Documents - Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:12): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I urge all senators and members of parliament, and indeed the Australian public as a whole, to have a look at the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Act 2015—Report for 2015-16, because it does put to bed some myths that have been circulating around this country for a long period of time. I should perhaps say at the beginning of my contribution that it depends on what you class as foreign ownership—I guess Indigenous people would say that a fair percentage of Australian land is foreign owned. But of course the definitions contained in this report are the ones that I think are appropriate and bear looking at.

I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Minister Joyce, who initiated this survey, because in my view there were, quite frankly, a lot of furphies going around about who owned land in Australia and how much of it was foreign owned. This report does, I repeat, bear close inspection by all Australians interested in this topic. It should be put on Facebook, because the Facebook commentators are often very strong contributors on this debate—often without the full facts before them. It is probably instructive to look at table No. 5 to see which countries are the biggest foreign owners of Australian agricultural land. The United Kingdom is the biggest—that is no surprise to me and it never has been. In fact, I often say to the sugar industry, where people are complaining about Chinese or Malaysian interests owning the sugar mills, that, quite frankly, the sugar mills in the north have usually been owned by foreign interests, mainly Scottish and English, and then American and others. But it is interesting that the United Kingdom is far and away the biggest holder of land as a foreign country, followed by the United States. China, which gets a lot of bad publicity for holding land in Australia, is quite a small player.

I say to the Senate by way of disclosure of interest that I have not received any money from the Chinese government. I have received no personal moneys, and I certainly have not received any donations from any Chinese company for election campaigning. Most importantly, I have not received moneys from any Chinese company for my own personal benefit—I want to make that clear. But this table shows that China is quite a small player when it comes to ownership of land in Australia.

I have never objected to foreign ownership of Australian land. I always make the point that these foreign countries cannot take the land back to their country once they have bought it, and when they buy land in Australia they abide by Australian laws—town planning laws, zoning laws and workplace relations laws. So I always welcome the investment of foreign capital in Australia. I often look back to Cairns, in Far North Queensland, in the early nineties when the Japanese made very significant investments. Since that time most of them have sold out at, I suspect, a capital loss. But they did build things in Far North Queensland in those days, and it was because of foreign capital that Cairns became the mecca of tropical tourism that it has been over the last couple of decades..

This is a good report. I congratulate the government for commissioning it and for publicising it, and I urge all people who have an interest in this subject to have a close look at the figures to understand fully just what foreign ownership of Australian land actually involves. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate interrupted.

The following documents were considered—

Auditor-General—Audit report no. 10 of 2016-7—Performance audit—Award of funding under the Mobile Black Spot Programme: Department of Communications and the Arts. Motion to take note of document moved by Senator Bilyk. Debate adjourned till the next day of sitting, Senator Bilyk in continuation.

Regional Forest Agreement between the Commonwealth and Tasmania—Joint Australian and Tasmanian government response to the Review of the implementation of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement for the period 2007 to 2012. Motion to take note of document moved by Senator McKim and debated. On the motion of the Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources (Senator Ruston) the debate was adjourned till Thursday at general business.

Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse—Royal Commission—Report of case study no. 33—The response of The Salvation Army (Southern Territory) to allegations of child sexual abuse at children’s homes that it operated. Motion to take note of document moved by Senator Urquhart. Debate adjourned till Thursday at general business, Senator Urquhart in continuation.

Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Act 2015—Report of registrations for 2015-16. Motion to take note of document moved by Senator Macdonald. Debate adjourned till Thursday at general business, Senator Macdonald in continuation.

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