Pollies call for better review of foreign investment in farmland

Politicians have called for a review of foreign investment regulation in a bid to protect valuable food-producing farmland.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon has joined the Greens to request the review, following claime earlier in the week from Bob Brown that 83 per cent of Australian mines are foreign-owned.

The latest incident to concern the politicians was the purchase of large tracts of farmland in northern New South Wales by Chinese state-owned miner Shenhua.

The sale was approved by the Foreign Investment Board (FIB).
Independent MP Tony Windsor said he wants to protect “sensitive lands” from mining, while Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce said he is concerned the FIRB agrees to too many deals.

"We want a Foreign Investment Review Board that actually has a greater effect," he told the ABC.

Joyce said he is concerned by the recent explosion of overseas companies investing in Australian farmland.

"Prime agricultural land is irreplaceable. It would make more sense if there was a coal mine under the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Sydney Opera House," he said.

"To dig them up and mine coal there because we can always build another opera house or build another harbour bridge if we really needed to.

"But once prime agricultural land is gone that’s it, you can’t get it back. God hasn’t been here for the last few weeks, so once it’s gone it’s gone forever.

"And in Australia we have some of the best in the world – not much of it, only a small amount of it, but we have some of the best in the world and that should always [be] quarantined from any event which would destroy its nature."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he understands the concern about the scale of the foreign purchases of agricultural land and agri-businesses and his party is examining Foreign Investment Review Board thresholds.

Currently, the FIRB examines any investments involving foreign governments over $231 billion.

The government has requested solid data on the amount of foreign investment in rural land from the Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Bureau of Statistics.

It wants the information by October so it can determine if there is an issue that needs to be dealt with.

A spokesman for assistant treasurer Bill Shorten told the ABC food security is an element of the boards responsibility and the Government is aware of its increasing importance.

Windsor said a balance needs to be struck between different uses for agricultural land.

"Well I’m not as concerned about Australia’s food security as some people are," he said.

"I think if landowners have the right to reduce food fibre or energy or trees, at the moment I don’t think we’re going to go down a sort of a socialist path where we actually dictate what people actually do on their privately owned land.

"Because I think it’s important that that land, particularly the sensitive lands that I call them – the Liverpool plains, the Darling Downs of this world – that they actually are in a form to produce food or anything else for centuries to come and that they aren’t tampered with through some of the extractive activities that could upset not just the flood plains but also the massive groundwater systems that are under some of this country.

"The foreign investment stuff [is] another issue. I have some news on that but it’s not related to this particular issue."

Image: Home Australia

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