A slice of history: SGX – ASX… Singtel – Optus

2 Nov

The recent kerfuffle over Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) bid to take over the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) is not unsurprising.

One of the most visible objections stem from the Singapore government’s questionable democratic and human rights records. Eric Ellis, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald has pointed out that the SGX is host to dubious corporations from Burma and China; and that the ‘Singapore model’ has had a negative influence on other autocratic states such as Kazakhstan, Russia and Zimbabwe, Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens have also claimed that the party would not approve of the proposed merger unless their concerns specifically, its impact on the Australian market and shareholders, superannuation, financial services, workers, and national sovereignty are properly addressed. According to its media release, the party will also conduct a review of democracy and freedom of speech in Singapore.

This latest controversy is also a remainder of the sensitive nature of financial mergers,  especially, if it involves a ‘national icon’. It was a source of contention about 10 years ago, in 2001  when SingTel acquired the Australian-based telecommunications firm, Optus. When the move was made public, Australian defense experts stepped in to criticise the acquisition for endangering national security, fearing that Optus satellite would be used for spying purposes.

These allegations were made by Professor Desmond Ball of Australia’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre and Professor Ross Babbage, a former employee at the Australia’s Department of Defence, claiming that the Singapore government had spied on Australia since the 1980s. These accusations were publicly broadcast in the Australian general affairs programme, Lateline, in which Babbage was quoted that the spying involved not just one or two but a whole series of instances. This prompted a rebuttal by the Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserting that these accusations were baseless.

References

Australian Greens flag concern on ASX merger, Australian Greens, 27 October 2010.

Ellis, E 2010, The money-making machine of Singapore Inc., Sydney Morning Herald, 30 October.

Sue, A 2001, Spying allegations ‘disappointing’, Straits Times, 31 August.

Tan, I 2001, ‘Spy’ twist to SingTel’s Optus bid, Straits Times, 10 August.

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