming, inspirational Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs, Jacinta Price, among a host of others including Indigenous Minister Ken Wyatt, are in tune with the overwhelming majority of their people and the Roy Morgan findings.

So it was on Australia Day at Sandy Bay at a wonderful citizenship ceremony welcoming 60 people into the Australian family the small audience witnessed the hijacking of the event by the Greens Deputy Mayor of Hobart encouraging those in attendance to attend an 'Invasion Day' Rally.

We couldn't have the usual full Sandy Bay Regatta because of COVID restrictions but a rally for a "woke" cause self-evidently keeps COVID at bay. A bit like Black Lives Matters marches presumably do, whereas ANZAC Day parades don't.

The hypocrisy and duplicity, if not deceit, is breathtaking.

Some officials really treat us as mugs but the majority of us thankfully see through it.

For those that revel in minority identity politics and divide and compartmentalise our society while patronisingly ascribing group thinking to them, please stop and listen to what they actually want, not what you need them to want.

Those that divide, deflate and destroy do our society a great disservice and miss the opportunity of uniting, inspiring and building a stronger Australia, an opportunity to which the "woke" may never wake up.

Failing to call out dictators fails humanity

Published in The Examiner 13 January 2020

So it helps if you enjoy reading.

The Christmas break affords the opportunity to read for leisure.

This year it included, thanks to my staff, the autobiography of a humble champion, Gary Ablett. Well worth a read and yes the writer may well be a Geelong tragic.

Another awesome (in the true sense of the word) read was the story of Eddie Jaku. This centenarian Sydney-sider decided to tell his story last year. The title: The Happiest Man on Earth. One could imagine from the title that it was a story of a charmed life.

Instead, it is the story of a holocaust survivor.

That's right, a holocaust survivor self-describing as the "happiest man" despite the depravities and inhumane brutalities that he witnessed and personally experienced.

For Eddie Jaku, life was beautiful if you made it beautiful. For him, happiness is something we can choose - a worthy new year's resolution.

Amid this uplifting life story is the provision of detail of the full horror of the National Socialist evil perpetrated against so many.

And he begs the question why did people allow it to happen? Why didn't people speak out and say 'enough is enough'?

If enough people had spoken out, history might well have been different, and the atrocities of World War II avoided.

We can't rewrite history, but we can learn from it and be on the alert, which is why our security personnel thankfully take emerging right-wing extremism very seriously along with other forms of extremism.

So, it was heartening to see the public repulsion at the national socialist symbols displayed at a local residence last year.

Eddie's recounting of his observations of a past era bear a stark resemblance to certain current-day occurrences.

German society was being totally reorganised for war.

There is a country today which has adopted a 'civilian-military fusion' concept whereby anything from the civilian sector that is potentially valuable for military purposes needs to be made available to its military.

The rounding up of people deemed to be unfriendly to the State was simultaneously pursued; Communists, political prisoners, Slavs, Freemasons and Jews.

Today another country is rounding up Uighurs, house Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and pro-democracy advocates.

The use of slave labour exploiting the able-bodied in concentration camps (which included Mr Jaku) was part of the so-called nation-building exercise. Today the Uighurs are experiencing similar exploitation.

Illegal land acquisition tested the resolve and commitment of the world community which was tried and found wanting, so it proceeded. Recently islands in the South China Sea have been illegally seized and turned into a military base. The consequences again regrettably zero.

The so-called medical experiments of national socialism have been documented in all their barbarity.

A tribunal headed by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC has determined that forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience occurs today in this particular country.

Chillingly, commitment to the Party above all other moral or ethical considerations was demanded.

To allow all this to occur required a concerted campaign of charm offensives by the leadership and representatives of the evil regime... think of a relatively recent visit to our State, which many of us welcomed.

Given the privilege of hosting an Olympics is another similarity. One was hosted in 1936. Another will be hosted in 2022.

The similarities between fascist and communist dictatorships are visible for all who want to see.

That's why Sir Robert Menzies in setting out the founding principles of the Liberal Party spelt out exceptionally clearly his party's opposition to both communism and fascism (para 9).

To call out brutal dictatorships which inflict themselves on their populations is to do the right and proper thing.

The oppressed deserve nothing less.

The free world delayed for too long in calling out Germany's fascist dictatorship in the 1930s. Let it not delay for too long in calling out the Communist Dictatorship in China in the 2020s.

And so, leisure reading turned into a valuable reminder that for evil to prevail, all that is required is for good people to do nothing. 

“We Need to Remember Them"

An unmarked grave. No details. No name. No age. Nothing. A void. Desolate. Forgotten. A bare plot revealing nothing.

Devastatingly sad. Especially so when you know the plot is the resting place of one who was willing to sacrifice his life for you and me.

700 World War I veterans in unmarked graves just in Tasmania alone. And around Australia, it would be thousands. It doesn't bear thinking. They deserve better.

Men who had fought for our safety, our values, our way of life.

The same service personnel we commemorated and honoured on Remembrance Day just six days ago, promising "we will remember them".

Yet many of them lie unknown, unrecognised, unacknowledged. We forgot them.

A national disgrace. We didn't care as we should have cared. We didn't remember them.

Alienated from family, from society, or the ravages of the depression making a headstone unaffordable, whatever the reasons our Nation didn't honour our returned men in death.

Into this void, this blot on our nation entered Andrea Gerrard OAM - a diminutive lady with tenacity, passion and professionalism.

And so the Headstone Project was born.

Through her involvement in the Families and Friends of the First AIF Inc Andrea Gerrard brought this disgrace to light. Not satisfied at just finding this neglect Andrea set about to rectify this appalling situation.

In Tasmania, about 500 out of the 700 veterans who languished unrecognised are now acknowledged with an appropriate headstone and plaque thanks to a wonderful team effort spearheaded by Andrea Gerrard.

Private support from the corporate sector including - Mitre 10, Cement Australia, Sika, Kings Trailers, Nyrstar, Crossroads Concrete and My Pathway, together with RSL's and the 12th/40 Battalion Royal Tasmanian Regiment display the strong and generous community spirit and support. Local Government from Launceston to Hobart, the Derwent Valley to King Island have chipped in as well.

It was my privilege to assist with facilitating a number of Work for the Dole programmes to assist. Rewarding not only for myself but the participants who found their involvement exceptionally rewarding. More recently DGR (Deductible Gift Recipient} status for tax purposes was granted. Not much advocacy was needed on my part with the Treasurer readily accepting the worthiness of this wonderful cause.

In typical style for Andrea the placement of headstones was simply not enough. As each group of headstones was completed a fitting ceremony was held with the Governor, Chief of Army, Director of the War Memorial, the Minister for Veterans Affairs, variously officiating at the unveiling ceremonies. The ceremonies included local students researching and providing a brief biography of each digger whose dignity in death has been restored.

The Headstone Project has allowed families to be reunited with their ancestors and loved ones as well.

Not surprisingly the Headstone Project initiative has been observed and replicated on the mainland leading the Minister for Veteran Affairs at the last election to start a national pilot programme of co-funding with communities.

As we rightly saluted our veterans last week, we should also salute the Andrea Gerrards of this world who see a need and selflessly dedicate themselves to seeing the need fulfilled. An OAM in 2018 was deserved recognition for Andrea's efforts, as was the Community Group of the Year Award at last years’ Tasmanian Community Achievement Awards.

Anyone wishing to be involved in the worthy Headstone Project can contact

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Bare plots have been transformed into enduring memorials of appreciation thanks to Andrea Gerrard OAM. Her committee is converting community goodwill into practical action to ensure we live up to our commitment to remember them.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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