Australia tightens laws on state sales

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Sydney, March 18: Months after a decision to lease Darwin's port to a Chinese company, the Australian government on Friday announced it will step up its scrutiny of the sales of state infrastructure to foreign investors.

"While we welcome foreign investment in Australia it is imperative that critical infrastructure sales are scrutinised to ensure any potential national security risks can be addressed," said Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison, in a statement.

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Starting on March 31, the Foreign Investment Review Board, (FIRB) will review the sale of all critical infrastructure assets by state and territory governments, including ports, airports, electricity, public transport, worth a combined total of $191 million.

"Under the current rules which have not been amended, assessment of critical infrastructure was only required when assets were sold to state-owned enterprises," Morrison said.

While Morrison said the measure would cover several projects including Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, the Port of Melbourne and Fremantle Port, he refused to say whether the Port of Darwin sale would have been rejected under these new regulations.

"The Port of Darwin was a decision taken by the Northern Territory government under the old rules. These are the new rules," he said.

In October 2015, the Northern Territory government's decision to lease Darwin city's port, which is used by the US army, to the Chinese Landbridge Group for 99 years, attracted widespread criticism.

IANS

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