Big Names In Australian Business Seek Private Meetings With PM In China [Update]

Photo: Getty/Andrew Forrest

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has received invitations for private meetings with some of Australia’s most powerful business people, who will follow her to China for the Boao Forum for Asia.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office Tom Battams confirmed that “A number of independent business delegations have invited the Prime Minister to meet with them privately during the trip.”

The Prime Minister’s office however declined to reveal which business leaders were seeking a private audience with Gillard, or who’s invitation she would be accepting.

“The Prime Minister will not be travelling to China with any business leaders.

“I can not and will not confirm,” who will be meeting with the Prime Minister, Battams said.

Fortescue Metals chairman Andrew Forrest, who is a regular speaker at the economic forum, will lead a delegation that includes Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly and National Australia Bank chairman Michael Chaney.

ANZ boss Mike Smith will be in China for the Prime Minister’s landmark trip, along with president of the Australian Business Council Tony Shepherd , and Rio Tinto’s newly-appointed head of iron ore Andrew Harding, who will all be there for the forum.

The Australian Financial Review has also reported that Linfox boss Lindsay Fox is attending with Forrest’s delegation.

It is not known who has approached the Prime Minister for a private audience.

Fortescue Metals spokesperson Yvonne Ball declined on comment on whether Forrest, or anyone in his delegation would be meeting with the Prime Minister privately.

An ANZ source said it “made sense” for Smith, who is attending Boao for the first time, to be in China for an expected announcement of a currency deal that would save businesses money by allowing the Yuan to be converted directly into the Australian dollar.

It is understood that three separate business groups will be in China for the Prime Minister’s visit, when she leads a senior Australian political delegation to meet with China’s new leaders.

In her second trip as Prime Minister, Gillard will be one of the first foreign leaders to meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, who officially took office less than a month ago.

She will be accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, and the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Dr Craig Emerson, who is responsible for Asian Century Policy, Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research.

The Prime Minister will also be joined by the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Bill Shorten, who is leading a superannuation and financial services delegation to China.

Shorten has delayed his trip until Sunday.

Update: It has been confirmed that Forrest will meet with the Prime Minister in China.

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