MARK ALDRIDGE - Lead Senate candidate for the "GREAT AUSTRALIAN PARTY"

The world’s population set to hit 7 billion later this year and predicted to hit 10 billion by the end of the century, food production and top quality agricultural land has never been a more valuable asset for any countries long term future. 

From many different countries in particular those with limited ability to feed their population, government-backed companies have begun buying up farmland around the world, with Australia’s vast tracts of top quality primary production land a prime target. Qatar-based “Hassad Foods” has been a major player in the big local farmland buy-up, the company has invested more than $60 million in prime Australian sheep grazing land in the past year, with more properties in the company’s sights.  

Qatar from leaks direct to my email in box as early as 2010 are now courting South Australian land in the peninsula, with the intent of converting the land to stock grazing to ensure their nations food future in relation to live stock, with reports of the ability to pay up to $4500 and beyond a hectare, way above the current market value, and you guessed it, no one will be watching.

The Weekly Times reported Hassad were poised to snap up a further 8500 hectares of land in Victoria’s western district in a deal worth $35 million — about 20% above market price.

China state-owned conglomerate “Bright Foods” has also been desperately looking to acquire local agribusinesses because of the federal governments ideals making it easy for overseas investors. The Shanghai-controlled company have reported to be interested in Foster’s wine division, while last year they made a failed $1.7 billion tilt for sugar producer CSR. The company has also managed to get the backing of the NSW government to explore local wine, diary and sugar investment opportunities. 

In the south-east of Australia, Brazilian beef giant JBS has been busy buying up abattoirs and meatworks, while Singapore-based “Olam International” now control almost 45% of Australian almonds, thanks to its purchase of “Timbercorp” and its 8096-hectare plant. Ausbuy CEO Lynne Wilkinson made it clear the issue of food security is paramount to the rest of the world and should also be just as important to Australia.

Lynne also went on to say there have been many recent instances, including the sale of over 100,000 hectares of farmland in Western Australia to the Arab States, which show the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and the ACCC are not looking after Australia’s long term security interests.

“When countries buy up our land, water and farms, it raises issues of sovereign risk”, our governments short sighted grab for cash, is seeing us lose the intellectual property of generations of Australian farmers.”

The sad fact is “We cannot guarantee the food grown on this land will stay in Australia or that the profits from exports will be here.”  What people don’t realise is that if someone buys prime agricultural land, we can’t force them to sell us the food from that land, they can ship the food from the land directly to their country, so what the hell are our government thinking?  

Independent SA senator Nick Xenophon, agrees with my position, himself worrying that corporations who aren’t state-owned but are “effectively arms of foreign governments” are going under under the radar in purchasing farmland.  

“We should be selling the food, not the farms,” is a statement being screamed by many, but not being heard by our supposed representatives. Because the sale of agricultural land in Australia is exempt under Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) regulations, there is rarely much attention given to the overseas purchases of farmland unless the purchase of assets exceeds the $244 million threshold. Making it near impossible to even track how much has already been sold.

Not only are we not privy to the truth, we have no idea of exactly what land foreigners own, Australia has extensive arable land, but not all is ideal for crop production, so even if figures of say 10% were quoted, it could well in fact be 80% of the top 10% of productive land, the facts and figures are all over the place, near 10% of water is now part or wholly owned by overseas companies, a staggering figure in land known for its unreliable rain fall. 

The figure for the NT account for a figure approaching 30% of Land ownership, but exactly how much of the NT land is productive? While studying ABS figures, we are confronted with grazing and grain farming lumped into one figure, yet the value of  Grain farming land is of higher value than that of grazing, so transparency simply is not on the agenda.

The fact that the foreign investment review board only open their eyes to land purchases exceeding 244 million dollars, foreign investors could viably buy up a whole state without review, a frighting fact that we the people should strongly oppose.

The indexed monetary thresholds for 2012 are $244 million and $1062 million. The developed non-residential commercial real estate (not heritage listed) is also now indexed and for 2012 is $53 million. For current monetary thresholds see monetary thresholds.

In any event ABS figures are only as reliable as those filling in the information, as facts and figures are arrived at from mail out surveys, begging the question, if the government don’t know, the ABS are somewhat guessing, exactly how much farm land is left, how much is being brought, and what quality is left for we as a nation to feed future generations? 

When we study beyond farms, water and vital infrastructure to the residential issue, In December 2008, the Australian Federal Government announced policy and administrative changes to screening arrangements for foreign investors in Australian real estate, meaning it will be easier for overseas purchasers to buy property here from 2009. 

The policy changes effective from 18 December 2008 combined with administrative changes introduced progressively since February 2009. The intention is to simplify the process and in doing so, streamline it, while reducing costs for foreign residents and foreign businesses. 

The short term gain from foreign investment in local and community real-estate, will have long term consequences for our children’s ability to enter the real estate market, with even the government unable to compete, let alone the fact they are now also shying away from supplying affordable housing in favour of NGO running our housing trust. 

There is no time to lose, we the people must demand our representative government immediately implement a moratorium on all land sales to foreign investors, until such time as “We the people” can make an informed decision.

I propose the immediate adoption of an Australia wide community consultation process to allow for an informed referendum to be held during the next federal election, for it is our land, our future and our sustainability on the line.  

Mark M Aldridge  2012
Community advocate and independent candidate
08 82847482/0403379500

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