An Australian MP is calling for greater protection of Australia’s assets and industries as concerns over foreign takeovers loom.
Andrew Hastie, Liberal MP and Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security told 2GB host Alan Jones that the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), who approves the sale of national assets to foreign investors, is “well aware” of the risk of predatory behaviour from Chinese companies that seek to purchase distressed Australian businesses and assets that have been impacted by the CCP virus, commonly known as the coronavirus, pandemic.
“[T]hey often use activities that we consider benign, like foreign investment to advance their strategic aims and undermine our national interests. So we have to be on guard,” Hastie said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is reported to have expressed concern that Australian assets will end up in the hands of opportunistic foreign interests as more companies are expected to fold over the coming months, reported the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH).
On March 27, Senator Pauline Hanson, who leads the nationalist One Nation Party, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison warning against “international vultures” and asked that he immediately suspend any sale approvals by FIRB.
The move came after Chinese-Australian companies were reported to have sent back bulk medical supplies to China. Concerns were raised on whether foreign companies will act in Australia’s national interest during the pandemic, reported SMH.
On March 29, Frydenberg announced changes to the foreign investment review framework by reducing the monetary screening thresholds—takeover threshold—from $1.2 billion to $ zero. Case processing times will also increase from 1 month to six months. The change will ensure that any overseas bid could be blocked after scrutiny by federal officials.
“Without these changes, it is possible many normally viable Australian businesses would be sold to foreign interests without any government oversight, presenting risks to the national interest,” the FIRB website states.
Previously, countries with free trade agreements would not trigger a FIRB review if the acquisition amount was below $1.2 billion.
Hastie commended Frydenberg’s announcement.
“[I]t means that we’re circling the wagons around Australian assets and industries,” he said.
“We’ve been pivoting against China for the last three or four years; we introduced the Espionage foreign interference legislation, we banned Huawei from our future 5G network, we’ve closed our borders now, and these further changes are part of that pivot.”
“[W]e are recovering our sovereignty. And I think we’re doing things now from a position of strength.”
Hastie, who has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), said he is concerned that Australia has been too reliant on foreign countries for pharmaceuticals, fuel, and manufacturing.
“We need to have a good conversation about strategic resilience … we need to look and think about how we make sure that we’re never so vulnerable again.”
According to the FIRB’s annual report (pdf), a total of 1,024 business applications worth $150.6 billion were approved in 2017–18. China was the second largest source country with an approved proposed investment worth $23.7 billion.
Epoch Times reporter Mimi Nguyen-Ly contributed to this report.