Food fight over farms sell-off

Daily Telegraph (AU)

AUSTRALIA is fortunate that its bountiful farm lands provide plenty of food for 21 million people, even during times of drought.

But a looming global food shortage has sparked an investment frenzy by cash-rich countries seeking a more secure supply of meat, dairy and other staple foods.

We should be very careful before selling off the farm, no matter how strong the impulse to embrace unchecked foreign investment. Australia – sensibly – has placed controls on foreign ownership of sensitive industries including aviation, media and banking.

Perhaps it’s time for agriculture to be added to the list.

At the very least, Federal Parliament should insist on much greater transparency on who is buying up the scores of smaller farms that are advertised each week for sale in the rural press.

This is not a call to Hansonism protectionism. We cannot afford to shut the gate on much-needed foreign capital.

But equally Australia’s national interest will not be served if we simply sell off our prime rural assets to the highest bidder, particularly if they hide behind the cloak of a government-owned entity.

Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten has flagged an audit of farm sales as part of a bipartisan push for greater transparency. It’s a sensible move from a Labor MP considered future leadership material.

But it is only the first step towards a mature debate about Australia’s strategic future needs in this vital area.

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