Nationals leader Warren Truss has warned Australia has lost control of its agribusinesses and declared a new takeover bid poses a critical test for the Foreign Investment Review Board.
Mr Truss told his party’s federal council in Canberra today it was a great shame that foreign interests valued Australia’s land, its food producing capacity and the businesses associated with driving growth in agriculture far more than Australians did.
He said the FIRB – of which the Nationals have been very critical – had never said “no” to a foreign takeover of Australian land or agribusiness, he said.
“It now faces another critical test. The government must deal with the proposed takeover of Australia’s largest listed agribusiness, GrainCorp, by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) – a US giant that is the second largest grain business in the world.
“This bid would mean that every grain export facility in Queensland, NSW, SA and all but half of one in Victoria, would be foreign owned.”
The takeover would hand ADM 280 storage sites in the eastern states, 19 grain trains, three container loading facilities and vital stocks information.
“The owners of these vital assets have the ability to decide whether eastern Australia has a grain industry or not.
“ADM is not offering new investment or any new commitments to Australia – just new owners at above market value. What is in this deal for Australia?”
Grain storage and handling charges would rise for farmers to pay for the purchase and the profits would be transferred to the new American owners, Mr Truss said.
“This purchase, along with the dominant buyouts of Australia’s sugar industry, meat works, dairy industry, grain marketing, oilseed crushers, food processing, wine industry – mostly over the past four years – raises serious questions about the future decision-making in our agricultural industries”, he said.
“We dream of becoming the food bowl of Asia but whether that can happen will increasingly be decided in boardrooms in the US, Europe, Asia and even New Zealand.
“Over the last four years or so, we have lost control of our nation’s agribusineses.”
The issue of foreign investment has previously produced tensions within the Coalition with the Nationals in particular concerned about investment in land.
This led to the Coalition producing new guidelines that it would introduce in government, including requiring FIRB to review any proposed foreign acquisition of an agribusiness where the investment represents 15% or more in an agribusiness valued at $244 million, or exceeds $53 million, whichever is smaller.
Dries within the Liberal party are concerned about checks that would discourage foreign investment.
Mr Truss said: “We support genuine forein investment that strengthens out economy, which promotes growth and fosters confidence, but investment must not be contrary to our national interest”.
Author: Michelle Grattan Professorial Fellow at the University of Canberra via The Conversation