Former Trade Minister Andrew Robb has become the latest former politician to cease employment with a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) linked company, as new foreign transparency laws take effect on March 1.
Robb, who had an annual income of $880,000, became a consultant with Darwin Port leaseholder Landbridge soon after quitting politics in 2016.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Robb left Landbridge because “at this stage, Landbridge has no other projects relevant for me to assist.”
Landbridge, which is owned by Chinese billionaire Ye Cheng, acquired the controversial 99-year lease for the Port of Darwin in 2015.
Ye Cheng is a member of the national Chinese People’s Consultative Committee and seeks to advance the CCP’s “One Belt, One Road” policy.
— Geoff Wade (@geoff_p_wade) February 20, 2019
Robb said that he was commissioned by Landbridge for over a year “to prepare a comprehensive report on ways that Australia’s world-class health industry could assist with a major improvement of China’s public health system,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Just before Landbridge had an opportunity to formally present my report to Chinese authorities, they were advised not to bother because the relationship between the Australian and Chinese governments ‘had become so toxic’ that the report would be binned.”
Robb previously denied working on behalf of the CCP and defended his position by saying that the CCP was not doing business in Australia, so he was not subject to the new scheme. Landbridge, who confirmed Robb’s departure, has previously denied being influenced by the CCP in its operations.
Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr and former Victoria Premier John Brumby have also left roles with companies that have strong links to the CCP.
Carr announced that he was stepping down as director of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI), which was founded by Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo. Huang has been denied entry into Australia, and was stripped of his permanent residency visa, upon advice from ASIO that he could engage in foreign interference activities on behalf of the CCP, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.
Brumby also announced his resignation from the Australian Board of Huawei. Huawei has played a key role in the CCP’s programs of mass surveillance, human rights abuse, and technological dominance.
No More Hidden Agendas—Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme
Under the new Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS) any people who act on behalf of foreign powers and seek to influence the Australian political process are required to publicly register their names and provide details of their relationships and activity with the foreign agent.
The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2018 and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2018 have passed the #Senate without amendments
— Australian Senate (@AuSenate) June 28, 2018
“This will provide transparency for the Australian government and the Australian community about foreign influence in Australia,” Australia’s Attorney-General, Christian Porter, said in a June 2018 press release.
“Foreign actors will remain free to promote their interests in Australia, provided this is done in a lawful, open, and transparent way,” said Porter in a public statement.
The FITS scheme was first introduced in December 2017 by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to address “disturbing reports about Chinese influence.”
“Media reports have suggested that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been working to covertly interfere with our media, our universities, and even the decisions of elected representatives right here in this building,” he told Parliament at the time.
As of Feb. 21, eight entries have been made on the transparency register.
Obligations for Former Cabinet Ministers
Former cabinet ministers have a “lifetime obligation” to register any activity they undertake on behalf of a foreign principal, according to the FITS fact sheet (pdf).
“This includes circumstances where a former cabinet minister is employed by (or acts in any capacity for) a foreign principal at any time following their departure from their role as cabinet minister,” according to the FITS fact sheet.
Any member of Parliament, including staffers and heads of Commonwealth agencies, who have held a designated position within the last 15 years are included.
“[They] must register any activity they undertake on behalf of a foreign principal where, in undertaking the activities, the person contributes experience, knowledge, skills or contacts gained in their former position.
The new transparency scheme: “For the first time, the public and decisionmakers in government will have visibility of the level and extent to which foreign sources may be seeking to influence Australia’s government and political processes.” https://t.co/7IHT7mbR6a
— John Garnaut (@jgarnaut) November 14, 2017
“The scheme does not prohibit former Cabinet Ministers from undertaking activities on behalf of a foreign principal. Rather, it acknowledges that it is in the public interest that these arrangements are transparent.”
Actors for foreign principals who do not register or comply with the reporting obligations of the scheme will be liable for up to five years in prison.
Epoch Times reporters Melanie Sun and Richard Szabo, and The Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.