Don't sell pipeline to Chinese: Senator

Greg Roberts

Hong Kong company CKI should not be allowed to buy Australia's largest gas pipeline operator APA because it would give China too much control over energy infrastructure, says South Australian Senator Rex Patrick.

APA said last month that CKI, owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing, was interested in a takeover.

CKI already owns the Dampier to Bunbury gas pipeline in WA and has significant interests in gas transmission and distribution in every state and territory along with the state-owned State Grid of China.

But letting it buy APA would give it a monopoly hold on gas pipelines in the east coast market and that was not in the national interest, Senator Patrick, a Centre Alliance crossbencher, said.

"They will have the ability to come in and set pricing, the same company CKI is actually the owner of the South Australian power network and owns half of Victoria's energy networks as well," Senator Patrick told ABC radio.

"It is not about saying no to the Chinese, it is about being very careful in this instance about how much of a particular sector they buy into.

"It is energy critical infrastructure, we need to be aware of any sales in those particular areas, to make sure we have proper regards to national security considerations."

The federal government blocked CKI and the State Grid of China from buying Ausgrid in NSW but China's Landbridge was controversially allowed to take a 99-year lease on the Port of Darwin, which the US strongly objected to.

Darwin hosted a business conference this week in which China's Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye called on local businesses to get involved with its new silk road, the trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

"The Foreign Investment Review Board didn't in my view do a good job in relation to the Landbridge purchase of the Port of Darwin," Senator Patrick said.

"For the very same reasons that Darwin wants to trade with China because of proximity, we also need to have regards to the fact that Darwin is a critical port for the Royal Australian Navy.

"There were also some access restrictions in relation to that particular deal that are of concern to me," Senator Patrick said.