Joyce defends FDI register delay

24 Oct, 2014 03:00 AM
Cubbie Station, Queensland.
Other countries just don’t allow you to purchase their farmland at all
Cubbie Station, Queensland.

RELEASE of the foreign direct investment (FDI) register for agriculture was announced by the former Labor government two years ago, but continues to be delayed as free trade negotiations unfold with China.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled the public register to record foreign sales of agricultural land and assets when speaking at the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) Congress in October 2012.

The issue was raised again at this week’s NFF congress in Canberra with federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce saying the register hadn't “dropped off the agenda”.

But he said, “We don’t want to duplicate what the States are already doing”.

“We want to make sure that there’s one seamless register,” he said.

“In the meantime we are making sure the trade agreements that we have signed with Japan, with Korea and with China will abide by those policy settings of $15 million for individuals, $53 million for agribusiness and $1 for State-owned enterprises.

“So we are living by the principles that were clearly laid down at the election and the register that will be in place.

“It is at the forefront of the role of the Treasurer, we discuss it all the time, it’s not something that’s dropped off the agenda, but we really will be just formalising something that we’re doing already.”

The foreign investment question

When launching the policy, Ms Gillard said she wanted to remove politics from the foreign ownership issue.

At that time, controversy was raging over sale of the nation’s biggest irrigation farm, Cubbie Station, to Japanese interests, with Mr Joyce leading the charge from opposition, calling for strengthened policy measures.

Mr Joyce also faced questions at the NFF Congress from Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) vice president David Jochinke, who queried the register’s delay and the Foreign Investment Review Board’s (FIRB) capacity to monitor foreign farm sales.

Last week, VFF president Peter Tuohey backed foreign investment as news broke of new a Chinese deal to buy 50 local dairy farms for $400 million.

“We’ve got a long history of foreign investment in Australia and I see no difference between the Kiwis or Chinese investing in our dairy farms,” he said.

The VFF said it supported FDI in Australian agriculture, “as long as it builds and contributes to our economy and rural communities”.

But Mr Tuohey said he did not support Chinese investors bringing in foreign workers unless they were unable recruit local labour.

Mr Joyce said he also supported foreign investment, “but I just don’t think it should be unbridled”.

“I think people were very aware of my views around Cubbie Station. We’re not against foreign ownership – but you have to make sure that you’re diligent and you have to make sure that it’s in our national interest.”

New value limits

Mr Joyce claimed that due to the National Party’s role - and “possibly a little bit of my own efforts” - the Coalition’s policy changed from a $240 million trigger to $15m, for FIRB scrutiny on individual farm land sales.

He said previously, there also was no scrutiny on cumulative purchases, below the $240m threshold.

“They could buy a property for $225m and then the next day buy another property for $225m and there was no reason to go to the FIRB,” he said.

“Also in agribusiness … we’re going to limit that to $53m and for state-owned enterprises it remains at $1.

“Believe me, the trade agreements that we’ve signed with Korea and with Japan, and will with China, reflect exactly our policy settings.

“And we will make sure that as quickly as we can get the States on board, so we don’t have to devise another department to do this, we will enforce this new regulation.

“So we are living this regulation now in our trade agreements without having actually put it through, but it will go through,” he said.

“The Treasurer’s given his absolute commitment that that is the process.”

Mr Joyce said FDI for the purpose of taking an asset to a higher level, “I suppose is good”.

He cited the example of using foreign investment to co-develop projects like Stage 2 of the Ord River project and converting “virgin country” into highly productive agricultural land.

But his key concerns are FDI that only transfers an asset from one entity to another and when State-owned enterprises are involved.

“In that instance what is really purchasing the asset is a government - and therefore inherently if there’s any dispute it is a dispute that is between governments,” he said.

“And one should try and avoid getting themselves into trouble by not creating the conditions where one would get into trouble.

“When people say it’s xenophobic or there’s something peculiar about having a form of diligence and in some instances a concern, well this belies the fact that other countries just don’t allow you to purchase their farmland at all.

“You can’t buy farmland in China, you can’t buy it in Japan, you can’t buy it in Korea, you can’t buy it in many states in the United States, New Zealand (has greater restrictions) on what you purchase (and) many countries in Europe, you just can’t buy it.

“So for us to say that we also have a concern is not unusual.”

Mr Joyce said on his recent visit to China he was pleased to discover they shared similar concerns about foreign investment.

“In fact, they were rather bemused at how much we’d sold,” he said.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Jock Munro
24/10/2014 6:00:00 AM

Once again Barnaby is correct on the foreign investment issue and no one should be surprised that the Chinese are 'rather bemused' that we Australians would sell off our farms to foreigners.
24/10/2014 6:48:57 AM

"in fact they were rather bemused at how much we'd sold" this is nuts, even they agree. I wonder if Cubbie had been broken down into smaller farms and sold to smaller Australian farmers at a price in alignment with return, what the social implications would have been for Dirranbandi? more services and a stronger community I'm guessing. Apart from state owned enterprises distorting values, they can have an effect on community structures. Just greedy govts trying to collect as much stamp duty, with no regard to the distorting effects it has on its own citizens.
24/10/2014 9:38:36 AM

Can someone tell me who is going to buy farms so that existing struggling farmers can retire, if the current buyers are stopped being able to buy?
24/10/2014 9:49:45 AM

Goodness me; Quote "But he said, “We don’t want to duplicate what the States are already doing”. “We want to make sure that there’s one seamless register,” So Barnaby thinks 6 or 7 State deals is going to provide a seamless register. We are in trouble as a Nation aren't we?
Bushie Bill
24/10/2014 5:01:48 PM

Everyday the Boof earns and confirms his title of being the Coalition's greatest boofhead in this term of government, although his captain ain't that far behind.
Jock Munro
27/10/2014 8:36:42 PM

Bushie Bell, You are a true gentleman and it takes real courage to attack someone under a real name. Perhaps you could throw your hat into the ring and stand for a seat in parliament.
Bushie Bill
28/10/2014 10:59:55 AM

Nah, don't think so Jock. I couldn't put up with agsocs constantly knocking on my door with their begging bowls held high, demanding they be pampered and cosseted with "special arrangements" unavailable to the rest of the Australian voters, in the way Black Jack Mac did in the grand old rip-off days of yesteryear. And Jock, I never hear you complain of non-de-plumes of those posters you agree with. Why is that, Jock?


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