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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6407

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:47): Minister, you would be aware that the Prime Minister made a speech at the Global Foundation Summit in Melbourne on 3 May in which she said Australia must be ready to act as the food bowl of Asia. In that speech, the Prime Minister said that Australia needs to be able to grow the food to feed not only our nation but also other nations, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific rim. It was a very good speech and I wholeheartedly commend her for it. She also said that Australia needs to strengthen irrigation—and I will turn to that later when the minister is acting in his capacity as the Minister for Water and the Environment.

Minister, how do you assess the Prime Minister's desire for Australia to be the food bowl of Asia when this federal Labor government was quite tardy in stemming the incursion of the Asian bee? We had the importation of New Zealand apples and the inherent risks that that poses for apple growers. They certainly grow Australia's best apples in Batlow, and that town is reliant on the apple industry. If we get fire blight in, I fear very much for the town of Batlow and for the many jobs the apple orchards create and the whole industry there generates. There is also ongoing lobbying to ban all live animal exports for slaughter. I wonder how that agrees with the Prime Minister's bid to make Australia the food bowl of Asia.

Finally, there is the foreign ownership of both agribusiness and Australian farms. The thing I get asked about most in my electorate is foreign ownership of Australian farmland. Whether or not it is a big problem, it is still out there. People believe foreigners are buying up all our farmland. When the Commonwealth extended its absolute limit on foreign ownership from $231 million to $244 million in January this year, that sounded alarm bells throughout regional Australia.

In recent times we have seen the buyout of AWB by American owned Cargill, which has led to all sorts of problems—particularly in a wheat industry which is still trying to come to terms with the dismantling of the single desk. That is still of great concern to my electorate and other electorates; I am sure the member for Calare could back me up on that. There has also been the attempted buyout of SunRice by Ebro. Under this government's $244 million-limit you could buy just about every farm in the Riverina and every agribusiness, and this government would not so much as blink an eyelid. Minister, I do not believe that equates to the Prime Minister's desire for this country, which she rightly said needs to be the food bowl of Asia. Minister, please answer that question.