Coalition toughens investment laws
THE Coalition has unveiled plans for tougher foreign investment rules, with Nationals Leader Warren Truss saying Australians needed to place greater value on the nation's agricultural land.
Mr Truss joined Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey in Sydney on Friday to launch a foreign investment discussion paper.
The Coalition is now seeking public feedback on the 13 proposals contained in the 15-page discussion paper.
Mr Abbott said the paper - which was compiled by a Coalition working group chaired by Mr Truss - was "flagging a policy direction rather than finalising a policy outcome".
Among the proposals contained in the paper, the Coalition wants a national register of foreign ownership and calls for the Foreign Investment Review Board to consider acquisitions of agricultural land valued at $15 million and agribusinesses worth $53 million - significantly less than the current $244 million threshold.
Mr Truss acknowledged the importance of foreign investment, but said greater transparency was required.
The Member for Wide Bay said he hoped Australians would one day appreciate the importance of food security.
"Unfortunately, I feel Australians do not value as highly as they should our agricultural land or our food production industries.
"Rarely are they (Australian investors) at the front line to acquire industries and agricultural land when it's on the market and others seem to place much higher values on our food production capability than we do as Australians."
Mr Abbott was at pains to quash the perception the Coalition was opposed to foreign investment.
"I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that the Coalition unambiguously supports foreign investment in Australia," Mr Abbott said.
"We need it, we want it, it is essential for our continued national prosperity. What's very important, though, is that the public have confidence that the foreign investment we need and want is in Australia's national interest and that's what this paper is about.
"It's about giving the Australian public confidence that foreign investment really is in Australia's national interest."
In an opinion piece for ABC website The Drum former Howard government minister Peter Reith argued the system should not be changed.
Mr Reith was also critical of Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce - who has been prominent in calling for stricter foreign investment rules - arguing he had "a bias towards protectionism" and did "not like foreign investment".
Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan said the discussion paper was a "dog's breakfast".
"They (the Coalition) are all over the shop," Mr Swan said.
"We've got a range of possibilities canvassed in this paper that just send very confusing messages about what the Liberal Party stands for.
"It now appears that Barnaby Joyce is running foreign investment policy in the Coalition."
While not opposed to foreign investment, the National Farmers' Federation welcomed the proposal for a national register of foreign-owned land.
"Of course, it is essential that we keep in mind that foreign investment has traditionally been very positive for Australian agriculture," NFF president Jock Laurie said.
"We do not wish to deter foreign investment, but we do want to see greater transparency around investment to ensure that the motivations behind this investment are clear."
- Developing and implementing a national register of foreign ownership of real property in cooperation with state land titles offices and, through the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, a national register of foreign ownership of businesses valued above an appropriate threshold;
- FIRB consideration of any proposed foreign acquisition of agricultural land valued at $15 million or more (cumulative);
- FIRB consideration of any proposed foreign acquisition of an agribusiness where the investment exceeds $53 million or represents a stake of 15% or more in an agribusiness which is valued at $244 million (whichever is smaller);
- Retention of the uncodified national interest test;
- Requiring any foreign applicant subject to the national interest test to disclose any direct or indirect ownership or direct source of influence by a foreign government;
- and Increasing the FIRB to seven members, including at least one individual with agricultural sector expertise.