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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 984

Senator JACK EVANS(12.31) -by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

This Bill seeks to 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 National Companies and Securities Commission or the Commissioner of Taxation, or would be within existing corporate accounts.

The Bill will apply only 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, it will 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.

The current Government now has a policy of allowing the Australian 'farm' to be sold off. This was exposed by the Australian Labor Party conference decision to alter its 51 per cent Australian equity policy. By doing so, the ALP is breaking its election rhetoric of buying back the 'farm'. The ALP Government seems willing to allow our economy and our money markets to continue to be guided by the decisions of foreign board rooms. The Australian Democrats are concerned that this increasingly reduces the ability of the Australian Government to direct the Australian economy. Successive Australian governments have allowed the 'farm' to be sold off. The ALP's policies will ensure that future Australian governments or investors have difficulty in buying it back. By allowing itself to be swayed by foreign multinationals, the ALP now rests side by side 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. Investors and governments cannot buy back the 'farm ' if they do not 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. The people of Australia 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 Australian Democrats as the watchdogs 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 Robertson) adjourned.