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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8686

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (20:22): Tricky, Chair. Let Hansard record that you clicked your fingers in disappointment! I move amendment (1) on sheet 7782 revised:

(1) Schedule 1, item 4, page 44 (lines 15 and 16), omit "the total value of the following is more than the value prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph", substitute "the total value of the following is more than $5 million".

Essentially this amendment relates to the threshold test for agricultural land. It was traversed earlier. Essentially this says that the threshold ought to be $5 million, not $50 million. As I indicated earlier, in relation to Senator Lazarus, Senator Madigan and Senator Lambie's amendment, back in the 1960s and 1970s the threshold was, as I understand it, in the order of $1 million. It then jumped up exponentially, and going to a $5 million threshold is like the threshold that was in place in the 1960s and 1970s, where there was still foreign investment but it was a much more stringent threshold, particularly for agricultural land.

So this amendment seeks to reduce the threshold to $5 million. It is a policy position I have had for a number of years. It is one that I know the Australian Greens have had. In fact, then-Senator Milne and I introduced legislation a number of years ago, a private senators' bill, that put up this very proposal of a $5 million threshold, which strikes that balance in having investment without the need for regulatory approval. That threshold of $5 million seems to be much more realistic, although I do have some real sympathy for the amendment that my colleagues just put up. So this amendment takes the threshold from $15 million down to $5 million. It is consistent with previous legislation I have introduced.

By way of contrast, in New Zealand any purchase of agricultural land where the size of the land is five hectares or greater is subject to review by their Overseas Investment Office. I think that the New Zealanders can teach us a thing or two about having a sensible foreign investment framework. As much as it hurts me to say it, I think the Kiwis have got it right, not just in their thresholds overall but in having a much more comprehensive test that spells out what the national interest is. Indeed, it is a zero threshold if the land is by the sea or on a river. That is in another category altogether.

That is what this amendment is about. I will be seeking to divide on it, for the simple reason that I think it is an important principle, and as I respected the right of my colleagues to divide on the previous amendment. Five million dollars is in keeping with what New Zealand is doing, and we ought to adopt it as a threshold here. Fifteen million dollars is still on the high side.