Opponents not happy with ‘dressed-up’ ASX bid

The Australian

The Singapore stock exchange has sweetened its $8 billion bid for the Australian Securities Exchange, promising equal Australian board representation and that key ASX staff, assets and operations would remain onshore.

But the move – aimed at easing concerns about the sale of an Australian financial icon – failed to silence key political opponents and could face a private member’s bill to derail it as well as a Senate inquiry into its implications for the nation.

In addition to the guarantees on board representation on the merged entity, staff and operations, Singapore Exchange Limited (SGX) also pledged to invest in, develop and introduce new products and services in Australia and Singapore.

SGX said the revised offer would “strengthen the development of the financial services sectors and the national interests of both Australia and Singapore”.

The proposal, unveiled last October, which would create the fifth-largest securities market in the world, has drawn fire from all sides of politics and run into public opposition, with a UMR Research poll in December showing two-thirds of Australians opposed the bid.

Last night, Queensland federal rural independent MP Bob Katter likened the revised offer to “putting a dress on a pig” and floated moving a private member’s bill to scuttle it.

And South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon said he had reservations about the bid and flagged a Senate inquiry.

But SGX chief executive Magnus Bocker told The Australian yesterday’s list of guarantees was aimed at addressing concerns about the bid and signalled an application would be lodged within weeks with the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Mr Bocker would be visiting key capitals, including Canberra, “explaining why this is in the national interest”.

“This is definitely answering a lot of the questions we received, a lot of concerns we heard,” he said of the new offer. He said the merger of the Singapore and Australian exchanges would build the Australian services sector and the new board structure would be “very balanced”.

“This is a question of creating jobs (in Australia), not taking out jobs. It is a question of committing ourselves to investment, to be competitive, to have the right fee structures, to add new products and services,” he said. Under the new bid, SGX chairman Chew Choon Seng would be chairman of the combined group and ASX chairman David Gonski would be deputy chairman as well as chairman of the ASX-SGX integration committee. ASX and all of its subsidiaries – as well as ASX Compliance – would maintain boards with a majority of Australian citizen directors and an Australian as chair.

The new bid promises to continue existing regulatory oversight and that any changes to listing rules and ASX operating rules would be scrutinised by the Australian Securities & Investments Commission.

Wayne Swan declined to comment yesterday but rural independent Rob Oakeshott called on the government to “get going” in considering the deal.

“Delay is not an option and leads to uncertainty,” Mr Oakeshott said.

Mr Katter, flagging a private member’s bill to scuttle the deal, said it amounted to “selling the mechanisms of your society by which your society operates.

“It’s not like selling a chook factory or canvas bag factory – what goes for sale next, the High Court?

“You can put a dress on a pig but it’s still a pig – that’s what is occurring here.”


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