July 1, 2011
I am a proud rural Australian. I am proud that the majority of mainstream Australians still hold dear all that previous generations have fought and died to protect; such as our national sovereignty, freedom of speech, and a healthy respect for the rule of law.
Recent events in this country have made me question whether this Labor Government is capable of protecting the values we hold dear.
Australians consider any attempt to dilute our inalienable sovereignty as a betrayal. Who or what controls our precious land resources is a matter of national sovereignty and one that this Government has blatantly ignored.
The failure of this Government to generate a comprehensive response to the avalanche of foreign ownership requests to acquire vast slices of our agricultural sector is a national disgrace.
All Australians have a right to be concerned about our nation’s food security. The output of our agriculture industry equated to $24.5 billion dollars in 2009-10 of which 60% is generated in the export of produce.
I wish to echo and support the remarks made by the Member for Kooyong, Josh Fryedenberg MP who spoke on this matter of Food Security in a Grievance Debate on the 21st of June this year.
The Member spoke about concern in international circles that a global food shortage was on the horizon. Exacerbating this concern is the predicted explosion in global population from the current 6.9 billion people to 9 billion by 2050.
It is estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation that 925 million people are already struggling for food.
The link between concern about global food shortages and the increase in sovereign wealth funds of foreign countries gobbling up our agriculture sector is undoubtable.
If there was a coordinated and reasoned approach to the current rules regarding Foreign Investment approvals, I would not be so concerned. But the Government is simply not standing up for our national interests.
The abandoning of our agriculture sector to foreign interests is only one example of the litany of policy disappointments this Government has subjected rural and regional Australia to.
We have honey bees exposed to foreign diseases; the apple industry preparing for the worst as apples with Fireblight are given the green light to enter Australian borders. Each and every time this Government has been faced with making the tough decisions in agriculture, it has taken the easy option or no option at all.
The Member for Kooyong referred to the alarming press reports that Hassad Foods, which is owned by the Qatari Government has bought more than 8,000 hectares in Victoria’s Western district, on top of a purchase for 2,500 hectares of farming land in Victoria the year before.
The Member rightly questions the rules around Foreign Investment, particularly the ill-defined national interest test. It is outrageous that Patrick Colmer, the Executive Member of the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIR) and a senior Treasury official stated, and I quote “the way that the legislation is set up is that the default position is that the investment is allowed to proceed.” Un quote.
This legislation is woefully inadequate in protecting our national interest in food security.
The lack of standards is particularly galling when the threshold level to be considered a foreign investor in Australia is $231 million, compared with New Zealand where Government consent before a foreign investment can proceed is required if the property exceeds 5 hectares.
I am greatly encouraged by the efforts of the highly intelligent, young, Liberal Member for Kooyong to raise the profile of this very important issue in the national debate on behalf of urban and rural & regional Australia. I thank him on behalf of my constituents for bringing this very serious issue to the fore.