Departing Australian envoy assures openness to foreign investors

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Departing Consul General Paul Tighe says Australia is still open for business and the Ausgrid decision was a special case. The proof is in the growing ties between Hong Kong and Australia.

Paul Tighe, departing Australian Consul General for Hong Kong, brushes off speculations that Canberra is turning its back on capital from China and Hong Kong, reassuring investors that Australia is open for business.


It’s not about China

Earlier this year, the Australian national government blocked two bidders, State Grid Corporation of China from mainland China and the Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings from investing in Ausgrid, the country’s largest, and state-owned, electricity infrastructure company. He explains that the block was neither directed at Chinese companies, nor aimed at Cheung Kong Infrastructure, which already has extensive holdings in the country.

“The issue there was the nature of the asset and of the transaction rather than the nature of the bidders. The national government decided that it could not go ahead with the sale of the asset because it has some peculiar national security-related features, which meant that the government was not prepared to sell it to a foreign bidder,” Mr Tighe explains. “CKI is a long-standing investor in Australia with very substantial investments in Australia including several power networks. We welcome their continued investments and nobody should read into the Ausgrid circumstance with any lack of respect or confidence in CKI.”

As Mr Tighe admits, an ongoing influx of Chinese capital does create some concerns among part of the Australian community, but the consequences are marginal especially when it comes to Hong Kong, adding that there is a policy in place to keep foreign buyers away from second-hand residential property market.

“The number of students and tourists from Hong Kong are still increasing and we’d like to affirm that they are just as welcome as they have ever. The fact that we are approaching 26 years of consecutive growth is a proof of our flexible economy, which has adjusted to all sorts of changes throughout all these years.”


Double Taxation Agreement….waiting….

In 2015, Australia was Hong Kong’s 20th largest trading partner while Hong Kong was Australia’s 15th ranking trading partner. According to Mr Tighe, the profile of Australian trade relationship with Hong Kong has changed slightly from focusing on exports of high-end products a few years ago to attracting mainland and Hong Kong money looking for offshore opportunities. He also reveals that Hong Kong is on a list of priority jurisdictions for the negotiations of Comprehensive Double Taxation Agreement. “The Australian business community is enthusiastic about doing it, and the Hong Kong administration is also enthusiastic about doing it. It’s just a question of priority.”

Also under the radar is a possible Hong Kong candidacy in the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative. While the stance of the Hong Kong government over joining the trade deal remains ambiguous, Mr Tighe assures that the city is welcomed by the other side.

“I recall when TPP negotiations started, one of the original intentions was to come up with a free trade agreement that was state of the art, that was liberalising, and if you could have a relatively small core of like-minded jurisdictions producing such an agreement then it will be open to membership from other jurisdictions which will have to sign onto the same liberal advanced kind of thing,” he asserts. “I think that philosophy is still there. We are trying to make sure that it does get implemented, and once that happens we will look at inviting other jurisdictions into the TPP. Hong Kong on the face of it will be a fairly obvious candidate.”


Leaving notes

Staying for a five-year term in one place is unusually long for a diplomat. For Mr Tighe, who has witnessed numerous political developments since the current administration took office in 2012 and left shortly before it ends in 2017, the place still has much to offer to foreign communities.

“I was really struck by how civil a place Hong Kong is; very dynamic but orderly, notwithstanding somewhat unsettled events,” he contends. “I think what matters to people who are representing foreign communities in Hong Kong is to ensure the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework remains unimpeded throughout those kinds of processes. I think there has been a degree of maturity in the way Hong Kong handles that.”

Not the best time to leave Hong Kong as the weather finally turns cool, but Mr Tighe makes sure that no love is lost in his quick courtesy note: “It genuinely has been a pleasure to work with the Australian community here, which members are very professional and corporate-minded, and also to work in one of the most civil places in the world with a willing and professional public sector.”