Concerns about levels of direct foreign investment in Australia, particularly by China, needed to be put in perspective, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, Federal Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, said today.
Ms Bishop, addressing the In The Zone conference at The University of Western Australia, said Australia had a long history of successful foreign investment.
She said that although China was clearly emerging as a dominant global foreign investor, its Australian investment remained at low levels relative to other countries.
Ms Bishop said that China was keen to ensure foreign investment by its state-owned entities should not be regarded as a threat. "China is more concerned about resource security than international market manipulation," she said.
However, she stressed that any investment regime of the Australian government must be fair and seen to be non-discriminatory, in order that our key trading partners did not take offence.
"Australia has a robust system in managing investment," she said.
However, greater clarity was needed in managing foreign investment proposals, so that countries such as China had a better understanding of Australia's motives and decision-making processes when considering applications.
Similarly, Australia should seek to enhance understanding of Chinese views, Ms Bishop said, highlighting recent proposed transactions in the resources industry that generated public debate.
Ms Bishop's comments came in a conference session about foreign investment and sovereignty that included a presentation from Paul Costello, Chief Executive of Australia's Future Fund.
Mr Costello said that Australia was a key player in a global push to bring clarity around the terms and definitions of sovereign wealth funds.
He said true sovereign wealth funds had three common characteristics: the assets of the institution were government-owned; the institution must have a mandate to invest internationally; and it must have a broad macro-economic purpose.
The Future Fund, which has been investing for over two years, currently manages $85 billion in assets.
The 24 "Santiago Principles" - the principles and practices established by the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds - represent a progressive step in forging clarity around the world.
IN THE ZONE is a major public policy conference initiated by The University of Western Australia positioning Western Australia as a thought leader within the time zone it shares with 60 per cent of the world's population and the nations which promise the greatest economic growth for the 21st century.
2009 marks the inaugural IN THE ZONE Conference. This will become a biennial event and a strategic meeting point for the Australian and wider regional community to engage in dialogue about the zone we inhabit and to deepen the policy, trade and investment relationships.
Information about In the Zone, including the conference program: http://www.zone.uwa.edu.au
NB: MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES MUST REGISTER TO COVER THE CONFERENCE. GO TO: http://www.zone.uwa.edu.au/news/media_registration