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Report: Chinese firm buys Australian island, blocks Australians from living there

Chinese flag, Beijing, China. (Daderot/Wikimedia Commons)
February 09, 2021

A Chinese developer who purchased a 99-year lease of an Australian island last year has been preventing existing residents from living on, or even visiting, the island.

New York Post reported in December that residents said they were banned from returning to their homes since the Beijing-backed real estate company China Bloom bought a 99-year lease of Keswick Island in 2019. Residents were still demanding the Queensland government last month to cancel the Chinese company’s lease and restore local ownership of the island, Sky News reported.

“I just don’t think they want Australians on the island,” former island resident Julie Willis told the Australian news program A Current Affair in December. “I think that they want to have this island solely for the use of the Chinese tourism market.”

The Chinese developer also blocked residents from renting their homes on Airbnb, decimating local tourism, and blocked them from going to the island by air, land or sea, according to residents.

“There’s been no tourists since September last year,” former resident Rayna Asbury told A Current Affair.

Owned by the Queensland Government, the island is home to a national park, but the Chinese developer blocked access to that, too, creating environmental concerns. According to the news program, a beach known to be a turtle nesting area was graded with heavy machinery.  

In an effort to protect the island, a petition was created urging the federal government to strip China Bloom of its island lease. The petition has reached over 20,000 signatures. 

“We are calling for the federal government to put in place legislation to rescind leaseholders within our Queensland Islands, especially those that are National Parks, in particular Keswick Island which has a National Park that is locked off to the public and whose access is being both tampered with and denied by the leaseholder/and or representatives creating safety hazards for its residents,” the petition states.

The petition continues, ‘The ecological protections of the island have furthermore been breached through the destruction of turtle nests which impacts on the turtle protection program. In addition, breaches, such as unauthorized tree removal are currently occurring and we ask that this be stopped immediately.’

Residents have contacted Queensland’s Premier, but the issue is the responsibility of the new Minister for Natural Resources Scott Stewart, A Current Affair reported.

A spokesperson for the Department of Resources said in a statement, “The majority of the issues raised by a small number of sub-lessees do not fall under the terms of the lease and are a commercial matter between them and the head lessee to resolve.”

The statement continued, “To date, no party has formally applied to undertake mediation or arbitration, an option available to them under the Land Act 1994.”

The department told A Current Affair that it hopes the issues between the island’s residents and the Beijing-backed company can be fixed.

“The Department’s responsibility is to work with both the head lessee China Bloom and sublessees to ensure all relevant activities are in accordance with the terms of the lease, particularly as China Bloom works to upgrade the island’s roads, boat ramps, jetties and marine infrastructure,” the department said.

Keswick Island, one of the iconic Whitsundays group of islands that rest inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, isn’t the only Australian island under Chinese control – St. Bees, Lineman, South Molle and Daydream Island are all controlled by Chinese companies, as well.

Daydream was turned into a resort, but St Bees is essentially abandoned, the news outlet reported.