NSW Nationals call for moratorium on sale of agricultural land to foreign government entities

NSW Nationals want a moratorium on the sale of Australia’s agricultural assets to foreign government-owned entities.

Party members called for an independent review of agricultural assets owned by state-owned enterprises, in a motion carried at the weekend’s NSW Nationals conference, amid growing concern of the role of SOEs in foreign investment.

All such sales should be halted until that review was completed, the motion stated.

NSW senator John Williams was among those voting in its favour.

“I want to see us sell what we grow on the land, not just shipped off overseas,” he said.

“We’ve done a good job in bringing down the foreign investment thresholds — let’s just wait and see the details of a review and take a look at how much land is owned, country by country.”

He pointed as an example to Hassad Australia, which is funded by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and owns about 300,000ha of agricultural land.

It was a watered-down motion compared with the original put forward by the party’s Wagga branch — it sought an outright ban on SEOs buying Aussie agricultural assets.

The state-level motion would need to be agreed to nationally before it became federal policy, which federal MPs are not bound by but expected to pursue.

NSW Nationals director Nathan Quigley said the motion was “carried on voices” and noted concern that foreign investors might use local entities to “get around” foreign ownership.

 Parkes MP Mark Coulton pointed out that the Foreign Investment Review Board already immediately assessed every SOE investment, regardless of the size or value of the purchase.

Mr Coulton said he supported parts of the motion, but not a moratorium.

“There would be sales in process now … a whole range of things could inadvertently get caught up in it,” he said.

Fellow NSW federal Nationals likewise trod more cautiously on the issue than Mr Williams.

Riverina MP Michael McCormack said the party room would likely “look at what’s been talked about” once parliament resumed but stressed the “foreign investment rules the Nationals fought hard for already are sensible measures”.

“I’m not saying we’ve got it totally right but we’re working towards it.”

Lyne MP David Gillespie reiterated he was a “firm believer in property rights but it has to be in the national interest”.

A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce would not answer whether Mr Joyce supported the motion, but said interest in the issue was “not surprising” and that the Government would continue to monitor community concerns.


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