Photo by Steven Penton cc.

On 29 September 2017 an updated register was released detailing foreign ownership of Australian agricultural land, available here from the Foreign Investment Review Board for the 2016-17 year. The 2015-16 report is available here

Let’s look at a few questions and then the data. 

What is it about the idea of selling off our agricultural land to foreign interests that excites some of those people who currently occupy our Parliament?

The mirage of jobs.

If you’re walking past a homeless person who is sitting on the ground in dishevelled clothes, whose hat is upside down on the ground with a small sign with a story, you’ll also know that person is a voter. And if you’re one of those people who currently occupy our Parliament, your primary concern is securing enough votes to be re-elected. 

Does this homeless person need some legal aid to right a past wrong? Do they need a bus ticket to another state to spend some time with a family member? 

Completely irrelevant. 

What matters is that a photo is taken of whoever wishes to be re-elected, dropping a gold coin into the upturned hand of the homeless person. Such photos at first glance, create the impression that our representatives care about us. That they care about our livelihoods and are willing to put our best interest ahead of their own.

Likewise, what matters to some of those who currently occupy our Parliament, is that a video camera records them stating such lines as, “10,000 jobs“, or “I know about Adani and that means thousands of jobs for regional Queenslanders…“, as illustrated last week on the ABC Four Corners episode, Digging into Adani

If those who occupy our Parliament have any legal or moral responsibility to create new jobs, then the mere suggestion of selling off Australian land to foreign individuals or businesses to create new jobs, is an immediate sign of incompetence. 

What needs to be done?

The law needs to be changed so only Australian citizens or businesses that are controlled by Australian citizens, can buy Australian land.

If we had representatives who were serious about job creation, what could they do? What changes could they make that supported the creation of new jobs, without selling off our country to make it happen?

For a start, they could enforce minimum wage laws and put more effort into setting examples of businesses who flaunt the law. 

What does enforcing minimum wage laws have to do with creating new jobs?

Think about it. Let’s say there are currently 10,000 employees in Australia right now missing out on $2 per hour after tax because they are being illegally underpaid. If 10,000 employees had an extra $2x38= $76 per week to spend in the economy, that’s an extra $760,000 being spent on goods and services in the economy per week. That spending can then flow through and result in some businesses needing to hire more workers.

Another relevant question comes from Bernard Salt in The Australian:

Australia has no big agribusiness business. Why is that? How is it that the New Zealanders can leverage Fonterra on the world stage and we are left with at best regional (meaning state-based) dairy businesses? We have leveraged large mining companies (BHP Billiton), banks (CBA, Westpac, NAB, ANZ), retailers (Woolworths and Wesfarmers or Coles) and even a telco (Telstra) but we cannot deliver a global player of scale in agribusiness.

Logically, any large business has to begin life as a small business, and are we really doing our best to encourage the creation of new small businesses in Australia?

Or is every accountant and financial planner across this big country telling every client they have to go and outbid a homeowner to buy a residential property that makes a loss each month they can then use to reduce the tax bill on their unrelated wage income? 

This has been going on for decades.

I’ve worked for the planners who pitch negatively geared properties. I’ve seen the emails from accountants as a mortgage broker, recommending the tax benefits of their client buying a loss-making property. While I don’t fault the individuals making these choices, on a big picture level, on a policy level, it’s what helps to create a culture that favors the easy route. It’s not the kind of incentive we need if we’re going to create agricultural businesses that can compete on the world stage.

Now for some data…

The Data

Q1: What proportion of Australian agricultural land is held by foreign persons?

Q2: What proportion of Australian agricultural land is held as freehold and leasehold by foreign persons?

2015 to 2016

Foreign Owners of Australian farmland

2016 to 2017

foreign ownership

Q3 How many properties per Australian state are owned by foreign interests?

Q4 How is the agricultural land being used by foreign interests?

(Note: “Land use was not provided by all registrants as the land use fields were not compulsory fields on the Agricultural Land Register form)

2015 to 2016

Farmland by use type

2016 to 2017

foreign interests

Q5 Which countries own the largest amount of Australian agricultural farmland?

2015 to 2016

foreign land interest by country

2016 to 2017

2017

Cheers, 

David Collett

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