7 September 2016
Transcript - #2016119, 2016

Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB

SUBJECTS: Foreign ownership of agricultural land register findings.

RAY HADLEY:

Treasurer, good morning to you.

TREASURER:

G’day Ray.

HADLEY:

You indicated to me recently in one of our usual conversations that I and other people needed to be careful about overstating the amount of land held by Chinese interests, agricultural land that is. You obviously had some forewarning from what has been published today did you?

TREASURER:

We have been working through this, this was a commitment that we had to have this register of Agricultural Land Holdings in Australia and what it shows is that more than 85 per cent of agricultural land in Australia is owned by Australians and less than half of one per cent of agricultural land is actually owned by Chinese interests. The 13.2 per cent which is owned by foreigners, two-thirds of that is owned by the British and the Americans and the other point I would just make really quickly Ray is of the foreign owned land more than 80 per cent of that is on a lease. So, this register is important because it just provides the information and I know having been around this issue for a while your listeners, many will have an interest to know what are the real facts on this. They have done the work, we have been working with the states and territories for some time to pull together all this information together and that is where it sits.

HADLEY:

Now, in terms of percentages it is a minute per cent, one half of one per cent – 0.5 of one per cent you are saying. Does that translate to a bigger number when we look at the total cost of the land if you know what I mean? It will be land that is worth, prime agricultural land as opposed to not so good agricultural land.

TREASURER:

Well, this is based on the actual number of hectares. If we move away from agricultural land and look at what is the source country of investment and this isn’t in this report, this is from other data, what is called foreign direct investment. Now, this is in everything, ok. The biggest investor in foreign direct investment in Australia in 2015 was the United States and they were 23.6 per cent. Japan was next at 11.7 per cent. The United Kingdom next 10.3 per cent. The Netherlands then at 6 per cent and the China at 4.8 percent. So, I know there has been an increase in Chinese interest in a lot of properties and I know it gets a lot of attention when one happens. To give you an example, the biggest approval for a foreign purchase of agricultural land that I have approved as Treasurer was actually a sale to the Dutch and the Canadians and that was well over $400 million. Basically, that one transaction eclipsed all the other major transactions that involved Chinese interests.

HADLEY:

You see Simon Benson makes the point today that China is a relative minnow, and you mentioned the Dutch, to The Netherlands and Singapore.

TREASURER:

Yep, Netherlands. Well, particularly the UK and the US but there is some $3 trillion worth of foreign investment in the actual stock in Australia across everything. There is almost about $200 billion that comes in each year of which the predominate sources are the ones I have just mentioned; the UK, US. This foreign investment is incredibly important as it always has been for centuries for people’s jobs, for businesses to grow, to do all of these things. Hopefully, this information, that was our intent, can just help people better understand what the lay of the land is.

HADLEY:

Well, it will be much easier to argue the point when you say, hang on a sec, here are the actual figures. One of the things I do have a problem with, I have many, many, Australian-Chinese friends. I have Australian-Italian friends, Australian-Maltese friends, Australian-Greek friends and in the case of the Chinese people I know they have been here for two, three and in some cases four generations coming out during the gold rush days. What you are referring to obliquely here are the pictures on out TV screens and in our newspapers at real estate auctions where a whole lot of Chinese people are bidding. Now, I often make the point publically and privately – how do we know they are not Australian citizens these people? Because mainly they are.

TREASURER:

Well, they often are if they are at an auction. There are very strict rules on what foreign…

HADLEY:

Exactly so they are either permanent residents or Australian citizens.

TREASURER:

Exactly.

HADLEY:

And I tell the story about a mate of mine and there are four young blokes who play golf where I play on a Monday afternoon and they are Asian and they are tremendous blokes and I always say G’day to them. My little mate who is an Australian-Italian, second generation, got onto the tenth tee one day and I was about to hit and he looked across to the Asian looking gentleman and he said “Ray may slice this ball to the right be careful.” And the bloke, without missing a beat, the Chinese looking bloke said, “what are you talking about you gibberer.” And he nearly fell over little Mario. This bloke listens to me and I see him every Monday at golf. I don’t know how long he has been here but I would say his grandparents were born here the way he talks. He is not a new Australian and that is the problem that Chinese Australians have to put up with.

TREASURER:

Well, not just them but obviously people who come from many different nationalities but that is the nature of the country we are Ray and the purpose of providing this information and it will be updated every year I think it is something that has been missing and that is why as a Government we thought this was really important to do because we want people to be confident about how foreign investment is run in this country. People will know that I knocked back the Kidman sale to overseas interests. We still have the absolute right of veto where it is not considered to be in the national interest and whether it is that or the AusGrid one which you and I have discussed on a number of occasions, we will say no when we think it is against the national interest.

HADLEY:

Just finally, is it of concern that 30 per cent of agricultural land in the Northern Territory is being sold overseas? I don’t care where it is being sold – is that a concern?

TREASURER:

Well, not one that has been relayed to me. I don’t think that of itself is a particular concern because again Ray the vast majority of this foreign ownership of land, agricultural land, is in lease hold and I know that is often the point that callers make into the station. They say, “well, why can’t they just give them a lease?” Well, in more than 80 per cent of the cases by the share of the actual land size it is on a lease.

HADLEY:

Thanks for your time. Appreciate it. I’ll talk to you next Monday.

TREASURER:

Thanks Ray.