THE foreign direct investment (FDI) debate is clearly tearing federal cabinet at the expense of national interest.
If Prime Minister Tony Abbott allows this self-interested chest-beating to continue, besides giving Labor a giant free-kick during the first parliamentary term, crucial decisions affecting agriculture will remain in limbo.
Not least of these looms large on December 17 when the Treasurer must rule on Archer Daniels Midland’s (ADM) $3.4 billion takeover bid for GrainCorp.
While he has some breathing space to consider the options, his philosophical approach – that Australia should eventually fund itself and not depend on overseas borrowings – is a little at odds with reality, and many of his Liberal colleagues.
The Coalition is split, further complicated by Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Warren Truss and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce publicly stating that their party wants restrictions on foreign investment to guarantee the country’s food security.
They are supported by some heavy-duty Liberals, Bill Heffernan and Angus Taylor among them, who want much tighter controls on the ownership of Australian companies and resources – and vehemently oppose the ADM takeover bid.
The issues, however, are becoming highly emotive with the facts often clouded.
China, unfortunately, seems to bear the brunt of attacks by the nay-sayers, scaremongering on a vast scale. The US has 10 times more accumulated investment in Australia than China, which ranks ninth in a long line of countries injecting their capital into our economy.
The British and Japanese, during the past 100 years, have invested heavily (and still do, if to a lesser degree), and have also raised the blood pressure of avowed protectionists.
Strong regulation, directing the way in which global companies operate in Australia, is far more important.
Effective biosecurity, ironclad guarantees for the protection of natural resources and a federal government commitment to ongoing agricultural research and development programs would be a good start.
And until a realistic safety net is in place, the battles and confusion created every time a foreign company (such as ADM) wants a slice of the Australian pie will divide opinion.