New national security laws targeting foreign investment in Australia are set to sail through Parliament as an inquiry is urged to establish a hit list of Australian sectors vulnerable to Chinese political coercion.
Cabinet ministers have insisted the new laws do not target China but it was one of Australia’s only major trading partners not named by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg as a “like minded nation” in announcing the legislation in Canberra on Friday.
The changes will see a new national security test for foreign investors – particularly in the telecommunications, data and energy sectors – and extraordinary powers given to the Treasurer to force divestment on national security grounds after a sale has been approved.
Mr Frydenberg said on Friday that “our geopolitical climate has become more complex”. “The world over, governments are seeing foreign investment being used for strategic objectives not purely commercial ones,” he said.
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said he would work through the detail but Labor was inclined to support the measures.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the changes were sensible given the unprecedented economic circumstances caused by the coronavirus but warned the government needed to get “the balance right” to minimise the impact on Australian companies and jobs.
“We’ll need to ensure that low risk investments are streamlined and approved quickly,” she said.