Currently, overseas investors are able to buy large areas of agricultural land without being subject to scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB).
Non-US investors can currently acquire up to $231 million of Australian land before a FIRB review. While foreign investment is important for Australia, the relatively low value of our agricultural land means that large areas can be bought by overseas investors.
Australia needs to be aware of how much of our agricultural land we are selling, and to whom, so that we can maintain our food security. If we lose control over large areas of land, we may be faced with a shortage of viable agricultural land to produce our food.
Together with Senator Christine Milne of the Australian Greens, I introduced a Private Senator’s Bill to change the criteria for FIRB assessment of foreign investment in agricultural land.
The Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agircultural Land) Bill 2010 was referred to a Senate committee inquiry, but the committee recommended the Bill not be passed.
Accordingly, amendments to this bill have been circulated in consultation with Greens Senator Christine Milne, which propose to lower the current threshold from $231 million to $5 million (as opposed to 5 hectares as per original bill).
Urban Sprawl and Agricultural Land
There were 46,000 people living in the square mile of the city of Adelaide following World War II, now there are just 21,000 and that is with the creation of high-rises. Since World War II, there has been a fundamental shift away from housing within the City of Adelaide to housing developments which are spreading further and further away from our capital. But at what cost?
In Adelaide, we’re now facing problems with urban sprawl so severe that even the Minister for Urban Planning and Deputy Premier, the Hon. John Rau MP, has recently called for it to end. However, it’s unfortunate that his predecessor approved developments that now appear irreversible. In the last decade, new developments in parts of the McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley have encroached on and even taken over some of South Australia's most valuable agricultural land.
My view is that we cannot value agricultural land highly enough.
Good food producing land is at a premium around the world. In 2008, we were faced with a global food shortage. Prices rocketed as supply dropped, affecting both developed and developing nations.
In Australia, we are thankfully still at the stage where most of us can walk into a supermarket and buy whatever we need. But our grocery prices are rising at among the highest rates for OECD countries, and households are struggling to make ends meet.
Figures show that food prices in Australia have risen over 40 percent since 2000, compared to 22 percent in France and 29 percent in the US.
Australia is also close to reaching the unenviable stage of becoming a net food importer.
We need to start prioritising our food production, and the agricultural land that goes with it.