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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt 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.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid