Farmers demand owners' register

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Farmers demand foreign-owned Australian farms should be on a register. Photo: Jessica Shapiro
The Age | August 4, 2011

Farmers demand owners' register

Darren Gray

FARMERS have urged the state government to establish a register that would list Victorian farms that have been bought by foreign owners. The call comes as concerns grow over the level of foreign ownership of Australian farms and over the control of productive food resources.

The Victorian Farmers Federation, in a letter last month to Victorian Treasurer Kim Wells, said news that a Chinese mining company had bought more than $200 million of quality farmland in New South Wales had ignited community concerns about foreign ownership of Australian farm land.

''In Australia, there is no reliable statistics on foreign ownership of farm land, and hence the debate rages with little objective information available to inform it,'' the letter said.
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''The lack of data available is creating a ripe environment for speculation and feeding the fear of losing control of our food resources. The development of a register available for analysis will help give a realistic picture of the foreign ownership level in Victoria. This data is imperative to inform future policy,'' wrote the chairman of the VFF's farm business and regional development committee, Peter Tuohey.

Mr Tuohey also expressed concern about the recent sale of 252,000 hectares formerly owned by the MIS forestry company Great Southern. The land, on a large number of titles across many states, including Victoria, was sold in January this year for $415 million to a syndicate dominated by a Canadian pension fund, Alberta Investment Management Corporation.

Many farmers were disappointed that after the collapse of Great Southern the land was not sold, at least in some cases, in individual lots to farmers keen on converting plantations back into farmland to be used for food or fibre production.

Recent revelations that the Qatar-based Hassad Foods had bought more than 8000 hectares of farm land in the Western District have also ignited fears among some farmers worried that the purchases would drive up land prices and council rates, and hurt unemployment levels in country towns.

A spokesman for Mr Wells said the federal government was responsible for ''regulating the purchase of strategic assets by foreign-owned entities. The Victorian government has no plans to introduce such a register.''

Federal Liberal MP Dan Tehan, whose electorate of Wannon covers much of the Western District, said concerns about foreign ownership of agricultural land were regularly raised with him. ''My worry is there's a lack of transparency which is causing people to get worried about what is occurring, so what we need is the facts,'' he said.

A spokesman for Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten said the federal government was ''aware of community concerns about foreign investment in rural land and agricultural businesses.

''In order to understand the issue more fully, Mr Shorten and the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Joe Ludwig, asked the ABS and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation to investigate the level of foreign ownership in rural land. Once we have all the facts on the table we can then consider in detail further policy responses," he said.
Original source: The Age
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