04 February, 2013


The degree of foreign ownership of our rural land has doubled over the last 25 years from 5.9% up to 11.3% according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural & Resource Economics & Sciences. Forty five million hectares of our agricultural land has some level of foreign ownership and this number continues to increase.
Should we be worried?

On the eve of Australia Day 2013, our largest farming property, CubbiStationpassed into majority ownership by a Chinese textile maker, Shandong RuYi along with massive water rights from the Culgoa River and the Murray Darling Basin.

More than half of our milk processing is in foreign hands. Half our wheat export industry is controlled by foreign companies. Three foreign milling groups account for nearly 60% of our raw sugar production - including a subsidiary of the Chinese state owned COFCO Corporation - and 40% of our beef & lamb is processed by foreign firms. Nearly 10% of our irrigation water licenses are owned by foreigners.

This is just a sample of what is going on, we could keep listing examples but suffice to say the trends are very worrying. It is incongruous that we substantially increased scrutiny of overseas investment in residential real estate in 2010, with all foreign purchases of residential real estate being subject to FIRB scrutiny, yet when it comes to rural land the level of scrutiny is not so stringent with only purchases in excess of $244 million looked at (which relates to a single purchase while multiple purchases that collectively exceed that amount are ignored).

Why is it essential to scrutinise the purchase of a Gold Coast apartment but not the purchase of a large area of rural farmland?

What is worse, our farmers are being squeezed on two fronts, foreign land buyouts and the price war between the major food retailers which in turn are being pressured by the foreign competitors Aldi and Costco, leading to cost cutting resulting in the farmers being pressured to take less for their produce.

Consider this : If someone asked you whether Mildura Fruit Co was an Australian company you might say yes. It packs and sells fruit grown in the Mildura region It has three directors who are Australian and one born in New Zealand(as of 16 July 2012). It is owned by Sunbeam Foods Group Ltd based in Mildura which has the same directors and secretary as the Mildura Fruit Co so it looks very Australian. However, Food Holdings P/L trading as Manasson Foods Group Ltd, owns 100% of Sunbeam Foods which owns 100% of Mildura Fruit Co. Last November Manasson Foods Group was acquired by Bright Foods Holdings P/L. The shareholders of Bright Foods Holdings are Bright Food ( Australia) Co. Ltd. and Geoffrey Erby.

Now Bright Food (Australia) Co. Ltd. sounds Australian enough but it is in fact a Chinese company based in Hong Kong. Its ultimate owner is Bright Food ( Group) Co. Ltd. which is 50% owned by the Shanghai Municipal Government and the remaining 50% by other Shanghai Government owned companies.

What a tangled web they weave.

In a rather week response to all these shenanigans The Australian Federal Government released a "National Food Plan Green Paper" which outlines options for our food policy. It is seeking feedback with submissions to be lodged by 30th September - go to the link http://www.daff.gov.au/nationalfoodplan/national-food plan or just "Google" National Food Plan.

(The above is largely a condensation from a speech made to Independent Retirees on July 2012 by Kelvin Thomson MP, Member for Wills).