Should we let the Van Nguyen slayers control our ports?

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Stephen Mayne writes:

There’s no bigger foreign investor in Australia than the Singapore Government and the island nation’s ruling junta, Lee Kuan Yew and his family, are about to make their most audacious play yet by joining Macquarie Bank, Lindsay Fox, Chris Corrigan and Peter Scanlon in launching a rival takeover bid for Patrick Corporation.

United Arab Emirates-based Dubai World may have been too politically hot for US politicians of all colours, but there’s been barely a whimper in Australia about its takeover of P&O, a move which gave it a half share in our cosy stevedoring duopoly.

Therefore, at one level nobody should bat an eyelid about a foreign state, which happily executed an Australian citizen last year, buying 50% of our biggest stevedore. However, when you consider everything else that Singapore Inc has bought in Australia — Optus, $5 billion of Victorian power assets, Australand, our biggest private hospital group Affinity Health, the old ANA Hotel in Sydney and the Park Hyatt in Melbourne just to name a few — this latest deal will lift the total assets they control to about $20 billion.

The Howard Government enjoys a cosy relationship with Singapore, even after Van Nguyen’s execution last year, although Singapore Airlines did suffer a setback when the government prevented them from competing with Qantas on the lucrative Pacific Route.

Singapore Inc was the under-bidder for P&O so they’ve clearly got plenty of fire power but could this be the sort of deal which stirs up some patriotism? After all, Toll’s Patrick takeover was going to create an Australian powerhouse big enough to expand into Asia, but the Macquarie alternative will see highly strategic Australian assets fall into the hands of a foreign government with a questionable record when it comes to democracy.

SingTel is well known for eavesdropping on its citizens, so what would stop the Singapore Government from snooping on our trade to gain a strategic advantage for themselves?

Peter Fray

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