Thursday, 13 May 2021
Questions without Notice
I know, I know. My question is to Senator Birmingham, representing the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. The State Grid Corporation of China is a 60 per cent shareholder in a foreign owned company trading as Jemena. Jemena owns electricity-generation assets and is the second-largest owner of Australia's gas pipelines, including gas pipelines in Queensland. Jemena pays no tax in Australia, because it says it has borrowed at 10.5 per cent from its parent company. Jemena says it is subject to an ATO audit for transfer pricing because of this arrangement. Despite a serious trade war with China, Jemena is seeking funding from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility for a proposed pipeline from Mount Isa through the Galilee Basin to Roma. My question is: how much money is the federal government planning to loan to the Chinese government so China can own critical infrastructure assets in Australia?
I thank Senator Hanson for her question. It's a serious question in relation to the protection of critical infrastructure and security assets across Australia, and indeed our government has moved at successive points over the years to make sure that we tighten areas of foreign investment laws—that we ensure, for example, that assets sales by state or territory governments that previously were not captured by foreign investment approval processes are now captured under those processes. Through our security-of-critical-infrastructure reforms we have also put in place new measures and are strengthening those measures even further in relation to how it is that crucial, critical infrastructure assets such as our energy systems and communication systems are appropriately protected from risks in relation to cyberattacks or other types of attacks that could undermine their operations and, through that, the nation's security.
Senator Hanson, you raise questions in relation to an apparent application to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility for a particular project. In relation to that particular project I will give you the assurance that our government will make sure that all security implications are considered. The minister has a power of veto over final decisions under the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and of course in relation to matters of security concerns would, if appropriate, use that power.
Foreign powers are avoiding government review under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 by starting new businesses like the proposed Jemena pipeline through the Galilee Basin. When will the government plug that loophole?
A couple of points to that, Senator Hanson: one is that the security-of-critical-infrastructure reforms that I have outlined do have reach around areas of licensing and other factors that can allow government to control those who operate in certain sensitive sectors like the telecommunications industry and like parts of the energy sector. I would also note that the reforms to the foreign investment and acquisition laws that we have outlined and introduced include measures that ensure, where a company has been granted approval to operate in one sphere and then uses that to expand into areas that may be sensitive and would be contrary to Australia's national interest, that there are now call-in powers that the Treasurer can exercise, and the Treasurer can withdraw certain rights and approvals to companies if they do so.
EnergyAustralia, owned by China Light and Power, is reported to be receiving an early Christmas present from the federal government in the form of a $5 million gift card to help pay for its new Tallawarra B gas power plant so it will be hydrogen ready. How much does the federal government plan to gift to foreign owned companies who don't pay tax in Australia?
The question touches on a few points. Certainly, our government continues to pursue measures to ensure energy security across Australia, to ensure that we have a reliability of supply. That requires, at times, the driving of investment decisions forward in relation to generation of new energy in certain sectors. However, Senator Hanson, in relation to the particular grants or supports, I would emphasise to you that we always make sure that companies are operating within Australia's laws. And, indeed, our government has taken various steps over the years to make sure that global tax avoidance measures have been taken in Australia, that we tighten those laws—and we are, in fact, yielding some billions of dollars in additional tax revenue as a result of measures that have been taken to tighten areas of global tax avoidance.