Australia 'must lift Asian game'

Sean Smith and Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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PwC says business needs the incoming Coalition Government to quickly address Australia's "hopeless" political engagement with Asia in recent years.

"It's fair to say the perspective from the other side is that we are hopeless with regard to how we form relationships, how we visit the various countries," Luke Sayers, the chief executive of PwC's Australian practice, said.

Mr Sayers, who has been in Perth this week for meetings with some of PwC's senior Asian managers, said he was "extremely confident" Tony Abbott's Government would take "a very meaningful and purposeful" approach to Asia to foster better relationships and improve Australia's regional relevance.

He said while were already signs of increased cross-border investment confidence in the wake of Saturday's election, Asian investors remained concerned about the ease of doing business in Australia,

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"We have to improve," Mr Sayers said, citing the need for simplified labour laws and a more "streamlined" Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB).

The comments came against a debate about rising Asian investment in Australia and questions about the Coalition's approach.

Just yesterday, there was confirmation the Indonesian Government had approved a plan to buy a million hectares in the far north of Australia for cattle production as it battles to keep a lid on beef prices, which have skyrocketed under an import quota system introduced as part of a self-sufficiency drive.

The move shapes as an early test of the Abbott Government's approach to foreign investment in agriculture and comes with Australian cattle exports to Indonesia at a standstill.

The Coalition has vowed to reduce the threshold for FIRB scrutiny of agriculture land deals from $248 million to $15 million and key Nationals MPs have strongly criticised overseas investment in the sector.

PwC's Beijing-based assurance leader for Asia Pacific, Raymund Chao, said Australia, despite competition from other markets, remained an attractive destination for Asian investment. But there was potential "to attract a lot more", subject to improving their relationships in the region.

Mr Chao said cultural differences between Australian and Chinese companies partnering on mainly Australian mining assets remained an issue.

"There are good and bad experiences," he said. "It's a learning experience over the next little while to build trust to maximise that investment."

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