News / Asia

Australia Divided on Farm Sales to Foreigners

FILE - A farmer walks next to his tractor at a farm near Parkes, 357 kilometers west of Sydney, Australia.
FILE - A farmer walks next to his tractor at a farm near Parkes, 357 kilometers west of Sydney, Australia.
Phil Mercer
— The sale of prime farmland to overseas firms continues to divide Australia. Those who argue that overseas investment is vital for prosperity are challenged by those who do not want control of the nation’s food supply ceded to foreigners. In the middle of the fractious debate is Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
 
Prime Minister Abbott believes that foreign investment, especially in agriculture, is vital for Australia’s future prosperity, but insists that it should be strictly monitored to ensure it is in the national interest.
 
As the country’s lucrative decade-long mining boom begins to come to an end, the government in Canberra feels Australia is well placed to meet surging demand for food among the growing middle classes in the Asia-Pacific region.
 
The Abbott government wants Australia’s sparsely populated north to become Asia’s food bowl, and a detailed plan is expected later this year.
 
On his first overseas trip after winning last September’s federal election, Abbott went to Indonesia to encourage more investment in Australian farms.
 
“Australian business has never been keener to explore investment opportunities and to build partnerships that transfer skills and build local industries here and at home. I also welcome Indonesia’s desire to invest in Australia, including in agriculture. We are open to investments that will help to build the prosperity of both our nations,” said Abbott during the visit.
 
The Abbott government now faces political pressure from within its own ranks. Some conservative lawmakers are warning that selling farmland to foreigners will mean Australia risks losing control of its food supply.
 
That view is shared by Bob Katter, an independent federal member of parliament, who complained that Australia is giving up key agricultural assets.
 
“Every single dairy plant in Australia was Australian-owned. Now, four-fifths of the main part of the industry is now foreign-owned. Our six great mining companies - all Australian-owned 16, 17-years ago. They are now all foreign-owned,” said Katter.
 
The debate over foreign ownership is likely to become more divisive as wealthy foreigners increasingly consider purchasing Australian farms, according to Keith Suter, a foreign affairs analyst. 
 
“This creates tensions, particularly in the political parties not on ideological grounds; left and right. I think it splits both parties. You have got on the one hand with more economic concerns saying, ‘Well, we have got to have foreign investment. We need that money coming into the country.’ And you have got others saying, ‘No, we should try to close off the economy. We should try to restrict the amount of foreign ownership,’” said Suter. 
 
At the end of 2012, the Chinese were the ninth-largest overseas investors in Australian agriculture, holding three percent of output, while U.S. investors owned 24 percent and Japan 10 percent, according to research published by finance firm KPMG and the University of Sydney. The study reported that China owned less than one percent of farmland in Australia.
 
Keith Suter believes there are three main reasons why Chinese investment in agriculture will increase. 
 
“One is that they want land to guarantee food security. Secondly they want to have alternative places for investment, and thirdly Australia is a good place to invest. We do not have a tradition of being erratic in our political activities. Some might even say we are comatose in our political activity. We do not suddenly seize people’s assets. We are a friendly, welcoming country,” said Suter.         
 
Tony Abbott’s plan to boost agricultural production in northern Australia will depend on foreign money because there is insufficient domestic capital to bankroll such a grand scheme.
 
Ben Saul, a professor of international law at the University of Sydney, believes an investor’s country of birth should not be a decisive factor.
 
“You know, most of the time my own view is why the nationality of the investor matters, you know, whether a rich, self-interested Australian owns a lot of agricultural land or a, you know, rich, self-interested Chinese company owns a lot of land does not particularly matter as long as you have the right regulatory settings governing the use of land and environmental protection, and labor standards or whatever it is you want to regulate. It is hard to see why ownership itself is a problem,” said Saul.   
 
An Indonesian company recently bought two large farms in Australia’s Northern Territory farms, and last May the Western Australian state government chose a Chinese firm to develop 13,400 hectares of irrigated farmland.
 
However, analysts said the rejection of a U.S. company’s bid to buy crop handler GrainCorp Ltd. in November shows that Australia’s conservative government still remains deeply cautious about selling key assets to foreigners.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid