Dangerous trend in sale of Australian land and water to overseas buyers must be reversed

19 December, 2019
Dangerous trend in sale of Australian land and water to overseas buyers must be reversed Image

The controversial $1.5 billion sale of baby formula manufacturer Bellamy to a Chinese company is just one example in a long sequence of the sale of important Australian assets to overseas investors, says SFF Murray MP Helen Dalton

In NSW Parliament last week, Mrs Dalton gave a speech on how government, “is making decisions about foreign purchases in secrecy without proper review processes”.

“The Coalition in the last 30 years have successfully portrayed themselves as strong at protecting our borders, strong at putting Australian interests ahead of those of foreigners,” she said in her speech.

“But protecting our borders should be about more than just stopping sick refugee children from presenting at Australian hospitals. It also means protecting Australian land, Australian jobs, Australian water, Australian farms, Australian heritage, and the Australian way of life. On that score, the Coalition have failed dismally”.

Mrs Dalton then highlighted the increasing amount of prime agricultural land and river water being bought by foreign investors.

She also made reference to the sale of large diversified Temora agribusiness to a Canadian Pension Fund last year.

“A group of Riverina farmers wanted to buy a large diversified agribusiness in Temora. They offered $270 million. What happened? The agribusiness was sold to a Canadian pension fund for $62 million less than the Australian farmers were prepared to pay,” Mrs Dalton said

The Murray MP said current policy settings favour foreign multinationals over mum and dad Aussie farmers, and called for more transparency over the federal government's approval of foreign purchases.

“What chance does a young Australian family have you need a 50% deposit to buy a farm if you're competing against wealthy foreign multinationals with millions of dollars in their pockets? Why don't we waive stamp duty to help young Aussies compete? Why do we give foreign companies Australian taxpayers dollars so they can build private dams? Why do we allow multinationals to dodge tax by shifting their revenue to other countries?” she asked

“We need to urgently review the rules around foreign ownership to bring our children up to a level playing field.”

 

Full Private Members Statement from Helen Dalton

I rise to speak about foreign ownership tonight.

“We decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they arrive”

The coalition in the last 30 years have successfully portrayed ourselves as strong at protecting our borders, strong at putting Australian interests ahead of those of foreigners. Today, I want to tell you why this image is a complete sham and explain how these Liberal and National politicians are selling our country's soul.

Yes, the Liberals and the Nats did stop the boats on the Darling river as well as the Indian Ocean, but that's another story. Protecting our borders should be about more than just stopping sick refugee children from presenting at Australian hospitals. It also means protecting Australian land, Australian jobs, Australian water, Australian farms, Australian heritage, and the Australian way of life.

On that score, the coalition have failed dismally. Under the watch of the Liberal and National politicians, we have now sold 52 million hectares of prime agricultural land to foreigners. Canada, for example, increased its stake in Aussie farms fivefold last year alone. Our biggest irrigation property, Cubbie Station, is owned predominantly by the Chinese. Overall, we've sold more than 4 million megalitres of our precious river water, enough to feel eight Sydney harbours to overseas investors.

Energy Australia, who power more than 4 million homes, is now owned by Hong Kong-based company. We've even leased the port of Darwin to the Chinese. Now, it's true we need some level of foreign investment in Australia, but at the moment, the rules in place actually favour wealthy foreign corporates over Australian families.

Last year, a group of Riverina farmers wanted to buy a large diversified agribusiness in Temora. They offered $270 million. What happened? The agribusiness was sold to a Canadian pension fund for $62 million less than the Australian farmers were prepared to pay. Let that sink in. Our government rejected Australian farmers and allowed the agribusiness to be sold to a foreign corporation for less money, less money than the Australians were willing to pay. What a disgrace.

Government is making decisions about foreign purchases in secrecy without proper review processes. We need more regulation and more scrutiny over this. Sadly, we are moving in the opposite direction fast. In 2017, a Victorian branch of the Liberal Party pushed for law changes to make it much easier for foreigners to buy agricultural land without government approval. The motions said, "Attitudes towards foreign investment were fueled by xenophobia". Can you believe that? The Liberal Party, which has been playing the race card to its advantage for 30 years, is now calling people racist for not wanting to sell Australian land to foreign multinationals.

Mr Speaker, this is not about racism. I'm proud to come from one of the most multicultural towns in regional Australia. Griffith was built on the back of immigrant farmers and businesses. They moved here, they worked really hard and are now 100% Australian. But I fear for their children who are being outbid by foreign interest who have no loyalty to Australia whatsoever. What chance does a young Australian family have you need a 50% deposit to buy a farm if you're competing against wealthy foreign multinationals with millions of dollars in their pockets? Why don't we waive stamp duty to help young Aussies compete? Why do we give foreign companies Australian taxpayers dollars so they can build private dams? Why do we allow multinationals to dodge tax by shifting their revenue to other countries? We need to urgently review the rules around foreign ownership to bring our children up to a level playing field.

Every day I hear stories of young family farms going under and foreign multinational swarming all over their land ready for the next deal. They're buying our most fertile dryland farms and taking over our best irrigated land to plant thirsty crops like nuts, which will suck our rivers dry. Foreign purchases at the moment are not passing the public interest test. As a result, our food security is at stake as well as our future and our national identity. This trend can't go under the radar any longer.

It's time for the Liberals and the Nationals to realize that our water, our farms, and our land are very much within our borders, and they need protecting too.

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