“I think I’m like millions of Australians out there who are very concerned about the Communist Chinese takeover,” Senator Lambie said.
“Every time they open a cheque book we roll over like a dog.
“That’s what the country’s doing – whether it’s our national security or our national food security.”
Senator Lambie and others, including Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, have previously criticised the government over the sale of another Tasmanian dairy products company, VDL Farms, to Chinese businessman Xianfeng Lu three years ago.
One concern is the federal government’s Foreign Investment Review Board is not acting strongly enough to make sure Mr Lu and his company, Moon Lake, honour the conditions on jobs and local operations.
“There’s a lot of us out there who are concerned about what’s going on, we can see the buy-ups that are going on in Tasmania, which is concerning in itself, and we are very, very concerned,” Senator Lambie told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
It’s an embarrassment to the country that they’re laying down like a dog on this stuff.
Senator Lambie backed an attempt by Centre Alliance Senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff in the upper house on Monday to get the foreign affairs committee to inquire into Chinese influence and military expansion.
She said she and others were given briefings on Chinese purchases and other issues but that this information should be available to all Australians.
“This is how embarrassing it is – we’re actually doing debriefings behind closed doors in relation to what’s going on with buy-outs around the country and our universities,” she said. “What is stopping the Liberal and Labor parties from allowing us to have an inquiry into all this stuff that’s going on?”
“It bothers me terribly that they’re talking about having freedoms in this country but we can’t talk about what is going on here with the Communist Chinese and Australia.
“It’s an embarrassment to the country that they’re laying down like a dog on this stuff.”
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson accused the government of putting Australia’s economy at risk by approving the sale.
She said Mr Frydenberg should immediately overturn the move.
“These are money making entities, which are vital for our economy, they employ local people, and they contribute to our food production. Why compromise all that?” she said.
We are allowing the Chinese to waltz in and snatch away one of the leading baby formula manufacturing businesses.
“Here we are allowing the Chinese to waltz in and snatch away one of the leading baby formula manufacturing businesses, with little consideration for what it means for our country’s future; this takes another chunk out of Australia’s ability to produce enough food for our own people.”
Senator Hanson said the Foreign Investment Review Board had become a rubber stamp for the purchase of Australian firms by overseas interests.
“Why are we being so frivolous with Australian assets? We need to have some more respect for what’s ours and take more care, and not be so eager to give it away,” she said.
Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie said it was disappointing to see an “iconic” Australian company fall into foreign hands.
“Although Bellamy’s is a relatively new company with a limited physical presence in Australia, it is nonetheless a company that Australians hold dear and it has achieved a very important role in the supply of high-quality baby formula for Australian consumers,” he said in a statement.
Mr Wilkie also cited the experience of VDL Farms, saying the sale was “farcical” and showed the foreign buyers failed to deliver on “just about any” of their promises.
VDL traces its history to the creation of the Van Diemen’s Land Company with a land grant in 1825.
The Foreign Investment Review Board advises on transactions but the Treasurer rules on whether to approve or reject them and whether to impose conditions, without any need to seek the approval of Parliament.
Mr Wilkie said the FIRB should include an “ironclad guarantee” on Bellamy’s that Australian jobs would be maintained.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the Bellamy’s transaction went through the “appropriate assessments” and the FIRB found the proposal was not contrary to the national interest.
Senator Whish-Wilson warned of potential market manipulation in the Bellamy’s transaction.
“In the 18 months ahead of the takeover offer, Bellamy’s share price fell 60 per cent while Chinese authorities withheld market access,” he said.
“On the face of it, it looks like the Chinese government suppressed the share price ahead of a takeover bid and some Australian investors have lost millions as a result.
“There are allegations of this occurring in other takeovers both here and overseas and this needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
On Friday morning, Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the government needed to explain the decision, particularly around the conditions being imposed on the company.
“It is up to the Treasurer to explain how and why this decision is in the national interest,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
“We are not privy to FIRB advice and haven’t been briefed on the decision.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.