Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has warned that the sale of Australian farmland to foreigners is threatening the nation’s patriotism and sovereignty.
The Nationals leader fears that as more land mass is bought and owned by overseas interests, it is less likely that Australians will be prepared to fight and die to defend their country.
Mr Joyce, who is also federal Agricultural Minister, believes Australian farming families are at risk of ending up mere tenants in a “rented country”.
“It is the essence of patriotism, the love of one’s country, (and) it is best delivered when you own that country,” a passionate Mr Joyce told the National Farmers Federation annual congress in Canberra yesterday.
“And there’s one thing that people are not prepared to do, and that’s to die for a rented country.”
Mr Joyce’s anti-foreign investment comments come at a highly sensitive time for the federal government, as the sale of the vast Kidman outback cattle empire nears completion.
The bid preferred by the S. Kidman and Co board is the $365 million offer from mining magnate Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, in a joint venture with 33 per cent Chinese partner Shanghai CRED.
It would require approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board and Scott Morrison, who has already twice rejected majority Chinese corporate bids to buy Kidman’s 11 vast cattle stations sprawling across 10.1 million hectares of remote Australia.
Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye and minister counsellor for economic and commercial affairs to Australia Huang Rengang were both at the NFF conference head table, with NFF president Brent Finlay and mining and cattle entrepreneur Andrew Forrest, when the Deputy Prime Minister unleashed his latest foreign investment tirade.
Mr Joyce also accused the previous Labor government of “dispossessing” farmers of their private rights with tough regulations and guidelines preventing trees being cleared from agricultural land.
He branded Labor’s controversial native vegetation laws as akin to “communism” — “the socialising of a private asset without paying for it”.
“This essentially took away ownership from private individuals and gave it to the community; (it was) the dispossession of the individual for the community benefit, without the community paying for it,” Mr Joyce said.
“There’s a word for that: it’s called communism.’’
Mr Forrest later said he did not oppose foreign investors buying Australian agricultural land. But he said he did not think it was either necessary or particularly beneficial to either party involved.
“I strongly feel that China needs to signal to Australia that it does require our high-quality, pristine food over the long term, and then watch Australian farmers invest and grow,’’ he said.
Mr Forrest said Chinese companies seemed to think they had to buy and own the farm completely to lock in supply, whereas partnerships were a better idea.
He also supported the tough restrictions on foreigners buying agricultural land.