Treasurer Scott Morrison blocks sale of Ausgrid lease to Chinese, Hong Kong bidders

Treasurer Scott Morrison blocks sale of Ausgrid lease to Chinese, Hong Kong bidders

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison has made a preliminary decision to block the sale of New South Wales electricity provider Ausgrid to Chinese and Hong Kong bidders, citing "national security concerns".

The Chinese Government-owned State Grid Corp and Hong Kong-listed Cheung Kong Infrastructure were both bidding for a 99-year lease of Ausgrid, which supplies power to parts of Sydney, Wollongong and the Hunter region.

The decision is seen as a major setback for NSW Premier Mike Baird and Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian, whose Government hopes to lease a 50 per cent stake in the asset for 99 years to help raise funds for infrastructure projects.

Mr Morrison said he could not detail the national security concerns, but said they applied to "all current applications".

"Ausgrid's footprint includes critical power and communications services that Ausgrid provides to business and government," he said.

"The national security concerns are not country specific and relate to the transaction structure and the nature of the assets."

When pressed on the issue, he said:

"The only person who's security-cleared in this room to be able to hear the answer to that question is me."

Last year, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) was criticised by the Government for running an advertising campaign against State Grid Corporation's possible investment in the network.

The ads warned that "selling the electricity network ... to another country is just not on," but then-treasurer Andrew Constance said they represented a "racist rant".

Mr Morrison said the Commonwealth had been actively engaged with the NSW Government as they sought to sell the energy provider.

"That process has not enabled us to identify suitable mitigations to protect against the national security issues in this case. And that, at the end of the day, is paramount," Mr Morrison said.

He said his understanding was that the NSW Government was proceeding with the process of finding buyers for the assets.

"I'm happy to stand corrected, but it's my understanding that the current NSW Government budget, as handed down by the [State] Treasurer did not include a provision for this particular transaction," he said.

Mr Morrison said Australia welcomed foreign investments but every decision was different.

"You have a clear understanding of what the national interest is in each of these cases and I always seek to act in accordance with my understanding of that," Mr Morrison said.

Credit: ABC News

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