The Coalition will propose a much tougher line against foreign takeovers of Australian farms in a discussion paper to be unveiled within weeks.
Detailing for the approach for first time opposition leader Tony Abbott said the present threshold below which takeovers were waved through was far too high.
“At the moment there’s only consideration of agricultural land or agribusiness purchases over about $240 million,” he told Sky News. “That is a very high threshold. There are a few agribusinesses worth that much, but there is almost no parcel of land worth that much. Effectively agricultural purchases are exempted, as things stand, from Foreign Investment Review Board scrutiny.”
The new stance is a win for the National Party members of parliament who have argued for a threshold as low as $10 million which also takes into account cumulative purchases.
Asked at a Senate hearing in February whether a foreign investor who acquired ten $30 million farms in a year would breach the threshold, Foreign Investment Review Board chairman John Phillips said it would not, adding the exemption as “an anomaly”.
New Zealand restrictions are based on how much land a foreign buyer would end up owning rather the the size of purchase...
Mr Abbott said the scrutiny was needed “not because we want to knock back lots and lots and lots of investments, but because the public needs to be confident that these investments are in fact genuinely in Australia’s national interest”.
The Coalition would also set up a national register of foreign land holdings modelled on Queensland’s.
National senators Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash and Liberal senator Bill Heffernan have been pushing for tighter rules while Liberals including South Australia’s Jamie Briggs have been arguing against restricting foreign investment.
Trade minister Craig Emerson has warned the Coalition’s proposed changes put free trade deals at risk. Australia’s agreement with the United States allows US investors to buy land parcels worth up to $1 billion before facing scrutiny.
In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age
. First the minerals boom, next the food boom. The RBA rings in the changes
. What the hell were we allowing the foreign equity fund owners of Myer et al to do?