Article – New Senator David Leyonhjelm supports foreign investment

7 July 2014
Lucy Barbour
ABC Rural
The newly sworn-in Liberal Democrat Senator, David Leyonhjelm, says he doesn’t see any value in setting up a national register for foreign ownership of Australian farmland.
There is currently no national database tracking sales of land and water to foreign buyers, and a new national register promised by both the Coalition and Labor, is yet to materialise.
Senator Leyonhjelm, who shares the balance of power in the Senate, says foreign investment is in the national interest.
“Prosperity, jobs, development. Those are the national interest,” Senator Leyonhjelm said.
“It’s difficult to envisage any situation where a foreign investor buys Australian farms or invests in agribusiness and it’s not in our national interest.
“I will start worrying when I start seeing them loading the farms onto ships and taking them back to China. Until then, I don’t care.”
Under current regulations, foreign investors can make purchases of up to $248 million before the deals are subject to approval by the Foreign Investment Review Board.
Labor recently announced it wants to increase the threshold for scrutiny of foreign purchases of Australian farmland to $1 billion. Senator Leyonhjelm says he supports that position, and he’s unlikely to support any legislation for a national register of foreign-owned farmland.
“The problem is what will be done with the information,” he said.
“If the amount of foreign investment goes from one per cent to two per cent, there will be screams because it’s doubled.
“The information by itself is harmless, although tax payers will all be paying to collect it. But the issue will be what’s done with it.”
A spokesman from the Department of Treasury said the Government is currently developing the details of its policy on a national register but gave no indication of when it would be introduced to Parliament.
Senator Leyonhjelm, who grew up on a sheep and cattle property in western Victoria, says he wants to see more foreign investment in northern Australia.
“We’re never going to develop this stage two of the Ord, for example, without foreign capital,” he said.
“The potential in [northern Australia] is enormous. All it needs is water and investment.
“Infrastructure is required obviously but that’s a function of money and if there’s investment up there…everything else will follow.”
Meanwhile, Senator Leyonhjelm has said he’ll vote to repeal the carbon tax but he’s opposed to the Coalition’s Direct Action policy.
“That’s $2.5 billion being used to pay people for planting trees. I won’t have a bar of that,” he said.
Courtesy of ABC Rural