Jamie Walker and Michael Sainsbury, The Australian, September 30, 2009
THE nation’s fifth-richest man, Clive Palmer, has denounced the federal government’s foreign investment rules as racist, claiming they are weighted against Chinese companies seeking to buy into Australian resource projects.
The Queensland-based mining magnate warned that Chinese investors would not tolerate “the idea of being discriminated against because of the colour of their skin”.
Contrasting an exemption allowing US investors to invest up to $953 million in an Australian business without foreign investment approval with the tight controls applying to the Chinese in the resource sector, Mr Palmer said the absence of a “level playing field” could cause Beijing to spend its estimated $1.8 trillion in cash reserves elsewhere.
“We’ve got the opportunity to grab that if our politicians could only be fair and treat the Chinese people and Chinese government with the dignity they deserve,” Mr Palmer said.
“Why should the average American, regardless of his education or qualifications, have the right to invest $950m in Australia but the average Chinese person, regardless of how much money he has, is not allowed to invest without our Treasurer saying so?”
His comments, to a business lunch in Brisbane yesterday, come at a time when the standoff over the detention in China of Australian businessman Stern Hu, knockbacks under foreign investment rules of a series of Chinese resource investments and a defence white paper identifying China’s military build-up as cause to boost the Australian navy have strained Sino-Australian relations.
Foreign Investment Review Board director Patrick Colmer last week warned Chinese investors to talk to the advisory body first, before signing deals.
Two Chinese government-backed companies, Wugang Australia Resources and China Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Co, have been on the wrong end of recent national interest decisions on resource investments in South Australia and Western Australia respectively.
Australia’s ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, yesterday sought to further calm tensions on the eve of the ruling Communist Party’s 60th anniversary celebrations tomorrow, saying Australia did not see China as a military threat.
“Obviously China’s own defence spending is rising very rapidly,” Mr Raby said in a rare interview via online video with the China Daily. “We think that is as it should be, given the growth of the Chinese economy and the need for modernisation of the Chinese armed forces.
“Our white paper is not about any particular nation, or source of threat, but rather looks at the range of contingencies that the Australian government needs to look at in the next 10 to 20 years.”
Mr Raby said the bilateral relationship was “excellent”, with Australia and China’s leaders meeting “regularly either bilaterally or at the margins of major international conferences”.
“China is our second-largest trading partner, and there are something like 120,000 Chinese students studying in Australia,” he said.
“So which ever measure you want to use, it’s a very busy, dynamic relationship.”
Mr Palmer this week returned from an investment mission to China, where he was drumming up support for his company’s $7 billion development in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin, combining a giant new coalmine with a purportedly “clean” power station, rail and port upgrades.
The larger-than-life businessman has a personal wealth of $3.42bn, making him Queensland’s richest and the fifth-wealthiest nationally. Mr Palmer let fly at Wayne Swan, who is responsible for the Foreign Investment Review Board, referring to the Treasurer as a “goose .&Nbsp;. . or waterfowl of some description” and warning that he would go to the High Court at the first opportunity if one of his developments was affected.
Mr Swan’s office hit back last night with a statement playing up Mr Palmer’s financial support for the Liberal National Party in Queensland.