Abbott urged to push for China free trade deal

The chief executive of the Chinese state-owned miner MMG has urged the new Abbott government to repair Australia's "tarnished" reputation as a destination for foreign investment.

The chief executive of the Chinese state-owned miner MMG has urged the new Abbott government to repair Australia's "tarnished" reputation as a destination for foreign investment.

Andrew Michelmore, who is also the chairman of the Minerals Council of Australia and sits on the board of the Business Council of Australia, said the change in government offered the opportunity to seal a "far-sighted" free trade agreement, after a protracted eight-year-long negotiation.

Speaking after a speech in Beijing to mark the 10th anniversary of the Lowy Institute, Mr Michelmore said the previous government had sent "mixed messages and tarnished its reputation for policy stability" as a result of the introduction of the resources tax and pricing on carbon.

"All the uncertainty of the last six years of government has thrown out the window what for me is a AAA-rating for Australia in terms of being secure and reliable [investment destination]," he said.

"And I think the new government need to get back to being simple, straightforward, supportive and reliable."

Mr Michelmore said he was unconcerned about an element of negativity that crept into comments made during the election by Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd when it came to foreign investment.

"Australia survives and will only grow on foreign investment. The Coalition absolutely understands that," Mr Michelmore said.

"Once you get the government in and you have the ministers in place we will work through what the policies should be and I'm feeling quite positive about that."

The Foreign Investment Review Board reviews all investments over $248 million against a national interest test, while all investments from state-owned enterprises are automatically reviewed.

As part of its free trade agreement negotiations, China is pushing for a higher threshold of $1 billion, to bring it in line with US and New Zealand investors. But the Coalition has said it will reduce the review threshold to $15 million for agricultural land and set up a foreign interest register of farmland.

Mr Michelmore said the new government should work toward alleviating Australian "phobia" toward Chinese investment. A Lowy Institute poll this year found 57 per cent of Australians believe there is too much Chinese investment here.

Mr Michelmore said most foreign investment still originated from the US and Britain, and that while Chinese investment was growing rapidly, it represented a tiny total, especially in agriculture.

"Despite popular Australian mythology, less than 2.6 per cent of Chinese investment in 2012 went into agriculture and land," he said.

MMG, based in Melbourne, is a Hong Kong-listed copper and zinc miner, and is 72 per cent owned by Chinese state-owned enterprise China Minmetals.

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