Peter Costello was busy showing Lee Kuan Yew around Parliament a few weeks back when the Singapore strongman was in town to pick up an honorary doctorate from ANU. The citation, perhaps, should have read: “For building the first sovereign state to own more Australian business assets than the Australian Government itself.” 

Since coming to office, Peter Costello and John Howard have flogged off almost everything that wasn’t bolted down, including the Defence Department headquarters at Russell Hill, something you can’t imagine the Americans doing with the Pentagon.

Here’s a list of the residual operating assets held by the Australian Government:

  • 17% stake in Telstra: $9.6 billion
  • Australia Post: $5 billion
  • Medibank Private: $1 billion
  • Australian Submarine Corp: $200 million
  • Total: $15.8 billion

Sure, there’s $40 billion in cash sitting in the Future Fund, but this money ultimately belongs to the public servants who are owed the $100 billion in unfunded superannuation liabilities. The Future Fund is nothing like the Singapore Government’s almighty Temasek Holdings, which has a controlling stake in the various companies that now control more than $22 billion worth of Australian assets.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive summary of Temasek and the Temasek annual review is also well worth a read. The description of their international investments doesn’t even mention Australia and reads as follows:

Our international investments include blue chips in India such as ICICI Bank, Mahindra & Mahindra and the Apollo Hospital group; China Construction Bank and China COSCO Holdings in China; Bank Danamon and Bank Internasional Indonesia in Indonesia; Quintiles Transnational Corp in the USA; as well as Hana Bank in South Korea.

This is because most of the Australian investments have been done through Singapore Telecommunications and Singapore Power, rather than Temasek itself.

Here’s a list of Australian commercial assets controlled by the Singapore Government:

  • Optus: $10 billion
  • Alinta energy assets: $4.3 billion
  • Victorian electricity transmission monopoly: $2 billion
  • Old Texas Utilities Australian portfolio: $5.5 billion
  • Property: $2 billion
  • Australand stake: $1 billion
  • Total: $22.8 billion

The Singaporeans prefer to play down the scale of their Australian assets, but this little country of 4 million people has left us for dead when it comes to national savings and global investments. It will be interesting to hear what Peter Costello and John Howard say when the question is put to them about the Government’s residual commercial assets being less than those held by Singapore.

Maybe Peter Costello should have offered Medibank Private directly to Lee Kuan Yew when he dropped by.