Once again the spotlight is shining on the issue of foreign investment in agricultural land and water in our country. Rightly so, as we need policies in place that enable the future growth of this important industry but these policies should have the appropriate checks and balances included. Our members have consistently raised the “checks and balances” issue with various governments over time.
As we think there is still a fair way to go to get things right. Foreign ownership of agricultural land in Australia has increased from 44.9 million hectares at December 31, 2010 to 49.6 million hectares at June 30, 2013, an increase of 4.7 million hectares in approximately two and a half year period. In addition, as at 2013, 14 per cent of all reported water entitlements in Australia were foreign owned, an increase from 9 per cent in 2010 (ABS Agricultural Land and Water Ownership, Jun 2013). More recent figures would undoubtedly show these percentages to have risen even further.
These figures are concerning as they stand. There are of course, many considerations that need to be taken into place when forming an opinion on whether this investment is overall a positive or negative for agriculture, but the Country Women’s Association (CWA) thinks that at the very least, they serve as a sobering reminder that we do need to take seriously the option of further tightening laws on foreign purchases of Australian farm land, water and agribusiness.
Our members feel that by tightening laws on foreign purchasing of farm land, water and agribusiness, our nation can maintain better control over what happens on the land, ensure Australian farming standards and environmental laws are practiced, and monitor that products do not become scarce, unavailable or too expensive due to exporting overseas.
We are pleased to see that we are being listened to; with a step forward recently from the Federal Government in trying to ensure better access for Australian investors.
They recently announced that Australian farmland worth more than $15 million would have to be marketed to prospective local buyers for at least 30 days before it could be sold to international buyers. We hope it is the start of what is should be the recognition of some of the problems that are associated with foreign investment. In real terms though, all it will practically mean is properties will remain on the market longer.
It’s not all negative; increased capital and investment is really needed in the agricultural industry so that it can keep innovating.
What we would like to see though, is more consideration being given to the implications of loss of agricultural land for Australia’s future food production and food security when developing foreign investment policy. All investments of this nature should be in Australia’s national interest first and foremost.
- Annette Turner is the state president of CWA of NSW.