What should happen is the Chinese should be told about the new port plan and offer to tear up the 99-year lease and send the Chinese packing . If not, ring fence their port. A new port would no longer be needed—many problems solved for little cost—very good for Darwin too! Read about Mr Robb here and here,
Darwin’s proposed new port development should come as no surprise
Other similarly slapdash carboard banners were also erected along the street.
Their appearance signalled that some within the tropical capital may have been aware of the impending news — and perhaps the rest of the region’s residents shouldn’t have been too surprised.
While nothing has yet been declared through official government or Defence channels, the signs of such a development have long existed.
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In February 2015, then-US chief of naval operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert visited Darwin to inspect facilities and infrastructure which could allow US warships to be based in the Top End.
At the time, Admiral Greenert said the US was “doing a study together with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to see what might be feasible for naval co-operation in and around Australia, which might include basing ships”.
His comments were made at a time of consternation for some of the highest figures of the US command, just months before the leasing of the Darwin port to Chinese-owned company Landbridge for 99 years.
At the time of this leasing by the NT’s former Country Liberal Party government, then-president Barack Obama told then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull he could have used a “heads-up” over the deal.
Four years before this, Mr Obama made a whistle-stop trip to the Territory, where he unveiled the new troop deployment of US Marines to be based in Darwin.
“By the end of this decade, a majority of our Navy and Air Force fleets will be based out of the Pacific, because the United States is and always will be a Pacific power,” Mr Obama said during another Australian visit in 2014.
It is no secret that Darwin sits as a strategic vantage point to oversee the growing tensions on the South China Sea, where the US and China are the two major players and the two main adversaries.
Darwin US Marine contingent on rise
Darwin already houses a large and growing contingent of the US Marines.
Why did the NT lease Darwin Port to China?
It was a decision that baffled everyone from NT locals to Barack Obama, a strategic asset lease that slipped past the Foreign Investment Review Board and Defence. How did the port sale propel the sleepy territory into a geopolitical brawl?
Earlier this year, it was confirmed that 2019 would be the biggest rotation in history of the marines to head Down Under for their training, with 2,500 of them on the ground.
A bolstering of their numbers was welcomed by political and industry leaders, keen to see a larger slice of military spending splashed around the region’s ailing economy.
Federal MP Luke Gosling at the time called for more cooperation between the US Marines and Darwin businesses, and told the ABC “the community will be really supportive of [the US Marines] locally procuring and adding to the economy however they can”.
Already known as an ADF town, Darwin has much of the infrastructure needed to facilitate training exercises and repairs for a large foreign contingent.
A nearly-$500 million expansion has been taking place at the Larrakeyah Barracks, as have hundreds of millions of dollars worth of upgrades at the RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal, near Katherine.
Earlier this year, NAVFAC, the US Navy’s engineering command, released a draft solicitation for multi-million-dollar fuel storage tanks to be built at RAAF Base Darwin.
But despite the US Navy’s evident interest in the region, the ADF told the ABC earlier this year there were “no talks to formalise an increased presence of US Navy personnel in Northern Australia”.
“The [fuel storage] facility will support training and enable enhanced cooperation between the Australian Defence Force and the US Marine Corps and US Air Force,” the ADF spokesman said.
Whether or not the NT will see more foreign boots on the ground, the ADF has been steadily improving and upgrading defence infrastructure in and around Darwin in recent years — a fact which falls somewhat contradictory to the reality that ADF numbers have been on a steady decline in Darwin for the past decade.
Glyde Point upgrades flagged for years
That the proposed port should be based at Glyde Point should also come as no major shock.
In 2003, the NT Infrastructure Department commissioned a report into the potential for a “major gas-based industrial estate and associated port facilities” to be constructed at Glyde Point, near the end of Gunn Point Road in Darwin’s rural area.
Alongside the port facilities, the report delved into the possibility of roads and rail corridors to the area and workers’ accommodation to be constructed.
Ten years later, in 2013, then-chief minister Adam Giles flagged his own plan to follow through on this bid and build the new deep-water port at Glyde Point.
A Darwin Regional Land Use Plan released in 2015 featured reference to long-term planning for “strategic industry and a future port at Glyde Point”.
Since the 2016 election, the NT’s Michael Gunner-led Labor Government has been steadily continuing focus on this area.
“A key driver for [the Gunn Point upgrades] is the Northern Territory Government’s commitment to Project Sea Dragon, a $1.45 billion prawn aquaculture project that will generate significant economic and employment opportunities for locals,” the government said in 2017.
Developments would mark Top End’s next chapter
Earlier this year, in 2019, the road to Gunn Point was sealed for a cost of $40 million.
It was lauded by current NT Infrastructure Minister Eva Lawler as a boon for the region’s fishers and campers to gain access to the area.
But it seemed like a large spend to seal a road in a still relatively lowly populated part of the Top End.
When completion of the road was announced, rural politician Gerry Wood poured scorn on the “spin” surrounding the NT Government’s angle that it was a tourism bid.
“[I can’t] believe that any government trying to convince the people about what they are doing could dare to write their attached media release and not blush,” Mr Wood said.
That the road could have a new purpose as a thoroughfare for transporting supplies, and potentially US troops, to this new facility could make more sense.
Regardless of its purpose, any potential Glyde Point port development could take time.
As an Infrastructure Department spokesman told the ABC last week, the next stage of this project to connect Gunn Point to Glyde Point, “is beyond a 10-year horizon”.
But if and when it happens, a port development can expect to face heated public debate — any plan to allow foreign forces to use the infrastructure for their purposes will have its supporters and its detractors.
And regardless of how long they take, if they forge ahead, the changes will undoubtedly alter the size and scope of Darwin forever.
If Commonwealth and Defence officials formally announce that this project is a goer, it will mark the start of the next chapter for the Top End capital, and possibly mainland Australia — one which comes with an added tinge of global political risk.
And there should be no real surprises here — the signs have long been hanging over this Territory town.