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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs  26 October 2010

Australian lawmakers question Singapore exchange bid

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Australian lawmakers on Tuesday signaled they might scuttle the Singapore Exchange's $8.3 billion cash and shares bid for the operator of the Australian bourse.

Opposition Liberal Party treasury spokesman Joe Hockey raised concerns that the takeover, announced Monday, was not in Australia's national interest while Greens Party leader Bob Brown said he was swayed against the deal by Singapore's human rights record.

The two parties command a majority in the Senate where they could block the deal which has yet to be approved by a range of regulators.

The takeover of Australian Securities Exchange Ltd., the monopoly stock market operator usually known as ASX, by a company part owned by the Singapore government would create the world's fifth-largest stock exchange company by market value.

Brown said he was concerned by Singapore's human rights record and by the island state's execution of an Australian drug smuggler in 2005 despite Australian government pleas for his life.

"We should tell them nothing doing," Brown told reporters at Parliament House of the deal. "This is a state that tramples all over freedom of speech, democracy, the rights of oppositions, the ability for public discourse," he said.

Hockey said Singapore competed with Australia for jobs in the financial sector and the government needed to explain how Australia would benefit from a combined stock exchange company headquartered in Singapore.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it would be "highly inappropriate" for the government to comment on the takeover, which has yet to be examined by the government's Foreign Investment Review Board, to judge whether it is in Australia's interests.

"I believe questions of foreign investment should be looked at through proper processes," Gillard told reporters. "We should be guided by Australia's national interest and our prosperity."

Treasurer Wayne Swan would make the final decision, after receiving the board's advice, on whether the takeover should be allowed.

But the parliament could block the necessary regulatory changes. The ASX is set to lose its monopoly on operating a bourse in Australia in 2011 and an affiliate of Chi-X Europe is planning to set up a trading system once the monopoly is abolished.

The exchange operating company formed from the takeover of ASX would have a market value of $12.3 billion and be responsible for some 2,700 listed companies.

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