Australia is tightening scrutiny of sales of ports, electricity networks and other key public infrastructure to foreign investors following a backlash sparked by the controversial lease of Darwin port to a Chinese company.
“From March 31, the Foreign Investment Review Board will formally review critical infrastructure assets sold by state and territory government,” said Scott Morrison, Australia’s treasurer.
He said the process would ensure future sales to privately-owned investors are properly scrutinised, citing the looming sales of Melbourne and Utah Point ports, and New South Wales electricity networks as examples.
China’s investment in the US, Europe and Australia is at record highs in spite of its economic slowdown, prompting increasing scrutiny from regulators around the world.
Until now, sales of public infrastructure by Australian states or territories were only scrutinised by Firb when they were purchased by foreign state-owned enterprises, not private companies. This enabled China’s Landbridge Group last year to pay A$506m to secure a 99-year lease to operate Darwin port — a strategically important area as US marines are stationed at a nearby naval base — without a formal review by Firb.
An interim report by a parliamentary investigation into the foreign investment framework, which was sparked by the lease of Darwin port to Landbridge, found the Firb process “appears to be ad hoc, run on a case by case basis” and the regulatory body needed to be strengthened.
Two Chinese companies: State Grid Corporation of China; China Southern Power Grid; plus Hong Kong’s Cheung Kong Infrastructure are reported to be assessing A$10bn plus bids to buy a controlling stake in Ausgrid, Australia’s biggest electricity distribution company.
据报道，两家中国公司——国家电网公司(State Grid Corporation of China)和中国南方电网(China Southern Power Grid)——以及香港的长江基建(Cheung Kong Infrastructure)正考虑出资逾100亿澳元参与竞标，收购澳大利亚最大配电企业Ausgrid的控股股权。
Mr Morrison denied that tighter scrutiny of foreign investment would deter Chinese bidders, saying they were savvy investors and understood that all countries have foreign investment rules.