Wesfarmers boss Richard Goyder, one of the most powerful chief executives in the country and the chairman of a select group of global CEOs advising the G20, has dismissed chatter that Australia's reputation as a welcome harbour for foreign investment was tarnished by last week's GrainCorp decision.
Business 20 leaders, nicknamed the B20, and including Mr Goyder, ANZ chief executive Mike Smith and BHP Billiton boss Andrew Mackenzie, are working on a range of policy reform areas to present to political leaders in Brisbane in November when the Queensland capital hosts the G20 summit.
A theme blanketing much of their work will be the removal of barriers to trade, such as tariffs and other cross-border regulations that interrupt commerce, and Mr Goyder said Australia could still hold its head high despite Treasurer Joe Hockey last week blocking US-based Archer Daniels Midland's $3.4 billion takeover for local grain handler GrainCorp.
"The Treasurer was at pains to say the vast majority of applications for foreign investment in Australia are approved, and I think Australia has a pretty long history of that too," Mr Goyder said. "I think we can hold our head high on the international scene on that one."
Mr Goyder said at recent meetings in St Petersburg, where he attended sessions for both business and political leaders, as well as at a CEO workshop last week in London, the issue of Australia's appetite and acceptance for foreign investment was never raised.
"Australia is held in really high regard globally for that, for our views on trade and for the quality of the regulations we have generally," Mr Goyder said.
The GrainCorp ruling shocked many investors, and the Labor opposition, raising the spectre of an exodus of foreign investors, with the US State Department chiming in to declare its disappointment.
But Mr Goyder said Australia was still very much leading the way on free trade issues. "The message that Australia is open for business is very important and we have certainly got good engagement with senior members of the government, and I think the trade minister is working very actively at the moment on a number of fronts, as is the foreign minister."
Mr Goyder, who was selected for the chairmanship of Australia's B20 by Julia Gillard, said he would lead a focus on four policy areas that supported the G20 agenda of promoting growth, creating jobs and building resilience in the global economy.
The four areas of policy work would involve financing growth, human capital, investment and infrastructure, and trade.
"Increasingly business is part of the answer, part of the solution," Mr Goyder said. "I think we are in a low-growth world and business wants government to bring in some of these policies, and business as a consequence will invest and will employ more people, and I think we are very integral to the whole answer."