THE Port of Newcastle is half-owned by Chinese companies that see it as part of that country's Belt and Road program but local management believe it will not be targeted under new federal laws targeting deals with foreign governments.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday that his government would introduce a new Foreign Relations Bill to ensure that "any arrangements that states, territories, councils and universities have with foreign governments are consistent with Australian foreign policy".
"Under the reforms, the Foreign Minister will have the power to review any existing and prospective arrangements between state and territory governments and all foreign governments," Mr Morrison said.
"Arrangements that adversely affect Australia's foreign relations or are inconsistent with our foreign policy could be prevented from proceeding or terminated."
The legislation is set to be introduced in the coming week's federal parliamentary sitting.
A Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement signed by the Victorian government and Beijing has been widely reported as a target of the bill, but the limits of its reach remain uncertain.
One national newspaper reported that the foreign minister would have powers to "review any private infrastructure contracts that a state government signed as part of a BRI agreement with China", while another reported that "arrangements between private businesses in Australia and foreign, state-owned enterprises" would be exempt.
The Port of Newcastle was privatised in 2014 on a 98-year lease to a 50/50 joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings and an Australian investment company, The Infrastructure Group.
The Belt and Road Initiative was unveiled in China in 2013 but did not begin to make headlines in Australia until after the Port of Newcastle was leased.
The Chinese half share in the port has been criticised during the broadening debate on foreign influence, although nowhere near as much as the Northern Territory government's full lease of the Port of Darwin in 2015 to Chinese interests.
The Newcastle Herald asked the federal government and the port a series of questions about the port and the intended legislation this week.
The port stressed its ambitions to build a container terminal - while pointing to the belief that private business would be exempt from the proposed laws.
Federal Treasury also responded with a statement, rather than answers to specific questions, saying that "while foreign investment is a vital source of funds for infrastructure", this investment "must not be contrary to the public interest".
It also maintains a "critical infrastructure asset register" to "ensure government knows who owns and operates our most critical assets" in "the ports, water, electricity and gas, and telecommunications sectors".
The Act says the register "must not be made public" but it also lists the Port of Newcastle as one of 20 "critical ports" under the law.
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