By ERWIN CHLANDA
Calls for Australia to tighten its foreign investment rules that allowed the NT Government to lease the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company with military ties are making headlines in the global news medium, Bloomberg Business.
“The Port of Darwin in Australia’s far north is home to as many as 2,500 US Marines, at a time the US and China are jockeying for influence in the region,” says the online service.
“The leasing of the port to privately-held Chinese company Landbridge Group irked the US with President Barack Obama querying Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over why Australia failed to notify its key ally of the deal.”
Bloomberg reports that the Australian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Economics “said the review process by the government’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) ‘appears to be ad-hoc, run on a case-by-case basis’ and lawmakers were considering whether it should be strengthened to become a statutory body.
“Australia faces a delicate balancing act in maintaining close relations with its main ally the US while encouraging investment from China, its biggest trading partner. The sale exposed the limits of federal oversight of strategic assets as the local government was solely responsible for approving the deal,” says the Bloomberg report.
The Senate committee says in its interim report: “The committee recognises that the key concerns raised in relation to the foreign investment review framework, which came to the fore during the Port of Darwin lease process, relate to the transparency, adequacy, comprehensiveness and timeliness of the review process itself.
“In particular, the committee notes that one of the most significant points of contention in respect of the review framework is the extent to which the facilitation of foreign direct investment overrides national security considerations.
“The processes followed by FIRB in assessing proposals for foreign investment require more detailed consideration. As a case in point, the inquiry into the Port of Darwin lease brought to light a number of concerns in relation to the foreign investment review framework that currently governs decision-making in Australia.
“FIRB, as a non-statutory authority, does not have independent authority to review proposed acquisitions in relation to Australia’s long term strategic interests.
“It remains the case under the new regulations that State, Territory and Local Government owned assets, irrespective of their strategic importance, remain exempt from FIRB scrutiny.”
It should be considered “whether FIRB should be strengthened by being made into a statutory authority with a permanent, dedicated specialised staff. Consideration should also be given to the overall process and stakeholder engagement around such decisions.”
The Senate committee also provided a detailed analysis of the port deal. The Alice Springs News Online reported extensively on the deal, most recently on January 19.
Darwin port lease: flawed foreign investment rules
By ERWIN CHLANDA