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First step in addressing farmers' foreign investment concerns

18 January 2012

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has today acknowledged the release of the long-awaited ABARES report on foreign investment, and the Federal Government’s response.

“Foreign investment continues to be a major source of contention for our members and the wider agricultural industry, but until now, we have not had a clear picture of what investment is actually being made in agricultural land and agribusinesses,” Mr Laurie said.

“With the release of the ABS data last year and the ABARES report today we can now piece together the puzzle on foreign investment, understand the current levels of interest and funding into Australia, and seek sensible policy decisions to manage the impact of this on the long-term future of our sector.

Mr Laurie said the NFF has supported the Government’s approach of gaining a clear understanding of the impact of foreign investment in Australian agriculture before making policy decisions.

“It has been said that this is a debate without data. Now that we have the data, the Government has made some decisions about how to address this issue – and now is time for the debate,” Mr Laurie said.

“The announcements made today by the Government do not address all the concerns raised by the NFF or our members, but are a welcome first step in the need for increased transparency about foreign investment, and the need to give greater focus to the Foreign Investment Review Board’s (FIRB) national interest test.

“However, this is only the start of the process. The decision to run an ABS survey every two years into the level of foreign investment will ensure trends are monitored, and should worrying trends emerge, the NFF will seek further Government action to address these.

“The Government has retained the requirement for foreign commercial entities to be referred to the FIRB only if they exceed the $231 million cap.

“This issue remains a concern for NFF members who are not entirely convinced that the FIRB threshold and processes are stringent enough – and we need solid guarantees that state owned enterprises masquerading as commercial entities, as well as creeping acquisitions, do not slip through a loophole in the reporting requirements.

“We we also be seeking from Government confirmation of the ACCC’s escalated role in maintaining competition in the marketplace for food and fibre produced in Australia.

“Australian farmers have legitimate concerns about the issue of foreign investment in agriculture, and as the ABARES report confirms, this appears to have escalated in recent times. Historically, foreign investment has been very positive for farmers - but, as we have said for some time, it is the new wave of foreign investment into agriculture for the purpose of food security that is of most concern.

“If we can get the policy settings right, there is no reason why foreign investment in Australian agriculture cannot continue to play an important, positive role for the sector. Today’s announcement is a welcome start,” Mr Laurie said.

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