The taxpayer can’t be on the hook for every island in the Pacific, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says, as the government is being pushed to purchase land north of Australia.
Retired Australian businessman Ian Gowrie-Smith is selling 21 of the privately owned Conflict Islands in Papua New Guinea, situated less than 1000km from Cairns.
Mr Gowrie-Smith has flagged selling the islands to China, telling Nine’s A Current Affair he would accept a lower offer just over $36 million for the islands if it’s in Australia’s national security interests.
Mr Albanese says Australia isn’t in a position to purchase every island in the Pacific, but didn’t completely rule out Australian interest.
“There’s over 500 in that area,” he told 2GB radio.
“There’s a lot of real estate across the Pacific. Australian taxpayers aren’t in a position to buy all of it.”
The prime minister also hit out at the businessman for trying to sell the islands through the media, after reportedly trying to get in contact with the foreign minister’s office and not hearing back.
“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,” Mr Albanese said.
“One of the things the government shouldn’t do is do taxpayers’ real estate through the media.
“Think about the implications if sellers of assets came through the media, say, ‘I want Australia to buy this or else there’s implications – we’ll sell it to China’, think about where that ends.”
The final decision ultimately rested with the PNG government, Mr Albanese said as Senator Wong prepared to head to the island nation next week.
“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,” Mr Albanese said.
“This is an issue for the Papua New Guinea government. It’s sovereign territory of Papua New Guinea, not Australian territory.”