Andrew Robb was appointed Trade Minister under the Abbott Coalition Government in 2013. He then retired from politics in 2016 and began working for a Chinese billionaire closely associated with both the Chinese Community Party. Soon after the establishment of Australia's Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, Mr. Robb left this role.
The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA)
In his time as Trade Minister, Mr. Robb was considered the 'architect' of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. This agreement was signed on the 17th of June 2015. The intended outcomes of the agreement included 95 percent of Australian exports to China becoming tariff free, including agricultural products such as beef and dairy. In return, investments into Australia from Chinese private companies under $1,078 million AUD would not be subject to approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB).
On the very same day the agreement was signed, Mr. Robb's campaign finance vehicle, the Bayside Forum, received $50,000 from a Chinese property developer, Huang Xiangmo, along with his associates. Mr. Huang had also previously donated $100,000 to Mr. Robb's campaign finance vehicle in 2012.
Consultancy for Landbridge Group
A year later, Mr. Robb left parliament and started a $880,000-a-year role as a "high-level economic consultant" for Chinese billionaire Ye Cheng’s Landbridge Group, the same group which won the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin in 2015. Ye Cheng was also "closely aligned to the Chinese Communist Party and its key trade policy," and a member of the national Chinese People's Consultative Committee, an advisory body established to "uphold the CPC leadership without wavering."
While Mr. Robb's role was first announced publicly on September the 2nd 2016, he had already been working in this capacity for at least the past 8 weeks, having first started the role on July 1st, the day before the 2016 Australian Federal Election. A joint Four Corners/Fairfax Media investigation revealed that Mr. Robb began receiving monthly payments of $73,000 (GST incl.) on July 1st 2016. Mr. Robb had announced his withdrawal from re-contesting seat of Goldstein in months prior.
While Mr. Robb did not respond to specific questions regarding his consultancy role with Landbridge, but stated:
"I can confirm that I fully understand my responsibilities as a former member of cabinet, and I can also confirm that I have, at all times, acted in accordance with those responsibilities."
During his time consulting for Landbridge it is estimated that Mr. Robb earned more than $2 million plus expenses, with a company document revealing that Mr. Robb's consulting contrast was "so vague and ill-defined he would be paid even if he did nothing."
Mr. Robb joins several other former senior Australian politicians who exited politics and then entered into roles funded by businesses or individuals with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, including former Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, and former Victorian premier, John Brumby.
The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme
In February 2019, it was reported that Mr. Robb had ceased his consultancy role with Landbridge. Mr. Robb's statement on why he left the position was because the company no longer had any projects for him to work on:
"I had been commissioned by Landbridge for well 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. 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."
In late 2018, Australia's Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme was activated alongside the launch of a public register for those looking to influence the Australian political system on behalf of foreign interests. Lobbyists were required to add themselves to the register by March of 2019.
Despite Mr. Robb claiming that as he was not doing business in Australia he "could not be captured by the new scheme," then Attorney-General, George Brandis, had previously suggested that Mr. Robb would need to sign up to the register.