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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8659

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (17:25): I just want to highlight to the Senate that this issue has been looked at by the respective Labor and Liberal governments now for five years and that the Australia Bureau of Statistics conduct a survey called the Agricultural Land and Water Ownership Survey where they actually do collect the data on this issue. They collect the data on issues of water entitlements as well as agribusiness. That data was first released in 2013, and in it we could compare the figures from 2010 to 2013. That showed that we had seen an increase of 55 per cent on 2010 levels of the level of foreign ownership in water entitlements, as one example.

So this data is collected via a survey, the Agricultural Land and Water Ownership Survey, called ALWOS. It is being updated at the moment and may be due for release either next year or the year after. This is a really important point that I want to make here: the Bureau of Statistics has been collecting data around this. I am hopeful that it is going to be a reasonably easy process to compile the register because this information has been collected, and it makes sense for us to take that and add it to a register.

While I am on my feet, I will respond to Senator Wong's proposition that the government has been outsourcing its economic policy to the Greens. We are in this place to get good outcomes, as I am sure the Labor Party are as well. We have had a policy in place for some time now—in fact, for many years—to get a register of water holdings as well as agricultural land. Senator Milne would love to be standing here speaking on this today. This has been her area. She had a comprehensive policy on it, going into the 2013 election. And this is something that Australian farmers federations have been calling for as well. In fact, I do not think there would be a single farmer around the country who would not agree with the idea that we should have a register of foreign ownership in water holdings.

It goes to the old adage: you cannot manage what you do not monitor. It is actually a bit of a disgrace that we do not already have a register which takes a holistic view of the level of land ownership and water ownership in this country. This is something that the Greens have campaigned on for some time. We are quite proud that we have been able to do a deal with the government on this, and we have been able to see one of our policies put into practice. The agricultural register has been a policy of ours. The threshold is probably not as low as we would like to see. Nevertheless, $15 million is better than the $252 million and the spaghetti bowl of other thresholds that we see that have been negotiated through bilateral trade deals. There is not really much we can do about that once they have been negotiated. So this is something that we are proud to stand here today and say we have been able to negotiate with the government.

There is a sunset clause in the deal, of course, which says that if this is not done within 12 months the legislation will lapse and we can have the debate again. But, from our very fruitful discussions with the government, I think this is something I can say they are interested in and I would hope would have done on their own anyway. This is good policy, and it is going to be well supported round this country.

I would urge the Labor Party to stop playing politics with this. I know why you are doing it, but this is actually good policy. It is nowhere near far enough towards where we need to go. We need to get the register first, then we can work out what levels we need to apply to FIRB thresholds around water. Then, following that, we should have a bigger discussion about what is in the national interest. Things such as food security, for example, threats of climate change and these kinds of things that my party hold very, very dear to us can be addressed in a systematic and formal sense. So I would urge that the Senate support the Greens amendment on this water register and that we get on and pass it into legislation.