A federal government agency focused on China’s national security threats is quietly disappearing from the internet, sparking fears that Australia could be closing in on Beijing.
The Foreign Investment Review Board name is no longer on the Treasury website, except to redirect web traffic.
‘Treasury’s foreign investment website has replaced firb.gov.au,’ it said.
Instead, there is a link to a new ‘foreign investment’ website which went live this month with the FIRB name missing.
‘Australia welcomes foreign investment,’ it says in big letters.
A federal government agency focused on China’s national security threat is quietly disappearing (pictured is Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, left, with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November 2022).
Clive Hamilton, author of Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, said the small change on the Treasury website was a sign that Australia was trying to be nicer to China.
Australia’s largest export market
1. China: $4.332 billion or two percent down to $184.721 billion
2. Japan: $54.648 billion or 84 percent increase to $119.733 billion
3. South Korea: $16.022 billion or 42 percent increase to $53.875 billion
4. India: $10.27 billion or 42 percent increase to $34.847 billion
5. United States: $6.644 billion or 28 percent increase to $30.69 billion
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics International Trade Data
‘I think so,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Some government ministers have indicated that the new government is not like the old government, which has strained relations, and that we are going to be more tolerant and mature in our approach to China.’
But Professor Hamilton, a lecturer in public ethics at Canberra-based Charles Sturt University, said the Chinese Communist Party could exploit any weakness in Australia.
He said, ‘The Labor government has tried to show a friendly face towards China and Chinese companies.’
‘Beijing is very cruel, so we can be sure that if Labor sends the optics that we are friendly and open to Chinese investors, Beijing is going to check it.’
Former FIRB chairman David Irvine, who died in March 2022, was previously director-general of both the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.
Before that, he was Australia’s ambassador to China and, in 2015, took over the FIRB after the former Country Liberal Party government in the Northern Territory was allowed to sign a 99-year lease on the Port of Darwin with Chinese company Landbridge Group.
His 2017 appointment to head the FIRB, after a career as a diplomat and a leader of Australia’s spy agency, signaled the previous coalition government’s willingness to remain vigilant about security threats from Chinese investment.
Former Liberal treasurer Josh Frydenberg appointed Bruce Miller, Australia’s former ambassador to Japan, as the FIRB’s new chairman for a five-year term in April 2022, a month before the federal election.
But under Mr Frydenberg’s leadership, the Treasury announced in 2020 that a new overseas investment website would be created for foreign residents looking to invest in Australia outside of residential property.
It will also feature a new guide to navigating foreign investment rules.
Professor Hamilton said under the previous government the FIRB had been given more resources to examine the security threat of potential Chinese investment in critical infrastructure, as Huawei was banned from installing 5G mobile networks in Australia.
‘However, the FIRB has allowed a number of highly questionable foreign investments in critical Australian infrastructure and, in my view, has at times not done its job properly in protecting Australia’s national security,’ he said.
The Foreign Investment Review Board, which continues to function, was established in April 1976 as a non-statutory body to advise the government on foreign investment proposals, acquisitions and new investment projects.
The Foreign Investment Review Board’s name is no longer on the Treasury website, except to redirect web traffic (pictured is Treasurer Jim Chalmers with his wife Laura).
Former FIRB chairman David Irvine, who died in March 2022, was previously director-general of both the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (he is pictured in 2014).
A ‘Foreign Investment’ website replaced the Foreign Investment Review Board
It was not established as an Act of Parliament under former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, meaning it could be more easily repealed or downgraded.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Treasurer Jim Chalmers and his department for comment.
China is Australia’s biggest buyer of residential real estate, spending $2.3 billion in the nine months to March 2023, buying 1,775 properties, Treasury data showed without citing the FIRB.
That equates to $8.4 million a day from Chinese investors.
Since coming to power in May 2022, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor government has taken a more conciliatory approach to China diplomacy, aiming to lift trade sanctions imposed on a range of Australian exports during the Covid pandemic.
He met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali in November last year, while Foreign Minister Penny Wong met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Jakarta this month.
China is Australia’s largest two-way trading partner, with exports of $184.7 billion in 2022.
But they fell by two percent after a series of trade sanctions as exports to Japan, South Korea, India and the United States rose year-on-year.
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