David Irvine has served as the Chair of the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) since 2017, following a distinguished career in foreign affairs and national security including as Director-General of both the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS); as Australia’s Ambassador to China and High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea; among other roles. David Irvine is also a Board Member of EABC’s Corporate Partner the Cyber Security CRC, headed by CEO Rachael Falk.
On 1 January 2021, a package of far-reaching amendments to the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 (Cth) and the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Regulation 2015 (Cth) came into effect, constituting the most significant reform of Australia’s FIRB regime since its establishment in 1978. These reforms have greatly enhanced the scrutiny of foreign investments through a new ‘national security test’ which imposes mandatory notification requirements for investments concerning ‘national security land’ or ‘national security businesses’, which are those that concern critical infrastructure, telecommunications, defence and sensitive data. Additionally, FIRB has been given significant new compliance and enforcement mechanisms and the Treasurer has been granted extensive powers to ‘call in’ investments for review, and ‘last resort’ powers to impose or alter conditions, and in some circumstances require divestment of a foreign investment if national security risks emerge, even where FIRB approval has already been obtained.
The reforms also include measures to streamline investment in non-sensitive areas, build capacity and reduce the regulatory burden for investments that do not pose national security risks, with the objective to enhance Australia’s attractiveness for foreign investment. According to the UNCTD’s World Investment Report 2020, while Australia was among the world’s top 10 FDI recipients in 2019, after the US, China, France, Brazil, India and Canada, it has since fallen to 14th place. Global FDI flows fell by more than 38% in 2020 and by 46% in Australia. FDI attraction, in particular from like-minded partners including the EU and the UK, will be critical to Australia’s future economic prosperity and capacity building in strategic sectors such as renewable energy, defence, advanced manufacturing, mining and critical minerals, agri-tech, digital economy, health, and many others.
The forum with David Irvine will offer the opportunity to engage on the foreign investment reforms, including striking the right balance between maintaining the economic benefits of foreign investment and protecting the national interest; proposed amendments to Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 (Cth) currently before Parliament, which would significantly expand the categories of businesses subject to the FIRB reforms; perspectives on the tightening of FDI regimes around the world in particular by the EU and its Member States and the UK; and the challenges and opportunities facing Australia’s economic recovery including the outlook for increasing the flow of FDI at this critical time; the impact of Australia’s international border settings and migration policy; among other topics.
This event was attended on behalf of the Norwegian Chamber by Sophia Demetriades and Lily Tindale