Port of Melbourne Privatisation Talks Stalled Fearing Investigation

port of Melbourne

The Victorian Government’s plan for the early privatisation of the port of Melbourne has hit a road block. This followed the collapse of talks between the government and the opposition.

The opposition is apprehensive that the contents of its bilateral talks on the port of Melbourne with the government may turn into a source of investigation by the anti-corruption agency IBAC. It may be recalled that the legislation to sell the port of Melbourne’s  long-term lease was stuck in the Upper House.

The Government of Daniel Andrews was hoping to secure the coalition’s support to pass the legislation when the House meets in February, reports ABC News. It is also eyeing the support of Greens and crossbenchers for the port of Melbourne’s long lease. The process is an important step in privatizing the port, which has been valued around AU$7 billion.

Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the new powers given to IBAC may allow the “misconduct in public office” as a premise to investigate into political negotiations. The opposition said sweeping powers given to the anti-corruption body IBAC makes most negotiations a source of malicious complaint at a later date. “The changes say very, very clearly that political horse-trading, political discussions, could be the subject of future IBAC investigation,” Guy said.

The IBAC scare is holding back the opposition from accepting the government’s line. The government says the talks have nothing to do with IBAC probe. Guy said so far all discussions about the port of Melbourne had been above board. But he has genuine concern that any face-to-face conversations on the port’s sale can be used against him for a malicious investigation later on. “And as a consequence I want everything to be in writing, every piece of offer, discussion, negotiation with the government must now be in writing,” Guy demanded.

Meanwhile, the privatization of the port of Melbourne is likely to hit the national security hurdle. The Federal government is tightening the bar on many foreign bidders eyeing the asset. This may hit the hope of raising a windfall for spending on 50 level crossings the Andrews’ government has planned for Melbourne, reports The Age.

The Federal government wants all foreign governments interested in the project to be scrutinised by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board. Treasurer Scott Morrison confirmed that even the exemption for foreign companies on that matter will go. The Federal government is trying to get an upper hand on the Melbourne port’s lease or sale. It has learnt lessons from the deal by the Northern Territory on the Port of Darwin. The century long lease of Darwin port at AU$506 million was given to a Chinese company named Landbridge.

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