The Daily Telegraph | June 18, 2010
By Malcolm Farr
THE Chinese Government is buying Australian farms to directly feed its population, a senior Liberal said on the eve of a visit by a top Bejing official.
The purchases were unmonitored and did not have to be approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board, Senator Bill Heffernan told Parliament.
"And the distortion that has occurred in the Sydney home market because of being off the FIRB's radar ... could happen with agricultural land," Senator Heffernan said.
He made the claim on Wednesday night, just three days before the arrival in Canberra of Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping for what is considered an important visit.
Senator Heffernan, chairman of the select committee on agriculture, yesterday said farm buy-ups were not referred to the FIRB unless they were worth more than $320 million.
So far there were only anecdotal reports of Chinese agricultural investment but Senator Heffernan quoted research by Professor Zhangyue Zhou of the School of Business at Townsville's James Cook University.
Mr Zhou has argued there is a move by the Chinese Government to buy land overseas to ensure a secure food supply for the future. He believes the produce would be sent back to China from farms now being purchased.
There are reports of significant Chinese interest in Tasmanian dairy farms and a Tasmanian real estate agent, Betty Kay, this month was at a dairy expo in China to promote sales by cash-troubled farmers.
Last month South Australian state MP Robert Brokenshire called for Government action "as Chinese vultures circle Australian farms".
"Chinese investment interest in our farms grew 10-fold in the six months to April, according to the Real Estate Institute of Australia," he said.
There is also anecdotal evidence about farms in the black soil-rich Liverpool Plains being bought by foreigns interests at inflated prices.
However, a spokeswoman for the REIA yesterday said there were no figures available.
Senator Heffernan told Parliament there was a system of voluntary reporting of land investments backed by foreign governments."It should not be self-reporting; it should be compulsory reporting. A foreign entity could go down the river and buy every property and not trigger the interest of the Foreign Investment Review Board," he said.