Many Australians, including PWF readers, are concerned about foreign ownership of land and food businesses.
Jock Laurie, NFF President, says it is now NFF policy to push for a mandatory national register that lists any purchase of rural land or water assets by foreign-owned or part-owned entities or individuals. All purchases should be reported within 90 days of sale.
This, he says, would be a rational way to provide more accurate information and ward off any out-of-control or racist community debates.
Currently the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) requires only sales of more then $244 million to be approved by them.
It seems we do not keep data on where land sold to foreigners is located, which industries, if any, are favoured and whether any particular body/country is more active than others.
A recent ABARE (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences) report on foreign ownership, its first in 30 years, found 11 per cent of farmland, 9 per cent of water entitlements and 1 per cent of agricultural businesses were owned by foreign interests.
On this basis the Federal Government says concerns that Australia is surrendering control of its food producing assets should be put to rest. The existing levels of regulation governing foreign investment in Australia are adequate.
However, it will monitor foreign investment levels more closely in future in response to community concerns.
The Nationals’ John Cobb says:
“The government hasn’t given this study the scope required to fully assess the situation…
[It] didn’t even look at the value of production under foreign control or the nationality of foreign landholders, so provides even less information than 1983-84 data almost 30 years ago…
It is obvious that the $231 million trigger before the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) weighs in is clearly out of step with reality, and that the disparity between the trigger for urban versus regional purchases is nonsensical…
The current rules for foreign investment are outdated and fail to address Australia’s modern food security needs. They will not protect our agricultural commodities from foreign control and/or marketplace domination.”
Farmers requested information from ABARE about anecdotal evidence that:
“Governments from China and Qatar in particular were targeting large numbers of dairy farms, wheat properties and merino wool sheep stations for purchase..”
The report did not provide this info and the NFF wants government to gather information about all land sales linked to foreign companies, governments or investors, regardless of the size or financial scale of each transaction.
At the recent Victorian Farmers’ Federation Conference there was a heated debate and a call for the FIRB threshold to be dropped to $5 million for new purchases of farm land. They also backed the national register.
Where to from here?