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Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agricultural Land) Bill 2010
- Parl No.
Milne, Sen Christine
DEPUTY PRESIDENT, The
Heffernan, Sen Bill
- Question No.
Joyce, Sen Barnaby
Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agricultural Land) Bill 2010
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- Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment (Excessive Noise from Wind Farms) Bill 2012
- Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agricultural Land) Bill 2010
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- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
Thursday, 28 February 2013
Senator JOYCE (Queensland—Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (11:34): I rise to speak on the Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agricultural Land) Bill 2010. I should state from the start that, because the section of land that they want to bring in as having to cross the foreign ownership threshold level is too small—I think it is merely five hectares—it is going to be very hard for us to support it, so we will not. But I just want to talk about how this is an issue that we do have to go further with. I think it is no secret—every time I hear Mr Emerson mention my name—that the public know my position that we need stronger controls on foreign ownership, especially in the realms of state owned enterprises. I say that because state owned enterprises are not individuals. State owned enterprises are an arm of another nation's government. As an arm of another nation's government, they do not pass away, they do not require a profit and they very rarely go broke, and in any dispute you have to recognise that you are not having a dispute with an individual; you are having a dispute with another nation. Therefore it creates concerns in regard to how—
Senator Milne: Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Senator Joyce, just for clarity and accuracy: the bill is about $5 million, not five—
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: This is a debating point, Senator Milne. There is no point of order.
Senator Milne: It is an important clarification—
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.
Senator JOYCE: It is really important that we recognise that the coalition is going down a process of a more stringent review than where we currently are. Where we currently are at the moment is $244 million before you even go to the Foreign Investment Review Board. Two hundred and forty-four million dollars is a rather substantial amount of money, and it is more than that, because you can buy a place for $243,999,000 today and buy another one for $243,999,000 the next day. That is a ludicrous position.
We have to also acknowledge that, where we are currently, there has been a tenfold increase in the amount of investment in agriculture, forestry and fishing from a baseline average of the 2007-08 level to 2011-12.
Something is on. People are securing their agricultural footprint and they are doing it at the expense of a position that is held in Australia that is not replicated anywhere in the world. You cannot go to the People's Republic of China and buy up their agricultural land. You cannot go to Japan and do it. You cannot go to Korea and do it. You cannot go to Saskatchewan in Canada and do it. You cannot go to Nebraska in the United States and do it. You cannot go to New Zealand and do it.
So let us dispense with this argument that it is somehow xenophobic to state the bleeding obvious, because it is an issue that is peculiar to Australia and it is not xenophobic to try to protect your nation's interest. One of the greatest representations of this nation is the soil we stand on. One of the greatest aspirations this nation should have is the aspiration that Australian families will live on Australian farms just like Australian families will live in Australian houses in Australian suburbs. They might not neatly fit into any economic principle of unbridled free-market, but it is a principle of patriotism, it is a principle of how we see the nation and it is most certainly a principle you see out in the street every day. This is an issue that is brought up to me by people I speak to all the time. It is one of those classic issues. Walk past someone in the street and they will find some relationship about you and the political debate. Well, this is it. This is what they talk about.
It is galling to read an article quoting the Minister for Trade Mr Craig Emerson telling China green tape will be cut, saying:
Australia has promised China it will iron out problems with excessive 'green tape' and environmental approvals to encourage and fast-track greater Chinese investment in Australian agriculture.
What about Australian families? What about ironing out for Australian families? What about doing it for our people? What happened to that idea? This is where there is this incredible disconnect. It is going to be very interesting for Mr Emerson when he actually goes to contest his seat because, if people read what he believes in, he might not be the person they want to vote for, because his beliefs are not a reflection of the general psyche of Australia. Australians are not xenophobic, but they do want to make sure that our nation has proper control over our destiny. Our future is represented in our ownership of the most crucial manifestation of what our nation is—the soil we stand on.
In urban environments the laws are different. You cannot go to residential areas as a foreign entity and buy up established residential housing. You are just not able to do it. That went through quietly. Why? Because of the political ramifications. The Australian people did not want that to happen. The National Party asks: what is the epiphany about a 60 kilometre per hour speed limit that changes a piece of legislation so that, once you get out in the country, all of a sudden, it is a free-for-all? Why? Surely if controls are worthwhile in an urban constituency—and good luck to them—then a semblance of the same controls is worthwhile in a regional constituency. We are not asking for something different. In fact, we are asking for something that our fellow Australians have in an urban constituency. I think the Australian people want that. We want to trade with South-East Asia. We know our future is in South-East Asia, we must trade with South-East Asia, but we will trade on our terms as the benefactors from the wealth from our land. We will definitely have foreign investment. We acknowledge that but what we also acknowledge is that lately there has been exponential growth in this. We have been bullied and corralled into saying, 'You cannot talk about it, you are not supposed to talk about it, you are not supposed to ventilate this issue.' Well, I think we have got to.
I support the essence of the further ventilation of issues via this bill but I also acknowledge that, for reasons we have stated, the coalition is already walking down a path of a greater review of this process. It is not that we are outside the field or not participants in this. I do acknowledge that I will doing my darnedest and so will my colleagues and the National Party to make sure.
Senator Heffernan: So will I.
Senator JOYCE: Senator Heffernan says so will he. That is what we need to make sure that we get a constructive move to a more prudent and provident national interest test. I welcome support; the more support the better. In South Australia there is an issue in the wine industry. We have a Chinese state owned enterprise buying up a large section of the South Australian wine industry. They are going to change the name of the wine to Great Wall. They are going to send the wine back to China. That is going to make life a bit tough. We are starting to remove the mechanisms of commerce and send direct.
You say that is all right, but it is not all right. How are you going to track this? It is going to be an issue of transfer pricing. How are you going to completely shine a light on asking, 'Exactly what is the profit you made in Australia and what is the profit you make back in China and is the Australian taxpayer getting a fair return from this?' How are we going to do that? What happens when there is a challenge? We are going to have to be awfully brave souls to say we are going to take the Chinese government to court. That will be a very interesting day.
I am always very proud of the fact that in my area you have about 5,000 to 6,000 people and only a couple of years ago it produced $640 million worth of cotton. Then you have grain, you have cattle, you have grapes, you have onions, you have wool and right down to kangaroos. Everything sits on top. There is an annual renewable income in that small section of our nation of between three quarters to $1 billion a year. That is not a bad return. In fact, if the whole of our nation did that per capita, we would be the richest nation on earth.
What worries me a bit is that more than half of the irrigation country in my area is either directly foreign owned or implicitly foreign owned by a trust in the Cayman Islands or by Chinese partially state-owned spinning companies. This is the reality. So when someone says to me, 'We are only five per cent, four per cent, two per cent or one per cent foreign owned,' it is an absurdity. I look into my own backyard and say, 'That is not the case in my district. It is not happening there.'
The reason they get around it is because in the assessment guidelines—Senator Heffernan would know a lot about this—they do not pick up some of the mechanisms and processes of ownership. We have other discrepancies, such as where someone is deemed to be a mining interest—this is the classic around the Breeza Plains—and are a huge owner of an agricultural asset but do not register as a farm because they are nominally a mining interest. It is an absurdity because it obviously is an agricultural asset. We are not doing our job for the Australian people if we ignore these issues.
I went to a peak body dinner some time ago in Melbourne, where I was really quite disturbed by hearing one of the senior speakers say, 'We should not be too worried because the future for the Australian farmer is to actually be off the land and to be merely a service provider in a corporate owned foreign entity.' I do not have a vision for Australians swinging off a spanner in a foreign owned farm. I want Australians to own the farm. I want Australians to be on the farm. I want Australian families to be on the farm. I want us to direct policy so that they can get us a better return on the farm. I want us to address the issues as to why we are not getting a substantial return at the farm gate. I think that, as we move towards this eternal election campaign, is an issue that should become part of the dynamics of the discussion. I want to see Australian families in Australian houses and in Australian suburbs. I do not particularly want them to rent; I want them to own, because I think that is a good thing. I think that would be a semblance of security.
I remember very well one of the early things—and I have said this before—that my father used to say to me when we used to have shooters come onto the place. I used to get annoyed, because I found them a nuisance and they would be in the paddock where we had lambing ewes. I would get annoyed and I would see them making their way across my property. I wanted to get them off. I wanted them out. My father used to say to me, 'A person can't love their country if they are never allowed to set foot on it. Just leave them alone. A person cannot love their country if you do not let them set foot on it. Leave them alone; they are not actually hurting you. That man is out with his son shooting foxes—just let them go.'
The extension of that is: how does someone love their country when they do not actually even own it anymore and, in fact, they see that the ownership of their nation has passed to the hands of another nation's government? That is the absolute essence of the divestiture of the Australian people. The Australian people, in all their many and varied colours and creeds, have a right to believe that this parliament and the mechanisms that are associated with it first and foremost look after their interests.
I want to also note that not one application to the Foreign Investment Review Board that is pertinent to land has ever been rejected—not one. This is an absurdity. I want to also state that, even when this Senate chamber has asked of the Treasurer of this nation—who is merely a servant of the people like we are—to explain to us clearly why the sale of the largest farm in our nation in value, Cubbie Station, was not contrary to the national interests, he never, ever did. He just completely ignored the request of the Senate. It is not even holding the Senate in contempt; he holds the Australian people in contempt. He says, 'I do not have to listen to you anymore.'
This is the culture of the current establishment. It seems peculiar to me, because I always thought they would be more sympathetic to a greater role of looking after the Australian asset. I thought that that would be more of their ilk. In this instance, they are more of the views of Dr Craig Emerson—he has infiltrated them. They have this zealotry and puritanical pitch. I do not know to what constituency and I have no idea to what effect. If they say that we are xenophobes then so is every other nation in South-East Asia.
Now we have the absurdity that the only countries that have greater foreign ownership than us are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Philippines and Indonesia. We are No. 5. There has to be a bell that rings there. Even Mr Coleman, from the Foreign Investment Review Board, clearly stated that there are issues in regards to state owned enterprises. If there are, let us do something about them. Let's not be bullied, let's not be corralled, let's not be intimidated and let's actually stand up and do something that is right for the Australian people.
The PRESIDENT: Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired.