Foreigners Investors Face Scrutiny When Purchasing Aussie Infrastructure

Monday, March 21st, 2016
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Private foreign investors seeking to buy major state assets will have to jump new hurdles under a rule change.

The change comes in the wake of the controversial approval of the sale of the Port of Darwin to Chinese investors, which attracted criticism from Defence officials.

From March 31 the Foreign Investment Review Board will review what are known as “critical infrastructure assets” sold by state and territory governments to private investors.

That includes such things as airports, ports, public transport, electricity, gas, railways, telecommunications infrastructure and nuclear facilities.

“The changes add to the continual strengthening of our foreign investment framework that this government has been putting in place,” Treasurer Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Morrison said several projects in the works would be covered, including Ausgrid, the Port of Melbourne, Fremantle Port and Endeavour Energy.

He declined to say whether the Port of Darwin would have been rejected under the new rules.

“The Port of Darwin was a decision taken by the Northern Territory government under the old rules. These are the new rules,” he said.

Asked whether it could jeopardise foreign investment that was crucial to the government’s plan to boost the economy and jobs, Mr Morrison said it was up to each country to set its own arrangements.

“People know what the rules are and we seek to make decisions consistently with those rules.”

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said Labor would support the regulations, but the changes should have been brought in earlier.

“Clearly they would have covered the Port of Darwin,” Mr Bowen said.

The treasurer also hinted at a major change to the way in which big projects are funded.

It is understood Treasury is examining, ahead of the May 10 budget, the idea of 30-year bonds similar to those used in the United States and Britain.

“When you’re looking at funding infrastructure into the future you want as many options as you can available to you, particularly when you’re in a very constrained fiscal environment,” Mr Morrison said.

He said major projects, tax relief and boosting women’s participation in the workplace would be key to creating jobs.

As the jobless rate rose almost a full percentage point in steel-making state South Australia, Industry Minister Christopher Pyne announced steel exporters from China, Taiwan and Malaysia would face anti-dumping action.

The exporters had been making slight changes to their products to get around import duties, but would no longer be able to do so.

“Australian steel makers need to be able to benefit from free and fair trade,” Mr Pyne said.

The government gave itself the option of bringing back both houses of parliament on May 3 for a week-early budget.

But Mr Morrison said he was still working towards a May 10 budget.

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