Thanks for coming everyone. I'm here today to release the Foreign Investment and Australian Agriculture report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences and also the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.
In November 2010, the Government asked ABARES and the Australian Bureau of Statistics to undertake research into foreign investment in the agricultural sector to gather a factual picture and address some emerging community concerns in this area.
After receiving the ABARES report along with the research conducted by the ABS, the Government and the Australian community now has a clear and factual picture of existing foreign investment in Australian agriculture.
On ownership, it is important to note that the report confirmed that current foreign ownership of agricultural land, businesses and water entitlements in Australia is comparable with the levels of 1983-1984. ABARES also reiterates research by the ABS that around 99 per cent of agricultural businesses in Australia are entirely Australian owned. Around 89 per cent of agricultural land is Australian-owned and around 91 per cent of water entitlements for agriculture are entirely Australian-owned.
The report confirms that foreign investment provides and improves food security, increases production and incomes, is vital for Australian farmers and supports agricultural jobs.
It's important to also note that the report confirms Australia is highly self sufficient and is food secure. In fact Australia produces more than twice the amount of food we consume. ABARES says there is real concern lower levels of foreign investment would lead to lower food production, and this could result in higher food prices.
The report importantly states that the current regulatory framework surrounding foreign investment in agriculture does protect the national interest and the current policy settings were providing and I quote: "Were providing a considerable level of scrutiny of foreign investment proposals and operations of foreign-owned agribusinesses in Australia".
It notes the role of the foreign review board but also the ACCC in terms of competition. What ABARES does suggest is that the regular collection of information on foreign ownership would be one way of providing greater transparency to the public and policy makers in the future.
In responding to the report, today I am announcing that the Government will adopt this recommendation to improve transparency surrounding foreign investment in agriculture with more regular and expanded surveys. We will fund an ongoing and expanded statistical data collection by the Australian Bureau of Statistics now to be conducted every two years.
This will give us a better idea of the trends happening in agriculture. We will also expand the Agricultural Census to provide more information on ownership of Australian agricultural land.
Today the Government has also issued a Policy Statement on Foreign Investment in Agriculture. Australia currently has a strong and robust system in place to protect the national interest while also supporting economic growth.
All acquisitions of land or businesses in Australia by foreign government related entities must be notified and screened by the Foreign Investment Review Board, regardless of value.
As part of the Policy Statement the Government is providing guidance on factors typically considered in assessing foreign investment applications in agriculture. These include:
- The quality and availability of Australia's agricultural resources, including water;
- Land access and use;
- Agricultural production and productivity;
- Australia's capacity to remain a reliable supplier of agricultural production, both to the Australian community and our trading partners;
- Biodiversity; and
- Employment and prosperity in Australia's local and regional communities.
Let me finish by saying the Gillard Government will make decisions based on clear and factual evidence.
We will not be driven by the nonsense fear campaigns of the Opposition's Barnaby Joyce and Bill Heffernan who use misinformation and hysteria comparing foreign investment in agriculture to an invasion by a foreign army.
It's ridiculous. It is now time for the Opposition to look at the facts before they try to incite fear.
Over to you.
On a different matter, is the Government happy that Andrew Wilkie has indicated that there will be a delay in the introduction to pokies reforms?
Well I don't know, from my reading of the media this morning, if he has indicated that. There are discussions that have taken place between the Prime Minister and Mr Wilkie. My understanding is they were productive and positive, those discussions continue and we await the outcome from those discussions. Obviously everyone in the Government and Labor MPs are concerned by problem gambling and we all want to do something in this area, but we all need to wait until the Prime Minister and Mr Wilkie conclude their discussions.
And do we know what the time line will be for the remaining talks?
My understanding is the discussions are still talking place between the Prime Minister and Mr Wilkie. They have been, as I've said, my understanding is, they've been productive and positive and we'll await the outcomes.