Farmers call for rational debate on foreign investment

Beef Central, 05/10/2013

The nation’s peak agricultural body, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has called for sensible policy outcomes in the debate on foreign investment.

NFF President Duncan Fraser said the current debate should be focused on finding policy solutions that ensure Australian agriculture can continue to benefit from foreign investment, while also ensuring the concerns of Australian farmers, and the community, are addressed.

“The issue of foreign investment is very complex, but as we have long said, such investment has traditionally been very positive for Australian agriculture and should continue to play an important role,” Mr Fraser said.

“We have been very pleased to hear the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce’s, comments over recent days supporting foreign investment – particularly the sale of two properties in the top end to an Indonesian company, after speaking to the Northern Territory cattle industry. This shows that the Minister is listening and taking the views of farmers on board.

“With the recent change in Canberra, we welcome the opportunity to discuss with the Government the best way forward on this issue. It is imperative that foreign investment is not deterred, but at the same time, greater transparency is needed to ensure the motivations behind it are clear.

“This is not new; we have been saying this for as long as this debate has raged, which is now well over two years.

“That is why the NFF continues to call for the introduction of a foreign investment register that makes it compulsory for all foreign persons or organisations that acquire or transfer an interest in agricultural land, water or agribusinesses to report the sale.

“Such a register would provide clarity on the level of foreign investment in agricultural land and provide the ability to monitor trends.

“This register is crucial in understanding the current levels of foreign investment in agriculture, and having a full understanding is critical in getting the policy decision right. The Coalition proposed the development of a register back in August 2012, and now they’re in Government, we hope to see this created as a matter of urgency.

“It’s essential that we’re very clear on the facts of foreign investment, which is why we will continue to focus on building transparency,” Mr Fraser said.

The Cattle Council of Australia said it also supported Mr Joyce's comments on supporting Indonesian company Santori's purchase of NT stations Riveren and Inverway.

The Australian beef industry has had a long history of foreign investment, particularly in the north, CCA president Andrew Ogilvie said. 

“Australian cattle properties have previously received foreign investment from England, the United States of America, China, Japan and Brazil, just to name a few,” Mr Ogilvie said. 

“The recent purchase of two Australian cattle stations in the north is not an anomaly.

“As an export orientated industry, exporting over 65pc of our product to over one hundred markets around the world, foreign investment only strengthens relationships between Australia and these markets, securing vital market access for Australian producers.

“Indonesia is a perfect example of this relationship. It is integral for the longevity of the market that we have shared investment; both in Indonesia and Australia.

“At the end of the day, agricultural land remains in Australia; investment strengthens the Australian economy, creates Australian jobs and brings diversification to the sector.

Foreign investment versus foreign ownership

The Australian Beef Association says it believes a distinction must be made between foreign investment and foreign ownership. 


"‘Ownership’ by someone else takes the control or opportunity from us all.   ‘Investment’ generally means that a good percentage of that business’s money stays within our economy," ABA chief executive officer Dabid Byard writes in the latest ABA media release.

"In most cases foreign ownership means virtually all benefits from that business leave the country, and profits another country and people, instead of our own.   

We all realise that the world will struggle to feed itself, and it’s only a matter of time before food (and water) will become a precious resource. This has led to a massive worldwide move on securing agricultural land anywhere. In Australia the land seems plentiful and cheap, and the government most accommodating to internationals, but not to their own producers.

Mr Byard said other countries had recognised the importance of their farming sector to their long term food security, while Australia was looking only at the dollars coming in and nothing considering the long term consequences of releasing control of its production and resources. 

"When one looks at the returns on most agricultural pursuits, they are extremely poor. Our farmers work incredibly hard and invest huge amounts of capital for little return, but their contribution to the economy is socially imperative, and socially unrecognised. The rest of the world acknowledges the agriculture is essential to economic and social stability, and protects their food supply with subsidies.  Australian producers generally receive over 25pc less than the next least subsidized country in the world. Not a ‘level playing field’ by any means.    

"To my way of thinking perhaps we should be looking at rules governing foreign ownership, or even look at special class of land title that gives foreign countries a lease over land, but not complete ownership." 



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