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Australia beefs up investment scrutiny after port lease to China

[CANBERRA] Australia will step up scrutiny of foreign investment in state-owned infrastructure after a strategic port used by the US military was leased to a Chinese company, Treasurer Scott Morrison said.

The Foreign Investment Review Board will study all critical infrastructure asset sales from March 31 by state and territory governments including airports, ports, telecommunications and utilities, Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Friday. Currently, such sales by state and territory governments only attract scrutiny if the buyer is a foreign state-owned enterprise.

Government review processes were criticised last year after the Northern Territory government secured a long-term lease to the Port of Darwin, used by the US Navy, to a Chinese company. The deal didn't need approval from FIRB as the Northern Territory government, which owned the port, was solely responsible for the regulatory process.

"The changes add, I think, to the continual strengthening of our foreign investment framework," Mr Morrison said, adding they wouldn't apply retrospectively to the Port of Darwin sale. "Our arrangements on foreign investment are open, they're transparent, but overall they're sovereign."

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