I rise to speak about a matter that has become topical in the press today but that has been a topic of conversation in regional Australia for some time-particularly in my electorate-and that is the issue of foreign ownership of agricultural land.
I should say at the outset that a large part of the agricultural sector of Australia was pioneered by overseas investment. Indeed, some classic examples in my electorate would be the great work that Clyde Agricultural, a British owned company, has done and the presence that they still have, although they are in the process of selling in the western part of New South Wales.
The other one would be Auscott, the American owned company that largely pioneered cotton growing in Australia. Indeed, the expertise that was brought into the country by Auscott and the mentoring that they did of agronomists and the technical expertise that that allowed certainly enabled the industry to grow far beyond their influence.
We have a growing population in the world and a finite land resource. The need for food security across the world is becoming more and more prominent. I think that is what has led to an escalation of foreign ownership of agricultural land. With the Foreign Investment Review Board regulations requiring quite a large amount before it can undertake a review, a large part of agricultural land comes under the radar. We do need food security in this country. The other issue is the ownership of the food chain: processing and infrastructure. Indeed, many of the grain handling facilities and much of the supply chain is now in the hands of foreign companies. A classic example of that was with the deregulation of wheat and the removal of the single desk. It meant that wheat marketing, instead of being in the hands of growers, is now largely in the hands of overseas owned companies. I do not know that in the long term that will be to the benefit of wheat growers.
There have been calls from Senator Xenophon for a register. It is easy to find out who owns what. The real issue is what we going to do about it. While in the past I have actually sold livestock to a Japanese owned feedlot and got benefit from that, I think we need to look to the long-term interests of this country. Will our children thank us for selling off the farm and their future food security?