Friday 12th August 2016 - 11:08 am

Federal government decision “xenophobic” critic

by Alan Thornhill

Critics of the Federal government’s decision to block a Chinese bid for a large part of the NSW energy grid are calling it “xenophobic.”


However  the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, who rejects that description, says the decision was taken on “national security” grounds.


That led Bob Carr, a former foreign minister, who is now director of the Australia-China Relations Institute, to ridicule the decision.


“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,” Mr Carr said .


“The Treasurer’s statement refers not to FIRB (the Foreign Investment Review Board’s) advice but to the “review process,” he noted.


“Does this mean that his decision is not based on the analysis of FIRB but has been arrived at in his own office?” Mr Carr asked.


Last year the FIRB approved State Grid bidding for Transgrid, which holds New South Wales electricity distribution and telecommunications assets.


“Ausgrid’s telecommunications assets are meagre in comparison.


“ There was a different political climate,” Mr Carr said.


“If State Grid’s offer for a New South Wales distribution asset raises a security risk why weren’t the same risks apparent when State Grid was allowed to purchase the distribution assets of South Australia and Victoria?” he added .


“Unless no foreign investment in Ausgrid is to be allowed, this decision is not driven by public opinion.


“A Lowy poll showed the Australian people nominating China as our best friend in Asia, over and above the Japanese.


“The US Studies Centre at Sydney University produced a poll that showed more Australians seeing China’s role in Asia in a positive light than America’s. ”


“Only one conclusion can be reached,” Mr Carr said.


“The Treasurer is conceding to economic populism in the Senate and sacrificing the health of the New South Wales budget and jobs and investment in infrastructure.”


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Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
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