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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8681

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (19:52): Firstly, on behalf of all governments of Australia, current and past, let me reject this assertion that governments have been lining their pockets, as Senator Lazarus was suggesting, in the process of selling off agricultural land to various foreign interests. That is not a very serious proposition, and it is one that I have to reject on the record. I would also say that all governments of both political persuasions in Australia, whether they are coalition governments or were Labor governments in the past, are motivated by putting Australia first. We might have a different perspective on how you put Australia first, but let me just say that, if you look at our history as a nation, given that we are a large continent with a small population, attracting foreign investment and attracting foreign labour have been an integral and central part of our economic success in the past and will be a central part of our economic success in the future.

Yes, the government agrees with the proposition that, when it comes to agricultural land, the current screening threshold of $252 million is too high, but to go down to zero is not serious. To suggest that the Foreign Investment Review Board should review every single transaction in relation to every single parcel of agricultural land is just not practical and it is not sensible, because, in the end, it would make us a very unattractive destination for foreign investment, and that is not something that this government would want to be part of. We have made a judgement call based on extensive consultations across rural and regional Australia, and we are recommending to the Senate that we adopt a new screening threshold of $15 million. You, Senator Lazarus, along with Senators Madigan and Lambie, suggest it should be zero. Senator Xenophon suggests it should be $5 million. The Labor Party suggests it should be $50 million. We are not the highest; we are not the lowest; we are sort of middle of the road. We think that the government have the balance right. We agree it ought to be lowered from where it is. We think that $15 million is a sensible threshold, and that is why we oppose amendment (1).

For the record, let me also say that we will not be supporting amendment (2), in relation to the review. Obviously the government as a matter of course will continue to monitor the adequacy of thresholds and asset classes, but it should be considered by the Foreign Investment Review Board. In the end, these will always be judgement calls, and in the circumstances we think it is more efficient for this to be monitored as a matter of course rather than to legislate a separate and special review.