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Australia goes cold on secure intranet sale

[SYDNEY], Nov 27 (Reuters) - Australia's government said on Friday it has decided against selling state-owned intranet assets that link government buildings in the nation's capital, two days after local media reported a Japanese-owned firm offered to buy it for A$400 million (S$406.80 million).

While the government says its decision not to sell is unrelated to national security, it comes on the back of a wider political backlash the government has faced in seeking to sell national assets to foreign buyers through a A$100 billion privatisation programme.

In a statement, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said selling the network in the nation's capital "would not represent value for money" and that an independent report had found it"provides significant value to the Government as a strategic asset".

Two days earlier, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that internet company Dimension Data, a unit of Japan's Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp, offered the government A$400 million for the asset.

A spokeswoman for Cormann was not immediately available to confirm that offer but denied that the decision to cancel the sale was because of security concerns.

A Dimension Data spokeswoman declined comment.

The Australian government has faced criticism from opposition politicians and the U.S. over asset sales to foreign interests since the government of Northern Territory sold the Port of Darwin to Chinese-owned firm Landbridge for A$506 million last month.

Amid the backlash, the government's Foreign Investment Review Board blocked the A$350 million sale of the country's biggest cattle ranch to Chinese firms.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he wants to standardise the country's foreign investment laws.

The government said earlier this year it was considering selling its Intra Government Communications Network in Canberra as part of a broader plan to sell ports, electricity networks, railways, roads and even some government business units to raise cash.

The network joins 400 sites of 80 government agencies around Canberra, using 150,000 kilometres of fibre, according to its website.

REUTERS