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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 455


Senator JACK EVANS(10.24) —by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

No-one in Australia, not even the Government, knows how much of Australia is owned or controlled by overseas interests. This is particularly frightening when Australians realise that the present Government has a policy of allowing the Australian 'farm' to be sold off through relaxation or abandonment of FIRB controls.

1984 saw the Australian Labor Party national conference decide to alter its 51 per cent Australian equity policy. This change has now been put into practice. For example, the Government has acted to suspend foreign investment policy relating to merchant banks for a period of 12 months. Similarly FIRB decisions such as the approval for the Reckitt and Coleman take-over of Nicholas Kiwi, demonstrate this Government's relaxed stance on foreign investment.

The decision to allow 16 foreign banks to enter the economy is a further example of how actions speak louder than words. (16 foreign banks is an over-kill compared to the Treasurer's earlier statements about the desirability of only half a dozen bank licences.)

The current Government is actively pursuing a policy of allowing, even encouraging, the Australian 'farm' to be sold off. By doing so, it has broken its election promise of buying back the 'farm'.

This Government, like its predecessor, is willing to allow our economy and our money markets to be guided by the decisions of foreign board rooms. Australia's enterprises and resources are being offered to all-comers.

It will be interesting (and perhaps tragic) to see the effect upon Australian banking and financial institutions of the tidal-wave of foreign banks. Most merchant banks will be forced to drastically restructure and domestic non-bank financial institutions (such as building societies and credit unions) will be faced with new and unsettling forces.

The future effects and changes are not predictable, and the Australian Democrats are concerned that our economy is increasingly guided and manipulated by trans-national organisations who owe allegiance to no-one but their own shareholders we are concerned that the Government's actions are reducing its ability to direct the Australian economy.

Successive Australian governments have allowed the 'farm' to be sold off. The ALP's policies, however, will ensure that future Australian governments or investors will have difficulty buying it back. By allowing itself to be swayed by the multi-nationals, the ALP now runs in step with the Liberal Party: Both are prepared to squander Australia's heritage and sovereignty in return for short term gain.

The problem facing Australians and future governments, is that no-one knows the extent of foreign ownership. Governments cannot be brought to account for denuding this nation of its assets if the people are kept oblivious of the extent of overseas ownership or control.

Investors and governments can't buy back the farm if they don't know who owns it. At present, there is no way of finding out how much of Australia has been sold, leased, loaned, mortgaged or simply given away. This Bill will identify the 'big' foreign owners and will identify the value of those portions of Australia which they own or control.

This Bill will establish a public register of foreign corporations which own or control major Australian properties or other assets.

Foreign corporations with substantial assets or interests within Australia will be required to provide an annual statement to the Treasurer. That information will be used to compile a register which is to be available for public inspection.

The form of the information required to be lodged is such that its preparation will incur very little additional time or expenditure. It virtually duplicates information which must now be lodged with the NCSC or the Commissioner of Taxation, or would be within existing corporate accounts. The Bill will only apply to foreign companies which own large amounts of Australian property. If a foreign company owns or controls more than $3m of Australian assets or an individual Australian asset worth more than $1m, then it would be obliged to lodge a form.

It will not apply to individuals, nor will it apply to substantial foreign companies which do not own or control substantial Australian assets.

Australians simply do not know how much of their country is in foreign hands. We are entitled to ask the question and this Bill will begin to give us the answers.

The government of the day may still be able to sell off the 'farm', but now Australians will be aware of how much of it is sold and who is buying it.

Australians elect ever increasing numbers of Australian Democrats as their watch-dogs of government. This Bill is yet another example of the Australian Democrats fulfilling that role on behalf of all Australians-now and in the future.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.