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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8661

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (17:32): Firstly, I have to respond to some of the rhetoric in the opening remarks of Senator Wong before she got to her questions. This government is absolutely and totally focused on growth and jobs. We are pursuing a growth agenda. We are pursuing an agenda which will deliver stronger economic growth and more and better jobs. I am very happy to take you through that in great detail, but we have gone through that on many occasions in the past.

Of course the government recognises the absolute importance of foreign investment to our economic development and our future economic success. We are strongly in favour of foreign investment in order to ensure Australia can reach its full potential. We need further foreign investment from right around the world, and the more the better. But also, because we understand the importance of foreign investment, we also understand that it is very important to have public support and to maintain community support for the way these foreign investment flows are managed. We also understand that it is important to have integrity in the system such that people have confidence that, whenever a particular foreign investment proposition would be contrary to the national interest, there is a process to ensure that these sorts of proposals are properly scrutinised. And, where a foreign investment proposal is considered on reflection to be contrary to the national interest, it is important for the Australian government to be able to decide that that particular foreign investment proposal cannot proceed.

There are particular sensitivities when it comes to agricultural lands, which the government has long recognised. We took policies in relation to these matters to the last election, and they are widely understood and are reflected in this legislation. I understand that Senator Wong has always been against this policy, but it is a policy we took to the last election and it is a policy that was ticked off by the Australian people. We are now doing what we promised we would do, and that is to seek to implement that policy we took to the last election.

Incidentally, I note that in the past Senator Wong argued for and urged the maintenance of a $1 billion threshold for any Foreign Investment Review Board scrutiny or foreign investment proposal for Australian agricultural land, and now it appears that their proposed amendments actually recognise that that is way too high. They are proposing a $50 million threshold rather than the threshold that the government has put forward. In principle, you have actually conceded the point that we have been making all the way through, and the debate is now just a matter of where the line in the sand should be appropriately drawn. Is it at $15 million or is it at $50 million? That is the argument we are now having.

In relation to the questions that Senator Wong has been asking again and again, as I have indicated in response to those same questions previously, the state and territory governments will be consulted as part of the full public consultation process, as has been envisaged. And, if this public consultation cannot come up with a proposal that the government—or for that matter the parliament—is satisfied with, I guess we then end up in the circumstance where the sunset clause would be triggered, and at that point in time we could be having this whole conversation about the government's original proposal again. Hopefully, it will not come to that. Hopefully, through the full public consultation process, we will be able to come up with a process that is as efficient and effective as possible, and that minimises the level of red tape but by the same token helps to achieve the objective pursued by the amendment foreshadowed by the Greens, which seeks to extend the information collected from agricultural land to also include relevant water entitlements.

Senator Wong asked me about the cost, and she knows that is just an attempt at a trick question. We have transparently put on the table, for the Senate's consideration, the terms of an agreement—and I am quite happy to call it an agreement—the government has reached with the Greens. That is another thing that Senator Wong seems to find quite exciting; that we concede we have reached an agreement. Clearly we have reached an agreement, and I have tabled the agreement we have reached. And the terms of the agreement are transparently there for all to see.

We have outlined the process for consultation and development, but the way this is going to work in detail will of course be worked out through that process. Questions in relation to actual costs would best be addressed at that point except to say that, as we do with all things, we will seek to ensure that this small extension to what the government put forward is managed in the most efficient and effective way possible.