A leading figure in Australia-China relations has blasted NSW Labor leader Luke Foley for suggesting the Chinese communist government could spy on Australian military and parliamentary activities and cut power to them if the state’s electricity network was sold to Chinese interests.
The president of the NSW branch of the Australia China Business Council, international law firm partner Jim Harrowell, described Mr Foley’s remarks as a bid to raise fear of the “yellow peril” to “try and get some electoral points with the punters”.
“I am gobsmacked,” Mr Harrowell said, describing Mr Foley’s remarks as “xenophobic” and “the sort of thing you’d expect from Pauline Hanson”.
Former foreign minister Bob Carr, an outspoken champion of relations with China, declined to comment when contacted by The Australian.
Labor MLC Ernest Wong, a fundraiser in the Chinese community, declined to endorse his leader’s comments about Chinese investment representing a national security risk, saying the issue was about whether the assets should stay in NSW public hands.
The man who may hold the balance of power after this Saturday’s election, Fred Nile, said he was concerned about foreign ownership, but thought “Canada or New Zealand” was fine.
“Poles and wires are Australian assets, they belong to the people of NSW which is why ASIO should assess this proposed leasing to the Chinese government,” he said.
Mr Nile seemed unaware that the previous Labor government had sold EnergyAustralia and the output of power stations to a subsidiary of Chinese Light and Power.
“Yes, well, I’m not sure of all the details there … I don’t think the retailers are the same as control over the whole supply system,” he said.
Mr Foley accused Mr Baird, who has refused to detail a meeting with China’s State Grid corporation, of being secretive.
“The Chinese Communist Party is more open with its citizens than the Liberal Party,” he said.
Mr Foley said the Foreign Investment Review Board could not be relied upon to protect the nation from security risks from China.
The power lines carried both power and data from critical establishments including federal parliament, Holsworthy army base and the RAAF base at Richmond, Mr Foley said.
“Perhaps ASIO might want to be asked its views on these matters,” he said. “I don’t want any foreign government, friend or foe, to buy our electricity network.”
Mr Foley was unable to say to whom he was referring to when he used the word “foe”, but said that while he had Irish friends he did not want the Irish government to buy the electricity network either.
Mr Harrowell said that Mr Foley had run “a pretty outrageous scare campaign” suggesting “China will buy it to try and control your life”.
“We will have to get past this if we want to do business in Asia,” he said.
Mr Baird said the government was “a long way from talking to any bidders … There will be no ‘foreign owners’ of our electricity assets, because what we will be offering, if we are re-elected, is a lease,” he told The Australian.
“This is the latest desperate and embarrassing distraction by Labor designed to draw attention away from the fact that they are simply not trusted by voters, and have no plan for NSW.”