FEDERAL Independent MPs Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie have moved to protect strategic national assets of economic significance like farmland and water from excessive foreign ownership.
Mr Katter introduced the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Amendment (Strategic Assets) Bill 2015 into parliament today which Mr Wilkie supported.
The Bill has been tabled largely in response to the controversy around national security ignited by the recent 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese owned company.
But the two MPs also expressed fears about the escalating sale of prime agricultural land to foreign owned entities and lack of strategic government scrutiny backed by long-term vision.
Mr Katter said the Bill’s introduction was “the first coldblooded move” by him and Mr Wilkie “to try and stop the sell-off of Australia”.
“Almost all of our dairy factories have gone; 83 per cent of our mineral resources have gone; almost all of our sugar mills have gone; (and) almost all of our food processing in Australia is gone,” he said.
“In fact it is very hard to find anything that we as Australians still own.
“(Now) you can’t get anything out of the northern half of Australia except through a foreign owned Check Point Charlie that can charge you whatever he feels like charging.”
Mr Katter said a specific example of his concerns about selling-off strategic assets like the Darwin Port was potential impacts on the live cattle.
He said 80 or 90pc of the nation’s live cattle exports went through Darwin but a single operator can now “charge whatever they feel like charging us because they own the Port of Darwin”.
Mr Wilkie said given his military and national security work experience, the answer to the dilemma was self-evident.
“What we would call strategic infrastructure, should remain in the hands of either an Australian government or at least an Australian company,” he said.
“It beggars belief that we would sell-off strategic infrastructure to a foreign company and in particular any foreign company with such close links to a foreign government.
“So for that reason, our ports, our highways, our railways, they should be in the possession of governments or at least Australian corporations.”
“If we are fair dinkum about our national security we will be fair dinkum about retaining control - unambiguous control - of our strategic assets in particular our ports, and our railways and so on.”
Mr Wilkie said during five years as federal MP he’d lost count of the number of people who’d expressed concerns about the volume of Australian prime agricultural land that’s being bought-up by foreign interests.
“We’re not talking just one farm down the road or a house in Sydney – we’re talking thousands upon thousands of hectares of Australia’s best agricultural land,” he said.
“As the heat comes out of the current resources boom based on minerals we look to the future and we see our next resources boom and it will be food and agricultural production and we will genuinely be a food bowl for the global community.”
Mr Wilkie said an alternative option for selling prime agricultural land could be offering foreign companies a 99-year lease, so they can’t own it freehold.
“They’re the sorts of innovative ideas we should be applying in this country to ensure that ultimately, we keep ownership of what really matters to us,” he said.
But Mr Katter said the chance of his proposed legislation getting up in parliament was “zero”.
However, he said that wasn’t a reflection upon the two independents and instead was “the most scathing indictment” of other members of parliament.
“They know no allegiance to their conscience and they know no allegiance to their country (but) we do,” he said.
Mr Katter said the proposed Bill – which seeks to amend the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 – would make it illegal for a foreign person to have more than a 10pc interest in the ownership of a national strategic asset.
The Bill also seeks to establish a Foreign Ownership Assessment Board that would determine the strategic national value and economic significance of any proposed foreign sales of Australian land, water or other assets.
Mr Katter said the Bill also made it possible for individuals to complain to the FOAB’s appeal tribunal if they didn’t like a particular decision.
Asked about the recent changes passed by parliament late last month to tighten scrutiny and monitoring of the foreign ownership of Australian farmland, agribusiness and water assets, Mr Wilkie said “I don’t think any government is fair dinkum about this so far”.
“This is the first time any sort of really deep reform has been proposed - there’s a tendency to tinker around the edges,” he said.
“Politicians seem to be either preoccupied with a short term sugar hit by selling an asset and getting a wad of money and then before we know it it’s all spent and gone.”
Mr Katter said it was not his aspiration as an Australian, “to work in a country owned by foreign landlords where I’ll work as some sort of modern-day serf for whatever amount of money that they feel like paying me”.