When it comes to making decisions on foreign investment, consistency, credibility and certainty of process are paramount.
The Treasurer today has made extraordinary remarks and an extraordinary intervention regarding how Kidman’s assets are to be broken up and sold. Announcing a preliminary decision on a foreign investment decision is highly irregular.
The Treasurer must explain why he has chosen to take this course of action - he must come clean with the Australian people about what information he’s based his decision on.
On 20 April, at the conclusion of the press conference announcing the Government’s rushed response to Labor’s Royal Commission into the banking sector, the Treasurer added that he had decided granted himself a 90 day extension in which to make a final decision.
Labor at the time said that it accepted the Treasurer’s reason that more time was required to seek further information.
And yet, despite granting himself a 90 day extension to properly consider all the information necessary, the Treasurer has chosen to make a preliminary decision after just 9 days and to make this public, despite giving no indication that this would be the case just a week ago.
Given the Government’s lack of an economic and tax agenda and the looming election, the Australian people and the potential foreign investors are entitled to conclude that the Treasurer has decided to make this decision a political plaything.
Labor accepted the national security concerns that dominated the Treasurer’s decision on an earlier purchase application for Kidman & Co. of 19 November 2015.
The timing of today’s decision though feels more like a Government running out of clear days before the writs are issued and less like a comprehensively reviewed and considered decision and statement by the Treasurer.
There’s no question that at times major transactions involving Australian assets to foreign investors can create controversy. But the national interest test contained in the Australia’s foreign investment framework is designed to allow the Treasurer of the day the freedom to make a decision that is genuinely in the national interest.
The Turnbull-Abbott Government has had a terrible record when it comes to foreign investment.
Clearly, the dithering and mixed messages over last six months - along with screening threshold changes - will send all the wrong messages to global investors who have plenty of options.
We all remember Joe Hockey’s shocker over the ADM bid for Graincorp and the uncertainty that created in the agribusiness market.
Then there was the debacle over the leasing of the Port of Darwin which was done without a formal review by FIRB and a decision by the Treasurer – and no attempt was made to fix, despite awareness of, the regulatory gap this transaction went through – prior to the NT Government’s final decision on the foreign buyer.
Then there was the sale of Van Diemen’s Land Company, a Tasmanian-based company which meant there was no National Party interest in blocking it.
The Australian economy will continue to rely on foreign investment, it has done ever since 1788. Australia’s agriculture and agribusinesses are also crying out for additional investment to be able to generate more growth and jobs.
FRIDAY, 29 APRIL 2016
SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT
LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA
CHRIS BOWEN MP
MEMBER FOR MCMAHON
THE HON JOEL FITZGIBBON MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY
SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS
SPOKESPERSON FOR COUNTRY CAUCUS
MEMBER FOR HUNTER