Plans for a $100 million resort on Tasmania’s east coast are raising concerns about foreign ownership and influence in the Apple Isle, but one of the developers behind the project has hit back saying he has lived in Australia for 30 years and shares Australian values.
The proposed resort stretches over more than 3,000 hectares and would include a golf course, 70 villas, 240 units and up to 120 hotel rooms, a range of shops and health facilities including palliative care services.
It would be near the small town of Swansea, home to just over 800 people.
‘I definitely share Australian values’
Cambria Green Agriculture Tourism Management, the company behind the proposal, is helmed by a Chinese businessman from Shandong, Liu Kejing, and Melbourne developer Ronald Hu.
According to company records, Mr Hu became a director of the company after the land was purchased in 2015 and it is Mr Kejing’s signature on most of the landowner consent forms submitted as part of the proposal.
Mr Hu said there was a gap in the market for higher-end accommodation on Tasmania’s east coast.
“That’ll bring benefit to the whole business community and the local chamber of commerce, I believe, that’s what they want to see,” he said.
Mr Hu insisted things will be done the “Australian way”.
“If my operation influences something, will they call it Chinese influence or not? Because I’m Australian, I’ve been here 30 years,” he said.
“I definitely share Australian values.
“But I don’t know, people might think, oh, you’re not that type of Australian.”
But not everyone is convinced by the sales pitch.
A new community group has formed in response to the plan.
The East Coast Alliance wants to stop the project getting the planning changes it is currently applying for.
“From an economic point of view within Swansea, I don’t think there’ll be huge benefit,” Alliance president Anne Held told 7.30.
“From an environmental point of view I definitely don’t think there’ll be great benefit, and it will ruin the aesthetic of what we have here.”
The company recently held an open day at the property, where opinions on the development were mixed.
“I think this will create a heck of a lot of full-time jobs, which will also create a lot of happy families,” one local said.
But another local home owner expressed concern.
“I’m not averse to development but I think it’s overkill and I think we just don’t need something of that scale in such a small place as this,” she said.
Palliative care service ‘mainly for locals’
The possibility of including palliative care services at the resort has also raised eyebrows.
When the project was first announced, planner Irene Duckett told the ABC there was a market for palliative care services in China because of the erosion of the extended family.
But Ronald Hu has told 7.30 the palliative care facilities would be designed for locals.
“That question (about palliative care) has been asked the most and a lot of people are concerned about it,” he said.
“Number one, that’s mainly for the locals or mainland Australians.”
But when questioned further he acknowledged that it wouldn’t be restricted to locals and couldn’t provide details on how it would operate.
Locals raise concerns resort will become a ‘separate town’
Some locals have said the proposal came out of the blue, being announced publicly just days before it went to council to begin the process of planning changes.
A Chinese media report of a signing ceremony about “Cambria Culture and Art Town”, published before the plan went to council, has also raised the ire of some.
“In Beijing, they’ve been announcing and celebrating,” one resident at a community forum held by ECA said.
“It’s been described as the creation of a town.”
Mr Hu said the signing was just “marketing” and that the development won’t be a town, and will only have visitor accommodation.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a town, but maybe they used ‘town’ just as a symbol.
“We’re not coming here to create a town.”
The developers have since been consulting with locals, holding public meetings in the town and recently held an open day at the property.
Greens plan to push for inquiry into foreign ownership and influence
There has been increased interest in Tasmania from China following a visit by President Xi Jinping in 2014.
The Tasmanian Greens said an increase in foreign ownership has raised concerns around sovereignty and food security.
Local Greens leader Cassy O’Connor has also raised concerns about potential influence from China, after the establishment of a Tasmanian branch of a group linked to the Communist party.
“It’s about the strategic imperatives of the Chinese Communist Party and it’s about the importance of Australia and Tasmania making sure that the relationship is a healthy and robust and mutually respectful relationship where we stand up and we say sure, invest here. But on our terms,” Ms O’Connor said.
The Greens will be pushing for a parliamentary inquiry into foreign ownership and influence later this year.
“We need to have the conversation and have it respectfully,” she said.
“Make sure we’re looking out for Chinese-Australians, because this is not about ethnicity or race, it’s about politics.
“But have the conversation.”
By Natalie Whiting