How can we distinguish between ‘rip-off’ and genuine Chinese investors, businessmen and other visitors in Australia? Should ‘Matesville’ blindly and even secretly sign up to the promises of many of the Chinese billionaire developers allowed into the country – and especially those who have been trying to also ‘influence’ local councils and corrupt local Mayors, etc? And who are the bigger crooks – dodgy overseas investors or their local associates? Finally, is China’s ‘belt and road’ strategy going to help the world or is it a ‘trojan horse’ for a Chinese ‘takeover’ or ‘buyout’ of other countries and their cities?
Australians have also been urged to enthusiastically embrace and join up to support (1) China’s ambitious trillion dollar ‘belt and road’ plan which they claim will encourage global trade for local benefit everywhere (2). However, after all the initial interest, confusion and even excitement about this, there are now growing concerns that a policy which could have been a ‘win-win’ if fair is really more a ‘trojan horse’ for influence (often seconded to private Chinese corporations and businessmen) to take over and dominate as well as exploit local resources, opportunities and peoples. It appears that the Chinese government have not so much internally eradicated the corrupting billionaires internally but come up with a strategy to export them to other countries to support the secret national interest as they continue to profiteer as before (and more). In recent months there are growing stories of unrest about this from Africa, the Pacific and various parts of Asia through to the Middle East and even Europe – such as Sri Lanka (3), Malaysia (4) and Cambodia (5). A key criticism is that local politicians are often influenced or even corrupted to get their countries to agree to pay for overly expensive or redundant infrastructure like ports (subsequently taken over China in some cases) which become ‘debt traps’ that make these countries become beholden to China in the future (6).
Also last week, the Singaporeans (initially very keen) are recognizing that as well as apparently being used to buy out, dominate and generally ‘influence’ governments and countries in the name of this initiative as increasingly a front for ‘spying’ (7). Officially the talk is about this policy linking up to Northern Australia soon (8), but as we discuss below the Australian government think its tentacles have been growing for some time already – hence the recent proposal for Australia to join a US-backed alternative (9). And in Queensland this has been linked to an apparent epidemic of local councils and mayors (etc) corrupted by developers – especially some linked to Sino billionaires. It turns out that one such place is ‘Matesville’.
Matesville ‘the town’ is a typical Australian community in need of some outside investment to generate more local jobs and to inflate depressed local house prices, but also to generally ‘benefit’ Matesville ‘the dodgy social network’ or ‘racket’ – that is ‘the unfair, self-interested and at even at times criminally complicit collusion of dodgy developers, real estate agents, solicitors and others as well as apparently corrupt council members’ that you can find in many if not most Australian cities and large towns these days. So, when overseas investors (from China especially) come to town, local councils and ‘mates’ often get together to vigorously battle to attract them to ‘invest’. But this is often ‘at any costs’ also often ignoring whether this might be sustainable and in the local or even national interest. Naturally this further leads to different forms of plundering and complicity in terms of questionable influence applied behind plans concocted and/or ‘sweetners’ offered.
There are two related problems with this. As the ‘United Front’ influence wing of the China Communist Party are fully aware, one is that most Australian politicians and bureaucrats – especially in places like Matesville – could not typically tell the difference between a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Chinese investor. And most don’t really care about this as long as their personal or group self-interests are indulged and in some cases ‘pockets lined’ (e.g. 10) . A minor but significant case in point we came across last week is a well known federal politician from Matesville recently accepting a free trip to China with $5000 spending money – and who could not see anything wrong with this or how it made him a focus of possible or even likely future complicity with China interests. The other related problem with any overseas corporate investor [Adani is a classic example – see our earlier post (11)] is that the promise of local jobs and money is so often an illusion, a seduction and a front for no jobs and local benefit but land grabs, rip-off concessions, hopes dashed again, and more damage done to community and environment with profits by both corporations and complicit ‘mates’ heading to off-shore banks and/or exotic addresses in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or in Thailand, etc.
Matesville already has an Adani headquarters to possibly plunder West Queensland local pastoral industries and the Artesian basin (as well as the mine), and the Wilmar group parachuted in from Asian palm oil central which as we speak is likewise seemingly plundering the Qld sugar industry (and with ‘Asian godfather’ origins and practices still today that people need to know about) (12). And now there might be a new secretive ‘Chinese’ arrangement between the Tiongs AKA Rimbunan Hijau of dodgy Sarawak (13) and a possible coalition of Southern China interests that seem to have recently made an ostensibly ‘tourist-focused’ land grab of resorts and other prime areas from Great Keppel to Port Douglas especially (14) – including it seems a particular big area North of Matesville (15). If done constructively and in consultation with the interests and people of local communities, it could be beneficial and a ‘win-win’ arrangement. But the secrecy and related ‘dodgy activities’ suggest the likelihood of yet another destructive sell-out or land grab arrangement with none of the benefits materializing. Indeed, Rimbunan Hijau have in the past been accused of regularly ‘infringing on the rights of local people to establish and exploit economic opportunities’ (forestnetwork.net re: their activities in PNG). In this way it seems, some suspect local councils appear to be liaising with some naïve, desperate and/or possibly crooked Qld state and local politicians and agencies to get secretive re-zonings and other concessions hastily rushed through and related agreements put in place. Very little of this is being done with proper or relevant scrutiny, but it seems with a great deal of inexcusable complicity by often ignorant or greedy people.
The Mayor of Logan could not help being corrupted by the offer of a brand new power boat to cruise around passages near Stradbroke Island (likewise Ipswich, Gold Coast, and on and on) (16). So too in Matesville it seems that some key Council members might have liaised with noted Matesville ‘mates’ in fire-sale investment deals both fair and foul involving both off-shore and local ‘crooks’ as well as some legitimate investors. This just as often entails the kind of bullying, intimidation or other kinds of rip-off manipulations and deceptions thought to only take place in corrupt third-world countries.
The scale of especially Chinese land grab investments (including resources such as mines and farms and infrastructure sites such as ports and power stations) – and how much of this seems to be linked to a Chinese government agenda of growing ‘influence by stealth’ – can no longer be ignored as a mere xenophobic fantasy or silenced by inaccurate and diversionary charges of racism. This is exemplified by the Chinese ‘African land grab’ where starving peoples in countries like Sudan are confronted by armed guards who keep them out of prime land set aside for food to be sent back to China (17) The background to this imperative and general plan was initially outlined by academic Paul Hamilton whose recent book ‘Silent Invasion: China’s influence on Australia’ (18) revealed, amongst other things, how the generous funding of on-campus Confucius Centres had snared many Australian universities in a web of complicity as well as associated with the systemic surveillance of both Chinese students and migrants (19). Two would-be publishers were directly intimidated by China into agreeing not to publish the book. Then there has been the ‘Garnaut-ASIO’ report for the Australian government (20) also identifying the systematic influencing or ‘soft corruption’ of secret complicity across Australian business and politics. An Australian friend of Garnaut was recently kidnapped and interrogated on a formal visit China by secret police trying to find out about but also perhaps intimidate Malcolm Turnball’s China adviser Ross Garnaut (21).
And then there are the exemplary cases of the billionaire Chinese developers and investors who have become Australian residents and who regularly seduce or make donations to both main political parties in Australia – but remaining closely yet secretly aligned with the agendas of the Chinese government. A noted example of this in recent months is Dr. Chau Chak Wing. He was last year charged with bribing a UN official and is now known to directly ‘influence’ politicians and universities, etc. in Australia (22). His name was kept secret under threat of legal action against Australian media outlets – until it was left to backbencher Andrew Hastie naming him under parliamentary privilege (23). Examples like this appear to confirm the key concerns of people like Hamilton and Garnaut. Both political parties have been complicit with all this but the NSW Labor Right seems to have a special deal with the China United Front. An example of this is the clumsily complicit Sam Dastyari affair (24). And, in the last week or so, there has also been the case of ex NSW Premier Bob Carr apparently targeting Ross Garnaut as a paid up representative of an ‘influencer’ think tank Australia China Relations Instituted (ACRO) largely funded by another China billionaire developer Huang Xiangmo (25).
But the possible sleeper in all of this is perhaps the Qld government with its apparent ‘labor ties’ to China and it secretive arrangements with a particular consortium of China-linked interests. At Matesville and in some other regional North Qld centres, they are especially linked to the machinations of the similarly secretive Sarawakian Chinese group Rimbunan Hijau apparently represented by two Chinese-Australians who it appears may also have some additional ‘extra-curricular’ interests in dodgy deals and personal profiteering. One is a former Labor politician who had to leave Brisbane for Matesville after being caught admitting to branch-stacking for and within the Party at the Shepherdson Inquiry (26). Another is a former Trade Representative for Queensland in Hong Kong for many years who apparently loves to find or even ‘engineer’ a bargain for himself or close colleagues when not doing so for roving Chinese billionaires inc. One of the key corporate players in the China Consortium is it seems China Southern Airlines. It appears that the Matesville Council seems perhaps keen to replace Qantas as international airline of choice at not only its airport but other regional North Qld airports (of course they would already be planning to replace Qantas all around Australia). When Deb Freckleton recently (27) accused the Qld government of being deeply embedded in ‘crime and corruption’ she might not have realised that this was not just with the CFMEU but may well also include some questionable overseas influences and interests – especially from this China connection.
It is now clear that in areas around the northern beaches area of Matesville there is a secretive billion dollar development project going on by local associates of Rimbunan Hijau. This involves not only extensive and secretive and (it seems) ‘influenced’ land-rezonings as a priority of key people interacting between the Townsville Council and the Qld Department of Natural Resources, but also associated land-grabs, intimidation and various speculative dodgy dealings it seems by some of the Rimbunan Hijau associates as well as key Matesville people. Proper community consultation and transparency really were needed about a project that might have had real win-win outcomes, but influential people in Matesville Enterprise Ltd, etc, may have been persuaded not to bother it seems This is indicated by growing projections that this is really a plan to ‘flog off parts of Qld for both local and overseas profiteering’ which will not really benefits locals or Australia generally – a plan to bring in rich Chinese tourists and also possibly Chinese migrants to become residents in exclusive gated communities [People often forget that, in any case, much tourism to Australia is an opportunity for people to eye off Australia as a place to come to by either fair means or foul – e.g. by boats or as international students who don’t intend to return home].
Therefore, since early 2015 ‘the project’ has encouraged plenty of dodgy speculative, intimidatory and collusive behavior by the usual suspects often increasingly linked to the new players. In this way it seems, Rimbunan Hijau and/or associates have apparently employed in Australia (as they have long been known to have done in Sarawak and New Guinea) tactics of bullying and illegal intimidation to get their way with little concern for or interest in the welfare of locals in some now publicised accounts involving ‘their land’ and ‘their plans’ (e.g. 29). An example of this is the illegal bull-dozing of beach shacks belonging to Vietnam Vets with PTSD and their families. And it appears that the local council may also have been mysteriously ‘obstructionist’ about the plans of shareholders in a private airport, three fish farms, an equestrian centre (and so on) in the same area as well others. Could all of this possibly be linked to the new land grab interest in the area (as well as local mates wanting to exploit this)? A legal adviser to the council behind some of the intimidation tactics also appears as an adviser to the local branch of the Qld Department of Natural Resources on secretive land re-zoning that may also apply to her own growing list of property investments in the area – an apparent case of possibly inappropriate ‘conflicts of interest’ linked to definitely dodgy, unethical and in various ways ‘illegal’ machinations and interests.
In sum, then, it is clear that the secretive nature of this deal apparently agreed to and supported in terms of the equally secretive support of state and local governments is definitely not taking place (a) with well-informed politicians and bureaucrats who have the capability of telling the different between good or ‘win-win Chinese investment and that which is ‘not good’ (e.g. has sinister motives or might have outcomes at odds with both local community and wider Australian interests), and (b) with any kind of relevant community consultation which might help to ensure there are genuine local jobs and sustainable investment outcomes. But what is telling on closer inspection is that the process may be more than just possible corruption by people who are perhaps benefiting personally on the side (as they often have in the past in various other Matesvilles around the country). It seems to include a range of dodgy activities by some Matesville ‘mates’ who stand to profit from unfair advantages and unethical and even illegal or criminal practices. Indeed, when the Matesville ‘mates’ put their lot in with secretive, unproven and generally dodgy international players there is even less chance of money and jobs staying in the local community than a Clive Palmer investment disaster (28). However, as seems to be already the case in Matesville presently, there may well be a much greater feeding frenzy of crooked deals, illicit profiteering and concentrated rip-offs and/or unethical and even criminal land grabs often based on deception and/or intimidation.
So, we come back to the questionable motives and activities of key Matesville ‘mates’. At least with local crooks some jobs and money stays in the community, but with international crooks involved (especially of the corporate variety) there is little to no chance of that happening. So it could be argued (and many are starting to do so – people who can’t all be called racist and anti-development) that this represents a betrayal of the Australian society and way of life. It could lead to – and may already have done so – to both local ‘mates’ and off-shore corporates becoming extensively complicit in the ‘crime and corruption’ arrangements between particular developers and councils? How will the future Australian society judge politicians and bureaucrats who wilfully turned a blind eye and/or lined their own pockets whilst selling out their local community? Are possible corruption charges sufficient to condemn them or might a charge of treason be more appropriate in relation to an apparent betrayal of the national interest?
- Maybe we should ask for an answer to these questions from 70 year old Vietnam Veteran and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferer Larry Bluewater about this (A). He recently watched as the Toolakea beach shacks of four mates and their families on public land at a local beach (approved at the outset by Council) were illegally as well as unethically bulldozed by local thugs for overseas Chinese developers (B). And his daughter was physically attacked and assaulted by one of these thugs who (adding insult to injury) was in a Qld Rural Fire Service uniform and vehicle as he threatened locals on behalf of a foreign interest – with the current local city council ignoring all the associated illegalities such as no permits, asbestos dumping, and the misuse of the ‘RFS authority’ (C). The final insult for Larry was seeing the apparent Chinese representative for Rimbunan Hijau come to visit and inspect the bulldozed site the day after, parading around with the said local thugs. All of this made Larry question how he had once fought for the Australian way of life, only to live to see this now apparently being given away to and exploited in a sinister way by foreign owners apparently from China.
A. True case, with some names changed for present purposes.
B. He was known to be acting for the Tiongs (Land Mark Investments, Rimbunan Hijau, etc) who already have some form for similar activities in PNG [ where associated with reports of their apparent illegal land grabs and kicking people off their land as well as “gross human rights abuses, labor abuses, sexual abuses and illegal logging”(29) – as well as the same in Sarawak and other places in the Asia-Pacific. Apparently no one has told them that this kind of behavior is really not appropriate in Australia – or perhaps they don’t care?
C. The Matesville Mayor has already prospered well before a recent windfall (together with the prospect of the CCC coming to town) seems to have positively guaranteed ‘retirement’ to an Isle of Capri villa or some similar sunset destination.
D. Aussie Watchdogs is a new associate member of the ‘Keyboard Warriors coalition’ – a term derived from the Matesville Mayor’s attempt to laugh away another’s efforts to point out possible corruption involved when they led a secret Matesville Council vote recently (31) to gift Adani $18.5M to build a remote airstrip to support that company’s proposed Carmichael coal mine (blowing the local budget on much-needed local infrastructure for years to come). This was also despite how, as adanifiles.com.au have reported “Adani has a documented history of corruption, bribery, and human rights abuses across the world. It’s currently facing further criminal investigations for alleged involvement in multi-billion dollar fraud in India”.
22 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-22/chau-chak-wing-un-bribe-scandal/9788926 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-23/turnbull-did-not-know-hastie-would-make-chau-chak-wing-claims/9790476