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Australia set to nix CK's RM39b pipeline bid on national security

10 November 2018

CK Group's A$13 billion ($9.4 billion) bid for gas pipeline operator APA Group was knocked back by Australia's government on national security concerns, a decision that has the potential to further inflame diplomatic tensions with China.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he had told the consortium of his preliminary view that the takeover was not in Australia's interests.

"The FIRB was unable to reach a unanimous recommendation, expressing its concerns about aggregation and the national interest implications of such a dominant foreign player in the gas and electricity sectors over the longer term", the Treasurer said.

Following Mr Frydenberg's preliminary decision, CK Group moved to defend its investment record in Australia.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Wednesday he would make a final decision within two weeks, saying that his preliminary view "reflects the size and significance of APA Group".

Frydenberg said that his initial view of the transaction was formed on the grounds that it would result in an "undue concentration of foreign ownership" by a single company group in Australia's most significant gas transmission business. APA declined to comment.

The Hong Kong company previous year bought Australian energy utility assets group Duet - which owns utility assets valued at $11.1 billion, including the Dampier to Bunbury gas pipeline in Western Australia, United Energy in Victoria and projects in the U.S. and UK - for $7.37 billion.

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APA said it noted the treasurer's decision and would update shareholders in due course.

Frydenberg, who until August was energy minister, said he was not opposed to CK Group or its subsidiaries.

Payne's visit, the first by an Australian foreign minister to China in nearly three years, was seen as marking a potential thaw in tensions in the relationship.

Frydenberg said that his preliminary view was not an adverse reflection on CK Group or the individual companies, noting that the CK Group of companies was already a substantial investor in Australia's gas and electricity sectors and a significant provider of infrastructure services.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, that fair trade watchdog, approved the APA deal in September on condition that the consortium reduced its gas market dominance in Western Australian state by selling some of its pipelines there.

Last year, CK Infrastructure received approval for a A$7.4 billion takeover of pipeline owner DUET Group. APA shares closed on Thursday at A$9.51, compared with CK's offer price of A$11.

She will likely spend more time discussing the Pacific as Morrison has just announced a huge spend in the Pacific, a region where Australia largely sees itself as the local superpower with a $2 billion infrastructure fund, $1 billion in boosted export assistance and more work across sport, security and culture.

Australia set to nix CK's RM39b pipeline bid on national security