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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.