The remarks in the 2015 Darwin Port Corporation (DPC) annual report contradict comments made by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who last month said it was a “commercial port, not a military port”.
In October this year Chinese-owned company Landbridge Group signed a 99-year lease for the port with the Northern Territory Government for $506 million.
An opening letter in the report by Darwin Port Corporation chief executive officer Terry O’Connor said the port was important to Defence:
“The Port of Darwin plays an important role in Australia’s Defence strategy and in 2014/15 was host to over 100 Navy vessels.
The Corporation worked closely with Defence to plan and accommodate the increased Harbour activity for major international Defence exercise Talisman Sabre, in July 2015.
The Corporation provides secure berthing and support services at Fort Hill Wharf and in May this year signed a new access agreement with the Australian Defence Force for its refuelling requirements.”
The report later said the Port of Darwin was “identified as a strategic defence port in the National Port Strategy” and noted “the Corporation attended defence briefings”, and was working “closely with Territory and Federal Government agencies” to make sure appropriate security arrangements were in place for visiting naval vessels.
Fort Hill Wharf, part of the port site leased to Chinese company Landbridge, is used by the Australian Navy and overseas militaries, including the United States.
The report listed the Department of Defence as a stakeholder in the organisation.
“The Port of Darwin has been a strategic port for Australian and allied forces for over a century,” the report said.
Mr Turnbull has previously said Defence had no concerns about the lease of the port, though some defence analysts have raised questions about Landbridge’s links with the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army.
Meanwhile the 2015 report also stated that Port Corporation’s profits were down to $12 million, from $17 million in the previous financial year.
It noted that the number of vessels that visited the port were almost half of the previous financial year from 3,178 to 1,717.