Foreign investment's tough wrap

Foreign investment's tough wrap

Agribusiness
John Corbett, director of the Qatari government's agricultural arm Hassad Australia speaking at a Farm Writers' lunch in Sydney.

John Corbett, director of the Qatari government's agricultural arm Hassad Australia speaking at a Farm Writers' lunch in Sydney.

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THERE'S no "foreign takeover" of our ag land and while debate is useful, blows should be above the belt, says Hassad's John Corbett.

Aa

THERE'S no "foreign takeover" of our agricultural land and while a debate on foreign investment is worthwhile, any blows have to be above the belt.

At a packed NSW Farm Writers lunch last week John Corbett, the director of the often camera-shy Qatari government's agricultural arm Hassad, dispelled some of the foreign direct investment (FDI) misnomers, in particular via sovereign wealth and institutional funds.

Hassad was created in response to the 1997 grain shortages and now owns more than 250,000 hectares of farmland in NSW, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, with the aim of producing 165,000 tonnes of grain and 100,000 lambs annually.

Mr Corbett (pictured), who has been a director of Hassad since 2009 and is also managing director of corporate finance/restructuring at FTI Consulting, said the sovereign-owned company was developed as an Australian company.

While agriculture is no stranger to foreign investment, the shift in capital that previously came from the likes of the UK and US now comes from less-traditional countries in Asia and the Middle East.

"It's been causing some cultural issues, not unlike those we saw in the '80s in Queensland like the Japanese investment in tourism," Mr Corbett said.

He said Australia's infrastructure, stability in government, educated workforce and proximity to growth markets made the country an attractive proposition.

"Our clean, green image is a major factor for us," Mr Corbett said.

"As a society there's healthy doubt about foreign investment," Mr Corbett said, adding the debate had to stay balanced and in context.

From the sovereign entity's perspective, Mr Corbett quashed some of the common myths.

"It's disingenuous to paint foreign investors as people who don't make good citizens," he said.

He said bad behaviour, such as the age-old claim overseas investors don't pay tax, was behaviour not limited to those from other countries.

"Hassad itself is an Australian company (and) we would welcome paying too much tax; it means we have had a bumper year."

Mr Corbett said the argument foreign investors deliberately paid more for properties was unfounded.

"You do, from time to time, see people get bullish about prices - that happens all the time in all sectors of the economy.

"People do not willingly come in and overpay."

He said, moving forward, he hoped foreign investment in Australia could be unlocked.

"We need to attract capital into it and to develop and recognise where there's opportunities."

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