| SYDNEY, April 8
SYDNEY, April 8 Australia on Saturday appointed
the former director of its domestic spy agency as chairman of
its foreign investment advisory committee, stepping up the role
of national security in vetting bids for critical
David Irvine will begin his five-year term leading the
Foreign Investment Review Board in April, where he will be
responsible for advising the government on investment policy and
administration, including foreign investment applications.
His appointment follows a series of controversial foreign
investment rulings last year, when the government blocked Hong
Kong and Chinese firms bidding for Ausgrid, the biggest power
grid in the nation's most populous state, New South Wales, on
national security grounds.
"The Turnbull Government has taken consistent and determined
action when it comes to ensuring foreign investment is not
contrary to the national interest, whilst never underestimating
its importance to our national economy," Treasurer Scott
Morrison said in a statement on Saturday.
A respected diplomat, Irvine is also a former director
general of both the Australian Security Intelligence
Organisation and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service,
which is responsible for foreign intelligence.
"I would read his appointment as an indication the
government is looking to strengthen the national security side
of foreign investment decisions," said Peter Jennings, the
executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Jennings said Canberra viewed a more assertive China and the
threat of cyber attacks as increasing risks to critical
Foreign investment in Australian infrastructure assets has
become an increasingly contentious issue since the 2015 sale of
the Port of Darwin to Chinese government-affiliated interests
sparked a backlash over the security implications and drew a
rebuke from U.S. government officials.
In January, the government established the Critical
Infrastructure Centre, whose role will include checking whether
foreign-led bids for key assets, including power grids and
ports, pose any national security risks.
(Reporting by Harry Pearl; Editing by Richard Pullin)