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Why does Australia have the ‘for sale’ sign out?

By Geoff Adams

Fair crack of the bloody whip — I have been on my hobby horse about this for years.

Isn’t anyone listening to the old Col?

I was on about it just recently, telling the blokes at the saleyards.

You’ve probably heard of FarmOz; but do you know its chequered corporate history?

Not that long ago it was owned by the Israelis — until they sold it to some cashed-up Chinese.

My point then was how does this tiny, tiny little country (it’s about 7000 sq km smaller than Tassie, with about 16 times as many people) end up with a farm business owning 40 brands globally and turning over more than $3 billion annually — before the Chinese stepped in?

Or try Canada, which is a bit bigger than Australia (but most of that is frozen tundra).

Yet a Canadian company called Viterra is now a major player in the Australian grain market.

And it got so good it was bought out by a — wait for it — Swiss company.

So now that agricultural powerhouse up there in the Alps is Australia's biggest grain handler.

Then there's Brazil. Big country, big population.

It owns the biggest slice of our red meat processing industry.

And what about Qatar? Sure it's got lots of oil and gas, but we aren't exactly short of oil, gas, gold, diamonds and iron ore.
But Qatar and its absolute monarchy, ruling a whopping two million people, are buying up prime slices of Australian farmland to secure long-term food requirements.

Of course we don't need to go into the other Europeans and Americans.

But we definitely need to keep an eye on China.

If you think it has been funny watching those dolled-up TV reporters running around filming Chinese buying up every can of baby food they can find, because there isn’t enough to go around in the Middle Kingdom, think again.

Because the Chinese already own the company that makes a fair bit of it here.

And now they are back again — this time to buy Lion Dairy and Drinks. For a measly $600 million. But they’re not buying it from us, we had already flogged it off to the Japanese some time ago.

Just so’s you know the full extent of the problem, the bloody Poms still think we’re a colony, and own 10.239 million hectares (in 2017-18), or 26.1 per cent of total foreign ownership.

China is second (but with a bullet) when it comes to having stakes in Australian farmland, owning 9.169 million ha and 23.4 per cent of foreign-held farmland.

So ask yourself this: When did you last read of an Australian agricultural enterprise, or company, snapping up vast tracts of overseas land and/or businesses?

Or leading the charge for a major business that may have been struggling?

Even if you could find someone ready to put up the cash, get them to have a crack at buying something big in a country such as China, or Japan, or even the US or UK, and see how many hoops they are required to jump through before being knocked back.

But not down here, Down Under.

Our clowns in Canberra, regardless of their political persuasion, have got that rubber stamp flying around the room looking for contracts to whack through.

I know what you are thinking. “But Col,” you will want to opine. “The land doesn't go anywhere; it stays right here.”

True. But where does the revenue go, and as the demand for more food keeps rising, where will the production go?

I may just be a grumpy old curmudgeon, but I can never work out why we don't have major players in the world agricultural market.

And I can't work out why everyone is so happy to sell off the farm at the drop of a hat.

Well I guess I can, actually. Money.

But when the world population pushes 10 billion by 2050 (which ain't far away) things may just get tight for a square meal.

So will we still be lucky to be in the lucky country?