THE diversity of opinion within the Federal Coalition is shaping up to be a critical factor in terms of agricultural policy.
So far, there appears to be a middle ground approach between the free marketing philosophy of Liberal tradition and the agrarian socialism of the Nats, and it’s seen some good policy on issues such as foreign investment in agriculture.
The figure of a $15 million cumulative trigger for the requirement of Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval for farmland and the set up of a foreign ownership register of farmland is a sensible approach.
We definitely need the boost that foreign investment can give our agriculture sector, yet there’s certainly no harm in having investment decisions vetted, and also of having some idea how much farmland is in foreign hands.
We suspect it will show up to be somewhat of a mountain out of a molehill, with the vast majority of ground remaining Australian owned, but it will be nice to have a clearer picture of what is happening in that sphere.
Yet you get the feeling the decision sits awkwardly with the extremes of both sides of the Coalition – some wanting the full laissez faire liberalisation of the market, and others from the Nationals wanting stricter controls on foreign investment.
With this in mind it is going to be interesting to see how the Coalition plays a similar issue of the amount of regulation required in the debate surrounding the upcoming Wheat Marketing Act, in particular the future of Wheat Exports Australia (WEA).
The National Party, in particular Barnaby Joyce, has been vociferous in its support of retaining WEA. The Liberals have been equally deafening – in their silence. You get the feeling many Liberals feel more natural affinity with Labor’s position to do away with the regulator than the stance of their National Party brethren.
It’s one of those issues that highlight the uneasy alliance between two major conservative parties on certain economic policy.
Already, there is mainstream commentary speculating on Tony Abbott’s ability to keep all the disparate elements of his alliance happy regarding agricultural issues.
As far as we are concerned, the foreign investment policy is a nice piece of consensus decision making, but its going to take a skilful effort from Mr Abbott to negotiate a similar outcome on wheat marketing.