New measures to improve the transparency of foreign investment in Australian agriculture have been “warmly welcomed” by Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce.
But the ALP has criticised the government policy changes on foreign investment as “mixed messaging.”
The measures, including new investment approval thresholds, a foreign ownership register and a definition for first-stage processors were announced by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Jock Hockey on Saturday.
“We have heard the Australian people, fought for changes and now have delivered,” Mr Joyce said.
More realistic approval thresholds in place – Joyce
Mr Joyce said that in line with its election commitments, the Coalition Government was now implementing a more realistic, cumulative, threshold of $15 million for agricultural land purchases by foreign investors that are required to be scrutinised and approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), compared with the previous level of $252 million. This came into effect from March 1, 2015.
The new measures also include:
- – a more realistic threshold of $55 million for agribusiness purchases by foreign investors that require FIRB scrutiny and approval, also compared to the previous level of $252 million
- – a common sense definition of agribusiness to capture first stage processors beyond the farm gate, to which the new $55 million threshold will apply and which was previously lacking
- – a register of all foreign ownership of agricultural land, which will paint a clearer picture of the level of foreign ownership in our nation.
“We now have a clear case of policy differentiation,” Mr Joyce said.
“The Labor party wants to increase the FIRB limit for agricultural land and businesses to more than $1 billion.
“This would mean that a foreign buyer could buy a billion dollars of land on the north of town one day, the south of town the next and the east and west of town on the next two days and the Labor Party believes this does not warrant a single question,” he said.
“This is at complete odds with the overwhelming view of the Australian people.”
Government needs to send clear messages – ALP
On SKY News on Saturday, the ALP’s shadow assistant spokesman for health Stephen Jones said the government’s messaging was mixed, when asked if toughening the laws will discourage foreign investment.
“On the one point you’ve got the government saying we are open for business but then in the next breath they are saying let’s check your passport and we’ll have different arrangements for different countries.
“Look I think the government needs to send clear messages about foreign investment,” he said.
“We think that it is important, we think that we need to have an environment that is friendly to critical foreign investment in this country,” Mr Jones said.
Foreign investors can influence without land – Joyce
Mr Joyce also said that investors didn’t have to own land in order to influence farmers.
“But you could own the first stage of processing and you could control the economies of rural Australia.
“Despite the disparaging comments from some quarters, Australia still remains the most liberal country on earth to purchase agricultural land,” he said.
“With today’s measures, we are simply reviewing foreign purchases, where other countries deny such purchases completely.
“Labor member Steven Jones said that we are open for business but we want to “check the passports” (Sky News Agenda, Saturday, May 2). Well, well put Steven, we do,” Mr Joyce said.
“It is undeniable that the absolute essence of the nation is the land we stand on and therefore we must be cautious when it comes to our stewardship of it.”
Source: Office of the Federal Minister for Agriculture, SKY News, ALP