November 20, 2015
SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia is reviewing rules that allow its states to sell strategic assets to foreign firms without federal scrutiny, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Friday as he defended a port leasing to a Chinese firm.
Turnbull was reportedly chided by United States President Barack Obama at the APEC summit in the Philippines over the 99-year lease for the Port of Darwin granted to China's Landbridge Group.
"Let us know next time," Obama said during their meeting, The Australian Financial Review reported.
Turnbull said US officials had admitted to him some weeks ago that the first they knew of the deal was reading about it in The Wall Street Journal.
He said he had replied that the sale was no secret, and they should subscribe to the Northern Territory News, a tabloid best known for its stories on crocodiles.
"The reason we are reviewing the rules is not because we regret the decision," Turnbull told reporters in Darwin on Friday.
"Clearly it makes sense for all foreign acquisitions of the relevant size to be subject to the same process."
The prime minister said the Northern Territory government had done the right thing by consulting with the Department of Defence, which had advised the lease of the port could proceed.
But opposition Labor spokesman Stephen Conroy said the US had a right to be surprised that they weren't informed, particularly as Landbridge allegedly has links to the People's Liberation Army.
The US has for years rotated marines through Darwin for training as part of its "re-balance" towards the Asia Pacific.
"So, you've got a failed process of assessment here in Australia and you've got a failure to inform our ally who have genuine concerns about this decision," Conroy told the ABC.
Independent national Senator Nick Xenophon said the port decision was in stark contrast to the government's decision Thursday to block the sale of a huge cattle estate to foreign entities.
"What doesn't make sense here is that an iconic cattle property is to be kept in Australian hands on national interest grounds, but a key strategic asset like the Port of Darwin is subject to a foreign takeover with barely a whimper form the Foreign Investment Review Board," Xenophon said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Northern Territory News praised Turnbull for telling Obama to subscribe.
"Barack, my son, call us on +61889449901," the paper tweeted.
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