We’ll block FTA plans, say Greens and Xenophon

The Australian, Canberra

We’ll block FTA plans, say Greens and Xenophon

12 April 2014

AAP/The Greens and independent senator Nick Xenophon have said the government will face a tough battle if it seeks to ease foreign investment restrictions.

The warnings follow Tony Abbott’s visit to China, where he discussed making it easier for Chinese state-owned enterprises to do business in Australia, and increase Chinese foreign investment from Australia’s largest trading partner.

But Greens leader Christine Milne said her party would not support any rule changes which would allow foreign government subsidiaries to invest up to $15 million in Australian agriculture, without first going through the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Ms Milne said the Greens opposed the sale of agricultural land and water to any foreign government subsidiaries.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or any other country,” she said in a statement.

“If a foreign government is buying into Australia, then that needs to be assessed in every instance, to see if it’s in the national interest.”

South Australian senator Nick Xenophon said he had previously proposed legislation to reduce the foreign investment review threshold from $15 million to $5 million for farmland and to create a clearer national interest test.

“If we further relax foreign investment rules to allow state-owned enterprises to buy into agricultural land, we will be the mugs of the Asia-Pacific,” he said.

“The problem has been not one of foreign investment but it has been one of inadequate domestic investment.

“We need to have investment and tax rules changed to encourage superannuation funds to invest in Australian agriculture.”

In a speech to business and political leaders in Shanghai, Mr Abbott said he appreciated Chinese state-owned enterprises had a highly commercial culture.

He said he wanted to give China the same access to Australia under a free-trade agreement as other trading partners.

This means investment proposals would only be scrutinised if they exceeded $1 billion — not $248 million as exists now.

China would have to accept that any farm or agribusiness buyout above $15 million would be reviewed, terms accepted by Japan and South Korea, he said.