S’pore takeover of ASX proves hugely unpopular

Mark Metherell
The Sydney Morning Herald

Two-thirds of Australians oppose the Singapore Stock Exchange’s proposed takeover of the Australian Stock Exchange. Coalition supporters are even more against the move than Labor voters.

A poll by UMR Research shows 62 per cent of Labor voters and 71 per cent of Coalition voters oppose the venture, an even higher level than the 65 per cent of Greens opponents.

The emphatic result is likely to cast deeper doubt over the chances of the federal Parliament giving the approval required if the government does seek the necessary regulatory change to lift the 15 per cent ownership cap on the ASX.

Both government and the opposition have taken a wait-and-see stance on the takeover, which has so far won a green light from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission but is still to be checked by the Foreign Investment Review Board, which would make a recommendation to the government.

The UMR Research managing director, John Utting, said: ”It was surprising just how intense the opposition is to the proposed acquisition of the ASX by the Singapore Stock Exchange.

”On this issue the shutters have definitely come down. Only a minuscule proportion of the population [6 per cent] support the Singapore exchange acquiring the Australian Stock Exchange.”

Australians generally welcomed Singaporean investment in Australia, he said. Singapore has large-scale investments in Optus telecommunications, in Australia’s defence communications satellite system, and in extensive infrastructure projects.

After ”robust” attempts by Singapore Airlines to become a major player in Australia’s international passenger market, ”the limits of acceptance may have finally been reached,” Mr Utting said. ”The takeover plan was quite well known by the Australian public, with almost half of the sample having some degree of awareness of the proposal.

”There is across-the-board lack of support for the proposal, with bipartisan political resistance and those generally more familiar with a proposal being more opposed to it.

”I think that for this proposal to get off across the line it will require a major structural re-engineering to make it more attractive and acceptable to Australians generally.”

He said the higher level of resistance from Coalition supporters might be a reflection of their generally older age. The survey found that opposition to the takeover was higher in older age groups.

The government’s decision on the issue is months away.

It is believed the Foreign Investment Review Board has yet to receive a formal proposal about the deal.

A spokesman for the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said a number of regulatory processes would have to be followed. ”Australia rigorously applies a national interest test to all proposals for foreign government investment and significant private sector investment,” he said.

”The government will work through a methodical and thorough consideration of the issues with the objective of maintaining Australia’s reputation as a financial services hub.”

A spokeswoman for the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said he would wait to see the result of the government’s assessment before announcing his position.

The UMR poll, taken December 16 to 21, involved interviews with 500 people.


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