Foreign investment debate needs a dose of maturity

The controversy that has followed the conditional sale of Cubbie Station is indicative of the immature debate that surrounds foreign ownership in Australia. This aversion must be overcome if Australia, particularly the north, is to reach its potential, particularly in agriculture.
Those opposed to the sale point to value of the property and the vastness of its water capacity and entitlements. However, they fail to propose a viable alternative for the future of the property which has been in voluntary receivership for over three years.
Foreign investment should be encouraged, particularly where it leads to investment in irrigation and an increase in jobs.
Australia has a major opportunity to feed a growing world population. This opportunity is particularly apparent in Asia, where the OECD predicts half of the world’s middle class will live by 2020. With growing wealth brings increased apatite for Australia’s agricultural goods.
Currently North Australia is a wasted opportunity. Vast tracts of land lie fallow.
In this article from the IPA Review, Fiona Tracey points out how successful the Green groups have been in changing the policy environment. As such a ‘narrow minded and unsustainable’ blanket opposition to dams has been established.
Ms Tracey correctly points out that a change in policy on dams should be part of a wider change in policy on agricultural development in the North.
This point is supported by the managing director of Australia’s largest agricultural corporation, the Australian Agricultural Company. David Farley’s comments in yesterday’s Australian highlight the role foreign investment could play in establishing irrigation infrastructure that will drive huge growth in the industry.
Mr Farley points out that many investors, both Australians and foreigners, are currently reluctant to make large scale investments in the north because most of the region is state-controlled leasehold land. As such the land is then leased back to farmers and other land users.
Conversion of pastoral leases into freehold land would make the north more attractive for investment.
Mr Farley argued that outback stations from the Pilbara to the Queensland Gulf country offer a major opportunity, however, dry cattle stations would not be developed into irrigated cropping food bowls without billions of dollars in capital.
To unlock this capital, much of which will need to come from offshore, we need to show the world that Australia welcomes investment.