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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8666


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (17:53): I have a couple of points and then another question to Senator Cormann. I think it is important to acknowledge that no-one in the government has ever, even in that contribution, articulated why we need a threshold so much lower for land and agribusiness than we do for other sectors in our economy. No-one has articulated the public policy rationale as to why we have to be so much more restrictive and have so much more red tape in relation to agribusiness. With Agribusiness you have set at a $55 million threshold, when sensitive sectors such as media, telecommunications, transport, defence, military related industries, uranium or plutonium extraction and the operation of nuclear facilities would be at $252 million. All of a sudden we are much more frightened and we want to spend much more red tape on investment in agribusiness than we do in those more sensitive sectors.

The second point is: again, no-one has explained why more red tape and barriers are a good thing for jobs. The third point is: even if people agree with some of what is being said, the government's approach does not make investment more difficult or more subject to red tape across the board; it only makes it more difficult for certain investors in certain activities. Investors from the US, New Zealand and Chile will continue to have the higher thresholds.

Senator Williams: They need to be reviewed as well.

Senator WONG: That needs review too? Is that government policy—to renegotiate the USFTA?

Senator Williams: No; it's my opinion.

Senator WONG: It is your view. Okay. Well, the reality is we have got this ludicrous situation where, if you are an investor from the US, New Zealand or Chile, you have a $1 billion threshold. Under your policy, you would have a $15 million threshold for the rest of the world, and the $50 million threshold—which is what Mark Vaile thought was appropriate—would continue to apply in relation to Singapore and Thailand. So we are talking about a smorgasbord of thresholds.

I noticed in Senator Whish-Wilson's contribution that, like Senator Williams, he was talking about transparency and so forth. People might recall in relation to the register—which I think was in the other legislation; I cannot recall in which bill it was—that we supported that. So we are not opposed to more transparency. We are opposed to an ad hoc set of politically driven thresholds which make no economic sense. I appreciate others in the chamber may have a different view. I note Senator Lazarus has a set of amendments. I appreciate he has got a particular position. But we do not think this set of ad hoc thresholds that the government is proposing make sense.

Leaving that aside, because it is the government's policy and the government's bill, I have a question on this. Senator Whish-Wilson, in his articulation as to why the Greens have done this deal, said that he wanted to see—and I am paraphrasing, so I apologise if I have got it incorrect—a FIRB trigger in relation to water holdings and that the government had not yet agreed to it but they were prepared to consider it. I would like to ask the government to respond to that and to tell the chamber what the status of that is. I will just repeat that for the minister. Senator Whish-Wilson, in his contribution, indicated that the Greens would be looking at a FIRB trigger on water holdings. That was the note I took. He is nodding his head, so I do not think I am misquoting him. Given that that is not contained in the letter, I would like to understand what the government's commitment is to the Australian Greens and what deal is associated with the deal that has been tabled.