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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8678


Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (19:40): by leave—I, and also on behalf of Senators Lambie and Madigan, move amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 7792 revised:

(1) Schedule 1, item 4, page 44 (lines 10 to 21), omit subsection 52(2), substitute:

Agricultural land

(2) The threshold test is met in relation to land if the land is agricultural land.

(2) Schedule 1, page 111 (after line 16), at the end of the Schedule, add:

5 Review of when the threshold test is met for agricultural land

(1) The Minister must cause an independent review of the operation of subsection 52(2) of the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975, as amended by this Schedule, to be undertaken and completed within 2 years after the commencement of this item.

(2) The person who undertakes the review must give the Minister a written report of the review.

(3) The Minister must cause a copy of the report of the review to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sittings days of receiving it.

The people of Australia want the sell-off of Australia to stop. So I stand here today to speak on behalf of all Australians who so desperately want real and strong leadership from their elected representatives to make the changes necessary to stop the sell-off of Australia.

I believe my amendment belongs to the people of Australia and it delivers what the people of Australia want. Australians have had enough. They have had a gut full of governments lining their own pockets and selling off our country to the Chinese and other overseas investors for short-term gain, just to make a quick buck at the expense of our country's long-term future. I am not singling out any one government; all governments on all sides at all levels are guilty of doing this. The people of Australia have had enough of having to deal with the increasing cost of living, price hikes in the cost of electricity, tax increases, increases in the cost of health care, cuts to pensions, cuts to family tax benefits and so the list goes on, while governments pander to the big end of town and sell-off to the Chinese the rights to our ports, allow the sale of our land, businesses and assets to foreign companies and allow foreign owned CSG mining companies to simply walk onto people's properties and farms and destroy their lives. The people of Australia have simply had enough.

At what point will governments actually stop, look around at what is happening to this country and how the people of Australia are really feeling and take a stand for the people of Australia and our country as a nation? At what point in time will governments realise that if we do not stop selling off our own country to the Chinese and the rest of the world, we are not going to have a country to govern and call our own in the future? I believe this time is now and everyone in this chamber can join me in supporting the people of Australia by stopping the sell-off of Australia.

While I applaud the government for seeking to put in place improved mechanisms to assess the sale of Australian land to overseas investors, the people of Australia simply want more. The people want the sell-off of Australia to stop. This is why I have drafted this amendment, so we as a country can start to take control of who buys our land and how much we allow them to buy, and what we allow them to do with it. Currently, we have no idea how much of our land is owned by the Chinese or any other country or foreign owned corporation. The fact that current and past governments on all sides of politics have allowed this to happen is an absolute disgrace.

While the current government is now seeking to install a register of foreign ownership of Australian agricultural land, which I fully support, until our country gets the register up and running and fully understands how much of our land is actually foreign owned, I believe we should not be allowing any further prime agricultural land to be sold off to international investors without reviewing every single transaction to determine whether or not it is in our national interest to sell-off the land. This is what my amendment does. It puts in place protections to ensure every piece of agricultural land in this country sold off to overseas investors is subject to review before the sale is allowed to be completed.

We as a nation have to start putting Australia first. We have to start looking at where we are heading. As an Australian, I am angry that so much of our land is being sold off to the Chinese and to other countries. Our poor farmers are suffering as a result of drought, difficult business conditions and global challenges. In my home state of Queensland, 80 per cent of the state is in drought. Our farmers are being picked off one by one by foreign buyers who are circling our farms and eyeing off the agricultural opportunities that our great land offers. Currently, in my home state of Queensland, there are busloads of Chinese investors being carted around from farm to farm in rural and regional areas to look at and buy our farms.

So much of the world is overcrowded. In fact, overcrowding has become such a problem that many countries do not have enough land to grow produce to feed their own people. Australia has an abundance of land—land which we should be cultivating to generate produce to become the food bowl of the world. We should be selling our produce to the world, not selling off our land.

What happens when another country—let's say a Chinese business backed by the People's Republic of China—buys our agricultural land? I will tell you what happens. Firstly, that part of Australia is no longer owned by Australia; it is owned by the Chinese. Secondly, any produce grown on the land is no longer available to the people of Australia. Thirdly, the country that buys the land—in this instance, the Chinese—brings in its own people to farm and manage the land and any produce grown on it. Fourthly, the produce is then shipped directly out of the country and over to China. Australia not only loses the opportunity to sell produce to the Chinese but loses jobs, revenue, taxes and access to our own land. We lose out altogether. If this does not register alarm bells then I do not know what will.

I am in touch with what is happening in rural and regional Queensland because I am out and about visiting towns and talking with people on the land. Last week I visited a few areas in North Queensland, and everyone is concerned about jobs and the high unemployment which Queensland is experiencing. Meat-processing plants located in rural and regional Queensland which employ hundreds of people and are important sources of local employment are having to close down early because they cannot get enough beef to process. Because our farms and our beef are being bought up by foreigners and being shipped overseas, we are losing the opportunity to process these products here in Australia, and so we are losing jobs and overseas export opportunities as a direct result. In Queensland, our meat-processing plants are slowly closing down one by one.

What does this do to rural and regional Queensland? It decimates our communities and our people. What does this do to Australia more broadly? It means we cannot even process and produce our own meat products. Instead we will have to import processed meat products from overseas at a premium and we will be reliant on the rest of the world to eat. What is worse is that the meat actually originated in Australia, and in the future we will have to import it back into our own country in the form of processed meat products at a high cost because the products are being processed overseas.

I am an old footballer and I have had my fair share of knocks around the head. In fact, my wife made me go to the gym during the dinner break. I am all over the place, but even I know that the path we are on is a very dangerous, damaging and stupid one. As I said, the people of Australia have had enough. They want the sell-off to stop. Everywhere I go in the state of Queensland, this is the first issue that comes up every time. This is concerning the people of Queensland no end. As I said, the people of Australia have had enough and they want the sell-off to stop.

Today we have a real opportunity to start changing things here in this country and to start standing up for our nation and for our people. My amendment puts in place a requirement for all purchases of Australian agricultural land by overseas investors to be assessed against our country's national interest. As part of this amendment, I also call on the government to increase funding and resources to the Foreign Investment Review Board to enable the expeditious processing of all sales of Australian agricultural land. My amendment also includes a review obligation which will require the government to review foreign investment sale arrangements in two years to determine their success.

I have received some objection to my amendment. It has been suggested that the requirement for all sales of agricultural land to foreign buyers will discourage foreign investment or place too much workload on the Foreign Investment Review Board. This is a load of rubbish. My response to this is simple. My amendment does not stop the sale of agricultural land to foreign investors. Rather, what it does do is ensure that Australia will now have control over what agricultural land we sell, how much, to whom and for what purpose. In this age, the age of computers and high-tech systems where we process every person who enters the country and process every property sale, we can easily assess every sale of agricultural land to a foreign buyer against our national interest.

Yes, we do have the resources to assess every purchase, and so we should. We are talking about the national interest of our country and the security of our country, the country that our diggers have fought and died for and continue to fight for. The term 'national interest' can mean many things. but at the end of the day it means something very simple to me and the people of Australia: it means that the Australian government will act in a way that ensures the safety, security, health, prosperity and wellbeing of our people in the long term.

I should add that, while this amendment will require the review of all sales of agricultural land to foreign buyers against our national interest, free trade agreements such as ChAFTA will overrule this and give the Chinese the scope to buy up our land to the value of $15 million without any review or assessment against our national interest. My only hope is that future governments will fix this mistake.

As I have said, this amendment belongs to the people of Australia, and we as the representatives of the people should ensure that we put our country first. Minister Cormann said the $15 million figure was a judgement call. I think your judgement was way off. No-one else in the world is going to look after Australia as we will. I thank Senator Lambie and Senator Madigan for cosponsoring this with me, and I commend this amendment to the Senate.