Australian politician fights to keep Torres Strait out of Chinese control
Last week, the long-serving and often controversial federal member for the Australian electorate of Kennedy, the Hon. Bob Katter MP, put out a media release titled Chinese target Cape York for next takeover. Sitting right on Australia’s northern tip facing the Torres Strait, this two-hundred hectares of strategic coastal land is as close as you can get to Papua New Guinea without needing a passport. As part of the deal, the now abandoned former five star Pajinka Resort is also due to be developed and reopened for tourists.
The media release quotes Mr. Katter saying: “I have been reliably informed that Chinese buyers have visited the northern tip of Cape York on at least two occasions to inspect the abandoned resort, with a particular interest in photographing the northern rugged coastline.”
On the face of it, this potential resort investment might not sound out of the ordinary. However, having visited far north Queensland a few years ago, I immediately thought there was something more to this story than meets the eye. Something didn’t smell right and this prompted me to give Mr. Katter a call to discuss. “The whole issue here centers around the fact that we don’t know what’s going on. Nobody has been familiar with what is happening here, except some very shady characters. This we do know: that a number of Chinese people have come to the area with an intent to acquire the resort and related land,” he said.
If you’ve never been to Cape York, the first thing you will notice, after the crushing heat and humidity, is that the area is desolate. There are very few people, the roads and infrastructure are basic at best, and every year during a long wet season the entire area is impassable, completely cut off.
Why would an investor want to buy coast-front land at the tip of Cape York, in an inhospitable environment, and no way of transporting tourists to the area for almost half of the year? How would they make money? What would be the impact to the local indigenous community of the resort development? What would be the impact on the environment (and are the Chinese interested in building a port also)?
Are they considering shipping in large boats of tourists to turn a profit? Undoubtedly, the answer has to be yes for there is no other way for large groups of tourists to access the resort. With half of the year lost to the wet season, the resort owners will have to attract and transport large numbers of tourists across a few months of the year. For most resort owners this is not feasible. For Chinese developers, this is the norm. Who will staff the resort when it is open? Do the local peoples have the skills required to staff a five star (Chinese-owned) resort? If not, does the resort owner plan on flying in/out staff to be brought in? What impact will this have on the local community?
Mr. Katter explained that this parcel of land was recently gifted to the Traditional Owners (Gudang/Yadhaykenu Aboriginal Corporation) as freehold land by the Queensland state government. He explained that the Aboriginal representative has been negotiating with Chinese buyers without consulting the local government. “Why would they have actively avoided any interface with the local people? Well it might be the local people are not real happy about their entire province being taken over by foreign people,” he said.
When asked why the Queensland state government gifted the land as “freehold,” Mr. Katter explained “they’re kindergarten kids running the state government. But even a kindergarten kid should have been able to figure out if you give a freehold title to someone obscure, then he can sell it to whoever he likes and you are selling the most strategic piece of land in this country.”
From a national security perspective this is a big deal and requires the attention of the federal government. The land is strategically positioned on Australia’s northern most tip, a stone’s throw from Papua New Guinea. It offers an adversary the ability to control the Torres Strait and the shipping transiting through. It also provides an excellent position for intelligence and surveillance activities. It would not be inconceivable for any “investor” to push to have a port built to bring in tourists and supplies, further entrenching their foothold and enabling more robust activities in the future.
There seems to be more questions than answers at this point. However, what we do know is disturbing and there is still enough time for the federal government to intervene. In the meantime, it would be useful to hear from the Queensland state government, along with the representative of the Aboriginal Corporation as to their plans for the site. Transparency of exactly who has visited the site, what, if any, social and environmental impact statements have been completed, and whether the potential owners plan to submit (or have discussed) applications to build a port, are required.