Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Foreign Investment Review Board
I rise to take note of the Foreign Investment Review Board annual report 20011-12. Going through the report I have been particularly struck by the increase in foreign proposals and approvals from the Foreign Investment Review Board. Interestingly, from 2010-11 to 2011-12 the number of proposals—and they were subsequently approvals—increased from 17 to 49 in just that single year. The value went from $1.4 billion to $3.6 billion.
What concerns me and, I know, a lot of people in regional areas is the fact that we simply do not have the understanding, knowledge and data around the level of foreign ownership when it comes to agricultural land and agricultural businesses. I know the government has instigated a register—which we have been talking about and calling for some time but which we are yet to see. That is only the very first step in this issue. That is only the identification of what is currently the level—which, to be quite frank, we should be well and truly on top of already.
It is then about determining as a nation what the appropriate level of foreign investment and foreign ownership is, because this is potentially an issue of where our agricultural productive capacity lies in the future.
Where is the control over that land and that productive capacity? The global population is predicted to be around nine billion by 2050. The global food task is going to exponentially increase. We are going to have to play our role as a nation in terms of that food task, particularly regarding developing nations. We also want to retain every opportunity for our Australian farmers to take advantage of playing their role in terms of that global food task.
I am very concerned by the fact that we have not yet had the debate in this nation on the level of foreign ownership and investment. As a farmer in a regional area, I do not want to see us lose control of that productive capacity, of that supply. When I say this, people think that I am scaremongering—that it will never get to that. We export 70 per cent of what we produce. But I believe in long-term thinking, and at the moment our thinking on foreign investment is short term. We are thinking about the immediate capital injection from foreign investors into Australia, and we are not going beyond that. We do not want to risk our domestic security of supply or the opportunity for our Australian farmers to take advantage of the growing global food task into the future. A lot of people say that we have to have foreign investment. I agree that there have been, and will continue to be, instances where foreign investment is appropriate. But we are not thinking long term about how we want the ownership of agricultural land in this country to look. That concerns me greatly. On reading through the annual report and doing some further work, I learned that, to 2007, the average value of foreign investment per year was $274 million. From 2008 to today, the average investment per year was $2.5 billion. That is a tenfold increase, and we have no idea where that foreign ownership and investment is sitting because we simply have not been on the ball and we have let it slip under the radar.
We have to be aware that—and it is not surprising—foreign nations are looking at Australia as their potential back paddock to secure the food supply. Qatar has been on the record saying this, through Hassad Australia. China have said that they will provide subsidies to companies that invest overseas. If this is not a wake-up call for us, I do not know what is. We need to have a proper debate and discussion around this issue. In my view, the national interest test for FIRB is nowhere near appropriate to determine what is right when it comes to foreign investment in our agricultural land and businesses. It is about time this nation looked further than the immediate capital injection from foreign investment, to the much bigger picture of how we want this nation to look in the future.
Question agreed to.