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Tuesday, 12 March 2002
Page: 993

Mr ANDREN (2:25 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. Amid reports the Foreign Investment Review Board is investigating an application by the French company Thales to buy out the 50 per cent stake in Australian Defence Industries, currently held by its joint partner, the Australian company Transfield, can the Treasurer explain to the House whether the government is comfortable with the prospect of full foreign ownership of this Australian defence supplier? Assuming the application is approved, what assurances would there be of continued regional jobs such as at ADI Lithgow, given that such regional jobs were part of the criteria sought by the government in the original sale of ADI to the joint French-Australian consortium?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —Applications under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act are lodged with the Foreign Investment Review Board. They are considered by the Foreign Investment Review Board and a recommendation is made to the Treasurer. The Treasurer's obligation in considering applications under that act is the national interest, and the legal advice that has been tendered to me is that one cannot make prejudicial comments about bids before a decision is made without triggering a possible claim of denial of natural justice, or bias or some other administrative remedy. In those circumstances, I have adopted the policy of not commenting on bids until they have been determined. Indeed, I am not commenting on bids for commercial-in-confidence reasons. That is the policy that I have followed in relation to all previous applications and that I will follow in relation to this one.

I am then asked about various issues that might follow from the acceptance of such a bid. Let me make it clear that no-one should presume such acceptance from any comment I am about to make. But, of course, conditional approval can be placed in relation to an application. Most recently, some were placed in relation to BHP Billiton, as I recall. That is a matter to be considered again on its merits in accordance with the national interest and I can assure the honourable member that the procedure will be followed.