Thursday, September 06, 2012

Henry on our strange relationship with foreign investment

We don't want it to come, we don't want it to leave

Prime ministerial advisor Ken Henry has weighed in to the debate over the sale of Australian farms to Chinese investors labelling critics “irrational” and “misinformed”.

“I don't quite know how to say this without offending somebody,” the former Treasury Secretary told a forum on Chinese investment, “but one of the things that strikes me as odd about the discourse on foreign investment is that there has to be a willing seller.”

“I hear often people in the bush are outraged about foreigners buying their land - well they're the people selling the land.”

“I don't know what form of cognitive dissonance squares that circle, it's beyond me, but obviously there's something strange going on.”

Asked about the disarray in the Coalition over the sale to Chinese interests of Australia’s biggest cotton farm Cubbie Station, Dr Henry said he wouldn’t normally comment on Coalition policy, but he doubted there was genuine bipartisan support for Australia’s foreign investment regime.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey this week publicly rebuked Queensland National Party senator Barnaby Joyce for his opposition to the sale, saying he was “freelancing” and did not speak for the Coalition.

“It is remarkable how few of those people presently agitated about emergent Chinese foreign investment seem to be aware that the Foreign Investment Review Board was established in the mid 1970s as a result of concern about investment from the United States,” Dr Henry told the ANU seminar...

“Many of those same populist elements are the first to call on Australian governments to spend almost any amount of taxpayers money in efforts to hold to manufacturing entities like Japanese and American car manufacturers.”

“They don't want them to come it appears, but they don't want them to leave either.”

In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

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