Foreign investment scrutiny triggers rises

Beef Central, 26/01/2012

The trigger level at which foreign investment attracts greater national interest scrutiny has risen from $231m to $244m.As debate continues as to whether Australia should lower the threshold at which foreign purchases of agricultural assets are subjected to a national interest test, the Federal Opposition says the threshold has quietly increased.

Shadow minister for agriculture and food security John Cobb said figures on the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) website show that the reporting threshold for foreign investment of agricultural land and agribusiness has increased from $231 million to $244 million this year.

The question of foreign ownership and whether it is good for Australian agriculture has attracted considerable attention in recent weeks.  

Ongoing sales of agricultural land, water entitlements and agribusinesses to overseas interests have fuelled concerns that Australia is selling the farm and surrendering control of its food producing assets to foreign owners.

However the Federal Government says there is nothing to fear after reviews by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences indicated that actual levels of foreign investment had not changed significantly since the last major survey was conducted in the 1980s.

Based on those results the Federal Government has dismissed calls to lower the $231m threshold above which proposed purchases by overseas interests must be scrutinised by the FIRB.

However the Federal Opposition and farm groups have questioned the validity of the ABS and ABARES findings.

They believe the limited terms of reference provided by the Federal Government resulted in shallow analyses that looked only at the number of agricultural land and businesses owned by foreign interests, and not the more critical measure of much volume or value of Australia’s food production they control. 

Shadow minister for agriculture and food security John CobbMr Cobb said that while many were calling for the $231m trigger to be lowered, the threshold had actually moved higher.

“The sad thing is Gillard’s Labor government and her agriculture minister are so unaware of regional and rural issues they probably haven’t even woken up to the fact that agricultural land is now even further out of reach from the Foreign Investment Review Board’s game-keeping,” Mr Cobb said.

“We need real data about the levels of foreign ownership of farm land and agribusiness, so the government can monitor foreign buy-outs and adjust policy settings when foreign control is not in Australia’s national interests.

“It was obvious that the $231 million trigger before the FIRB weighs in was clearly out of step with reality and now the $244 million just defies logic.

“There is no doubt that foreign investment has been, and will remain, vital for the development of agriculture in Australia, but we need the information and policy controls to make necessary adjustments if this investment runs contrary to Australia’s national interests.”

Mr Cobb said the coalition will announce its policy on foreign investment in agriculture in coming months.


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