Security advice is being sought on whether the controversial lease of the Darwin Port to a Chinese-owned company should be scrapped.
The port has been leased by Landbridge since 2015, prompting security concerns about the $500 million arrangement.
Both the federal opposition and some government backbenchers say the deal should never have been approved.
During a visit to Darwin last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would act on the lease only on the advice of the Defence Department or security agencies.
“If there is advice from the Defence Department or our security agencies that change their view about the national security implications of any piece of critical infrastructure, we have legislation now which is dealing with critical infrastructure,” he said.
“You would expect me as Prime Minister to take that advice very seriously and act accordingly.”
The National Security Committee of Cabinet has now tasked Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s department with providing updated advice on the arrangement.
Late in 2020, the federal government legislated to grant itself the power to cancel arrangements made between states and territories, and foreign countries.
That power was used to cancel a memorandum of understanding between the Victorian government and China, on that country’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The Defence Department has already provided advice over the deal, consulted by the NT Government before it was signed in 2015.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack insisted the government was following normal review processes.
“If the Department of Defence comes back with a report that says something, well we’ll follow that advice,” he said.
“We’ll go through the normal procedures, through national security, through the Cabinet process, that’s what we do all the time as a responsible government, we’ll make the right decision in the national interest.”
Labor, Joyce say deal was a bad idea from the start
The opposition wants the federal government to act on the deal any way it can, and says it is willing to help.
“We’ve said for some time that that deal should not have been approved,” shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said.
“Clearly there are some issues now in trying to unwind that.
“We have been trying to play a constructive role all throughout in saying ideally that lease wouldn’t have gone ahead, and if there are steps that can be taken, they should be taken.”
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd said the deal should be subject to a cost-benefit analysis.
The government is also facing calls to act from within its own ranks.
Outspoken backbencher Barnaby Joyce said it was an unwise deal from the beginning.
“We’ve just got to wake up, unfortunately we have to prepare to make Australia as powerful as possible, as quickly as possible,” he said.
“Having a Chinese port in the northern part of Australia was never a wise move.”