Selling our farms to Chinese: that’s OK for Senator Penny Wong!
Does this attitude to sell off Australia warrant re-election of Senator Penny Wong?
Bill Shorten says he feels uneasy about foreign investment in agriculture, echoing comments of Kevin Rudd in the lead-up to the last election and putting himself at odds with the foreign-investment advocacy of his trade and investment spokeswoman Penny Wong.
Source: News Corp
Federal election 2016: Shorten, Wong in foreign farm split
The proposed sale of Australia’s largest single landholding, S. Kidman & Co, to Chinese interests has raised public sensitivity about foreign investment and put the Labor leader on the defensive over his party’s liberal approach.
“With this deal, we want the government to brief us on all of it ,’’ Mr Shorten told Melbourne’s 3AW yesterday. “We don’t know the whole deal, but I have a general reservation about just putting everything up on the market to sell everything. It makes me feel uneasy.”
Two days ago, Senator Wong accused Coalition critics of foreign investment of xenophobia, in a speech strongly defending the importance of overseas capital in the farm sector. “Foreign-owned farms generate economic benefits for the wider community just like domestically owned farms,” she told the Global Food Forum, supported by The Australian and Visy.
She said critics were reflecting “unjustified fears fomented by shock jocks and others pushing an anti-investment political agenda”.
During the 2013 election campaign, Mr Rudd similarly cut across the party’s stance on foreign investment in an appeal for support from rural constituencies, declaring in a nationally televised forum: “I’m a bit nervous, a bit anxious frankly, about simply an open slather on this.”
Scott Morrison has deferred making a final decision on the Kidman sale for 90 days, which puts it beyond the federal election, arguing that he needs further information.
An earlier attempted sale of the estate to Chinese interests was blocked because part of it was in the Woomera military zone in South Australia.
There has been a clear difference on foreign investment policy between Labor and the Coalition.
Labor opposed the Coalition’s decision to lower the threshold for foreign investment in farmland without the scrutiny of the Foreign Investment Review Board to $15 million.
It contends that the threshold should be $50m, the same level that is applied in Australia’s trade agreements with Thailand and Singapore, which would still catch the Kidman sale.
Labor has said it would abolish the Coalition’s special treatment of agribusiness altogether.
The Coalition has legislated a $55m threshold on screening of manufacturing businesses associated with the food industry.
Although Senator Wong is from Labor’s Left, she has a much more supportive attitude towards foreign investment than many of her colleagues. She has canvassed raising the threshold for FIRB approval of business investments from $250m to the $1.1 billion threshold applying to Australia’s free-trade agreement partners.
She said it was wrong to say the sale of agricultural land compromised sovereignty, as this confused ownership with sovereignty.
“Australian governments retain the same powers to regulate foreign-owned farms as they do for locally owned farms,” she said.
She said “a disturbing aspect of this government’s approach has been the way it has flirted with anti-investment ‘selling off the farm’ rhetoric”, and cited Tourism Minister Richard Colbeck’s description of such “negative messages” as xenophobia.
A spokesman for Mr Shorten said it was “ridiculous” to assert either that he had a xenophobic attitude to foreign investment or that there was any difference on foreign investment policy between himself and Senator Wong.
“Labor backs foreign investment when it creates jobs and is in the national interest; this is why we raised issues around the sale of Darwin port for example,” he said.
Labor was critical of the sale of the Darwin port to a Chinese company without it being subjected to foreign investment scrutiny.
Labor’s Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen said he hoped the Treasurer’s real reason for delaying a decision on the Kidman sale was to gather the information required to determine whether it was in the national interest.
“It is a significant sale and should be considered closely,” he said.