The Giles government of the Northern Territory leased the port to the Chinese company Landbridge in 2015.
The $ 506 million lease was the subject of a review by the Department of Defense, commissioned by the Cabinet’s National Security Committee, the result of which was leaked today.
The department stated that there was “no national security risk” to justify withdrawing the Landbridge lease, despite deeper tensions between Canberra and Beijing.
Charles Sturt University Professor of Public Ethics Clive Hamilton raised security concerns.
“Any Chinese company, if Beijing is instructed, must engage in espionage or other malicious activity,” he said.
“Landbridge will have no choice.”
That leaves the Morrison government in a delicate diplomatic balance.
“We have to project 10 years ahead and ask ourselves, (i) a period of conflict, what would be the consequences of having a Chinese company that owns our most strategic port,” Professor Hamilton said.
The federal opposition will seek a full briefing on the defense review.
“What commitment with our allies has there been with regard to the privatization into foreign hands of this asset?” said Labor Senator Penny Wong.
The NT government says that if the Commonwealth wants to spend more than $ 500 million in the territory, it should invest in things that will create new jobs instead of sending money abroad.
“They sold our port and certainly disappointed territories with their disrespect for public assets,” NT Government Business Leader Natasha Fyles said of the deal.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously said he would only intervene in the port lease on the advice of the defense.
“It is being reviewed at the moment. Decisions on what to do in response to this review will be a matter for the National Security Committee,” said Federal Infrastructure Minister Bridget McKenzie.