Whilst the foreign-controlled Murdoch press rarely weigh in on the emotive issue of Australia’s dreadful foreign ownership record, Wayne Swan’s new FIRB guidelines for sovereign finds suggest the Rudd Government is alert but not alarmed.

In what might have been an attempted diversion from the Brian Burke emails drama, Swan’s foreign investment announcement delivered some front page coverage today whilst ignoring the elephant in the room – the amount of our “farm” already in foreign hands.

Does the public care about this stuff? You bet. This Crikey story on 4 February delivered more than 1500 page views to the three key foreign ownership lists that I maintain.

And what about the rarely mentioned fact that the Singapore Government now controls more Australian business assets than our own government? China’s $16 billion raid on Rio Tinto means it too is getting closer to a similar achievement as the follow two lists suggest:

Chinese Government investment in Australia

Chinalco spent $15.5 billion for 9% of Rio Tinto in early 2008.

Sinosteel spent $100 million for 10% of WA iron ore hopeful Midwest Corp in early 2008

Shougang Corp:
spent $400 million buying 20% of WA iron ore company Mt Gibson Iron in early 2008.

Consortium: five Chinese companies were given FIRB approval in January 2008 to fund $3 billion Oakajee port and rail project in WA.

SAFE: the Chinese sovereign fund put more than $1 billion buying shares in our Big Four banks in late 2007 but the details remain unclear.

Chalco:
in September 2007 Queensland government awards rights to develop $3 billion bauxite project near Aurukun.

Anshan Iron & Steel: paid $39 million in September 2007 for 13% of iron ore miner Gindalbie and signed $1.8 billion joint venture deal.

CITIC spent $113m in July 2007 lifting stake in Macarthur Coal stake from 11.6% to 19.9%

Shougang Corp: steel group spent $56 million in March 2007 buying 13% or iron ore developer Australian Resources and agreed to fund $US2.1 billion development.

CITIC
paid more than $400 for its 22.5% stake in the Portland Aluminium Smelter in the 1990s.

Singapore Government investment in Australia

1995: Capita Land buys controlling stake in property developer Australand which is now worth more than $1 billion.

June 2000: Singapore Power buys Victoria’s monopoly electricity transmission business Powernet for $2.1 billion.

2001: Singtel buys Optus for $14 billion.

April 2004: Singapore Power paid $5.1 billion for TXU’s Australian energy portfolio, but on-sells $2.2 billion of retail and generation assets to China Light & Power.

2007: Singapore Power pays $4.5 billion in cash to Alinta shareholders to become the monopoly gas distributor in NSW and the largest distributor of electricity in Victoria.

May 2007: Singapore sovereign fund, the GIC, pays $717 million for a 50% stake in Westfield Parramatta, Australia’s third-most valuable shopping centre.

June 2007: the GIC teamed up with the Commonwealth Bank and the Myer family to pay $600 million for the prestigious Myer Melbourne complex.

June 2007: Temasek Holdings paid $401 million or an excessive $7.30 a share for 12% of ABC Learning to become the largest shareholder in the world’s biggest childcare company.

Peter Fray

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