A list of 41 Aussie wineries and vineyards that are actually owned by Chinese businesses sparked fury yesterday in light of Beijing’s draconian restrictions on local industries.
But now, attention has turned to other “Australian” companies that are fully or partially controlled by foreign interests.
The explosive winery list kicked off a national conversation about foreign ownership, with many Australians calling for more transparency and demanding a wider boycott of all Chinese-owned businesses in Australia as the trade war rages on.
“Expose all CCP (Chinese Communist Party) funding in Australia,” one outraged Twitter user insisted, while another called on the country to “Boycott China, stand up for Australia.”
“Time to compile a list of all Australian companies which favour jobs, manufacturing & industry in fascist China in preference to those in Australia. There are PLENTY. And lots of big names. TIME TO CAMPAIGN – BUY AUSSIE, NOT CHINESE. BOYCOTT MADE IN CHINA,” another posted.
And it turns out there are probably more Chinese-owned companies in Australia than many of us realise.
China’s appetite for Australian baby formula has been insatiable for years on end, and last year, Chinese dairy company Mengniu Dairy Company snapped up infant formula producer Bellamy’s in a deal valued at around $1.5 billion.
The deal was given the green light by the Foreign Investment Review Board, which deemed the acquisition was not contrary to Australia’s national interest.
And in August this year, Mengniu Dairy Company was also poised to take over Lion Dairy and Drinks – the company behind Aussie favourites such as Big M and Dare iced coffee – before the $600 million sale collapsed at the last minute.
It sounds as Aussie as thongs and barbecues, but EnergyAustralia has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-based China Light and Power Co Ltd since 2011.
The firm was sold to Chinese energy giant Chow Tai Fook Enterprises for $4 billion, and was approved by then-Treasurer Scott Morrison in 2017.
A whistleblower later alleged that personal records of clients were stored in multiple countries in a direct breach of conditions of sale imposed by the Australian government, with Labor Senator Deb O’Neill slamming Mr Morrison for “the privacy data of over a million Australians being at risk”.
Australia’s Ansell condom business was sold to Chinese parties for $800 million in 2017.
It was taken over by China’s Humanwell Healthcare and CITIC.
The company was built by entrepreneur Eric Norman Ansell in 1929, and at the time of the sale it was seen as yet another blow to Australia’s ailing manufacturing sector.
DAYDREAM ISLAND AND OTHER RESORTS
Chinese investors have spent a fortune buying up Queensland tourism assets in recent years, including famous resorts like Daydream and Lindeman islands, the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas and Gold Coast hotels like Palazzo Versace, Sofitel and Crowne Plaza.
There’s also a high-profile spat between wealthy developer China Bloom, which purchased the main lease of Keswick Island in the Whitsundays in 2019, and locals who accuse the company of kicking them off a local beach.
The vitamin juggernaut was founded in Australia but was sold to Health & Happiness, a Chinese company based in Hong Kong previously known as Biostime International, in a $1.7 billion, two-step deal in 2015 and 2016.
Over the years, some of Australia’s biggest names have fronted the brand including Chris Hemsworth, Nicole Kidman and Alex de Minaur.
China’s largest airline, state-run China Southern Airlines, scored a 100-year lease for Merredin airport in Western Australia in 1993.
It is used for China’s aviation training, but the deal has proved controversial over the years, with aviation entrepreneur Dick Smith telling The West Australian in 2018 it was concerning.
“It’s a real problem the Chinese now own a tremendous amount of our land,” Mr Smith said
PORT OF DARWIN
Another controversial lease is the Port of Darwin, which passed into Chinese hands for 99 years in 2015.
It was taken over by Landbridge Australia, a subsidiary of Shandong Landbridge, and even sparked criticism from former US President Barack Obama, who apparently scolded then-PM Malcolm Turnbull by saying America should have got a “heads up about these sorts of things”.
China is also the second-biggest foreign owner of Australian farmland behind the UK, with an Australian Taxation Office report on foreign investment of local agricultural land revealing China owns 9.169mha and 23.4 per cent of foreign-held farmland.
By Alexis Carey