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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 767

Mr ADAMS (12:24 PM) —The opposition are in disarray: they bring motions to the parliament which they claim to be important but cannot organise speakers to speak on those motions. That shows the level of support they have in thinking about a vision for the future of agriculture in Australia, as my honourable friend the previous speaker has said. I hope the member for Calare has discovered who the responsible minister is that he is directing the motion to, because when I looked at his motion that seemed to be something else that he did not understand.

I am aware there are some community concerns, as you would be, Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom, regarding foreign investment in Australian agricultural land and businesses. Australia has well-established arrangements under which foreign investments are examined. This is not something that just happens. The Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 empowers the Treasurer to examine all significant investment proposals in Australian businesses by foreign interests to ensure they are not contrary to the Australian national interest. Based on those examinations, the Treasurer can reject or impose conditions on proposals that are considered to be contrary to Australia’s national interests. That is as it should be. All foreign governments, their agencies or state owned enterprises must notify the Foreign Investment Review Board and receive an approval before making a direct investment in Australia, whether it is for $1 or $1 billion. The government has already made important improvements in the foreign investment framework that are very much in the national interest.

When you look at the supply chain in agricultural industries you will see that there is a lot of foreign money in that supply chain. As you would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, National Foods had some difficulties with its suppliers in the milk industry in Tasmania a year or so ago. A Japanese company with Japanese capital took over that company, and they are going through other changes. I wish them well in that and I hope they continue to invest in our milk industry, in processing, in Tasmania because we need that capital. You cannot expand without capital in your supply chain.

I do not know if Mr Cobb is saying that we do not need any foreign investment in any of our industries. Go and have a look at the car industry. Go and have a look at our mining industry. We raise capital from all over the world; that is how our systems work. So it is difficult to see where Mr Cobb is coming from, other than just trying to make a political point, I suppose, around National Party branch meetings and stirring up some of their members out in the bush to say that the country is going to be overrun by foreign money.

Mr Simpkins interjecting

Mr ADAMS —Are you one of those who go around doing that?

Mr Simpkins interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—Order! I remind members that you speak to the chair.

Mr ADAMS —He used to be the editor of a newspaper running the same line, churning it out without any vision, without looking to the future. I think we all realise on the government side that there are national interest principles to improve transparency around how the national interest test is applied and an easy-to-read version of the policy to further improve the transparency of the regime. I think that is important.

Of course there will be concern. As I said when I started these words, of course there is concern. People do not want overseas capital coming in and buying great tracts of Australia. They need to know about that. We need to have a process that allows them to see that. That will occur under this Labor government. It did not occur under governments where the National Party held ministerial positions or the deputy prime ministership. I guess that is why they are getting a bit toey and why they have to try to justify their existence with motions like this one.

The Australian government, like previous governments, is committed to a case-by-case approach to considering foreign investment proposals to maximise investment flows while protecting our core interests. Using the capital in the interests of the nation is what it is about, and we need to make sure that we do that. I was looking only recently in Tasmania at the irrigation schemes coming on board with state and federal money to help enhance our rural sector and to help us go in new directions and find new ways. But, in that sense, it takes opportunities to borrow money. I was looking at what the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research had to say. It said that in Tasmania we grow around $1 billion of our current food, fibre and poppies. It says that for the industry to expand it will require financial resources.

Of course it will. There are only two ways that that can occur. That is either by debt into the industry or equity through investment, houses and corporate agriculture. Some of that might be foreign money that comes into the agricultural sector like it comes into the processing sector or the mining industry. So to expand we will need money. We need money to do that. Those points are very good. Those points, when we talk about looking at a case-by-case approach to considering foreign investment proposals, are what it is all about. Investment flows need to be looked at and so does protecting our core interests.

Given the longstanding success of the foreign investment screening regime, we on this side of the House see no reason to change it by placing blanket bans or restrictions on particular types of investment. The government welcomes foreign investment. It has helped build the Australian economy and will continue to enhance the wellbeing of Australians by supporting economic growth and prosperity, as it has done in the honourable member for Riverina’s seat. I do not know who owns some of the production and supply chains within his electorate. It might be interesting for him to tell us. I am sure he is well aware of who they are. That economic growth and prosperity will continue with investment. We need to make sure that we look at it, that the general public can have a good understanding of how it operates and that we have transparency around that so that we do not have hysteria whipped up by the National Party for their own political interests.

Thousands of rural and regional communities around Australia whose economies rely on agriculture and food production benefit greatly by foreign investment. I do not think we would want to see international sources of support for the bush discouraged or threatened. At times we need to have foreign capital to assist our industries to grow. As I said, in Tasmania we are certainly looking for new investment. We just lost McCain’s at a processing plant in the Smithton area. We are looking for the ways in which we will process our food into the future. We need to be sensible about this and go forward in a proper manner. (Time expired)