Australian official rejects criticisms of China investor

Canberra,  Australia's treasurer today rejected accusations that the true reason his government plans to ban Chinese bidders from leasing a Sydney electricity grid is to appease influential lawmakers with xenophobic views.

Treasurer Scott Morrison announced yesterday that he intends to block Chinese state-owned State Grid Corp. and Hong Kong-registered Cheung Kong Infrastructure Group from bidding for a 99-year lease over a 50.4 per cent stake in Ausgrid because of classified national security reasons.

Critics including Bob Carr, director of the Sydney-based Australia-China Relations Institute and a former foreign minister, said the decision reflected the wishes of anti-establishment lawmakers who gained balance-of-power roles in the Parliament in elections in early July.

"The treasurer's decision ... is a huge concession the first major policy sacrifice to the Witches' Sabbath of xenophobia and economic nationalism stirred up in the recent federal election," Carr said in a statement. "The treasurer is conceding to economic populism in the Senate."

Morrison dismissed the views of Carr, who was a minister  until 2013 in a Labor Party government which is now in opposition, as "complete nonsense."

"I don't trade on national security," Morrison told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The decision has been welcomed by Pauline Hanson, leader of the One Nation party that has four senators opposed to Asian and Muslim immigration as well as trade liberalisation. 

They and other lawmakers not aligned with either the conservative government or Labor oppose Australia's free-trade deal with its biggest trading partner, China, and want tighter foreign investment rules.

The deal for the New South Wales state-owned electricity network would have earned more than 10 billion Australian dollars (USD 7.6 billion).

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull later declined to explain why a banned bidder, State Grid, was allowed last year to bid for another New South Wales South Wales-owned power network, TransGrid.

But State Grid was out-bid in November by an Australian-led consortium.

"The advice we received was absolutely unequivocal. This was not a political decision," Turnbull told reporters. 

PTI