Australian PM Albanese defends record in Pacific amid concerns of Chinese influence


Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has downplayed concerns his government is not active in the Pacific amid concerns China could purchase privately-owned islands off the coast of Australia.

Retired entrepreneur Ian Gowrie-Smith is selling the Conflict Islands, situated in Papua New Guinea, and proposed an offer to the federal government to make a purchase.

Gowrie-Smith has written to Foreign Minister Penny Wong but is still waiting for a response, indicating his agent has now begun speaking with Chinese buyers.

But the Prime Minister has since confirmed Wong’s office had received the email from Gowrie-Smith and were looking into the matter.

Albanese argued the government shouldn’t be conducting real estate deals through the media.

“There’s over 500 (islands) in that area. That’s the fact, and one of the things that the government shouldn’t do is do taxpayers’ real estate through the media,” Albanese told 2GB on Wednesday.

“Penny Wong’s office were unable to locate the email as having been received, the Department have now received that, they are looking at it.

“But there’s a lot of real estate across the Pacific, Australian taxpayers aren’t in a position to buy all of it.

“And they’re certainly not in a position to. Think about the implications if sellers of assets came through the media (to) say, ‘I want Australia to buy this or else there’s implications, we’ll sell it to China’, think about where that ends, in terms of taxpayers.”

The geography of the islands is situated near one Australia’s main shipping routes, the Jomard Passage, and the region has seen an increased influence from China recently.

Gowrie-Smith is desperately wanting to offload the islands and has listed them for a lower value of $36.3 million (US$25 million) if it meant putting Australia’s national security first.

The 74-year-old businessman was not sure if a purchase from Beijing would be “strategic in nature” but knows they have the money to acquire Conflict Islands.

“According to the agent, he’s got deals going through right at the moment of Chinese buying those islands,” he told Nine’s A Current Affair.

“I haven’t heard tickety boo – nothing. I know that it went through all the official levels with PNG’s Australian High Commissioner, so I know that it’s gone through to her.

“Penny Wong has my email address, she has my mobile number, so let’s see what we can do because I’d love to see these islands protected for the next 100 years.”

One of the 21 atolls already has a runway for light aircraft to land and a runway long enough to land 747s could be built on another due to its size.

Since coming to power in May, the Albanese Government has made a handful of visits to nations in the Pacific – a point he reiterated in the interview.

“Of course, and my Government, I think you would acknowledge, Penny Wong has been to the Pacific on multiple occasions,” he said.

“She’s off again next week to Papua New Guinea in fact, next week. We have been engaged far more than our predecessors, we’re making sure that Australia’s national interests are protected.

“We’ll continue to do so, we’ll have a look at this particular transaction. But there’s a lot of real estate.

“This is an issue for the Papua New Guinea Government of course, it’s sovereign territory of Papua New Guinea, not Australian territory.” he said.