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Is it a sin to sell the farm?

By Everald Compton - posted Tuesday, 4 September 2012


The gossip around town is that a majority of Australians believe that, when foreigners invest in farming in Australia, they actually dig-up the land and take it back home, lamentably leaving us with a continent which is just a massive hole in the ground.

From what I hear, the same majority enthusiastically applaud Australians who invest overseas; this is seen as courageous entrepreneurial activity by fine Australians who want to help lesser beings to prosper from our benevolence. Naturally, we expect that they would not have the audacity to protest about our presence in their nation.

All of this means that the loud cries to stop foreign investment in any Australian business are sanctimonious hogwash. The reality is that Australians will accept with alacrity a generous offer from anyone who wants to buy their farms, as a majority of them want out of their cycle of decreasing revenue, rising costs, growing debt, monopoly marketers and overpowering miners — as well as the reluctance of their children to inherit the family farm.

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If they can get good money for a sale and put the proceeds to more sustainable use, then I for one will applaud them. They are acting totally within their rights. Even that grand old defender of the Aussie farmer, Steele Rudd, would have been sorely tempted.

What we fail to acknowledge is that when we do allow a foreigner to invest in Australia, the transaction has, if managed properly, the potential to stimulate the economy, provide new tax revenue, create jobs and encourage competition that will reduce prices for consumers.

All the signs indicate that our main bugbear is China. We now have the same attitude of hostility that we had towards them in the gold rush days of the nineteenth century when we got around to killing some of them, the most notable being the appalling massacre at Young in New South Wales.

It’s time that we calmed down and faced the fact that we cannot believe that it is fair play for us to sell our minerals to China, then take their money and run, while telling them to stay out of Australia — hypocrisy at its very worst.

The anti-foreign section of our population should take time out to read David Uren’s splendid book on Australia’s relationship with China, as it is an excellent analysis of the potential and pitfalls of China’s ability to make or break our nation. Uren is a senior journalist with The Australian, who has been a China observer for many years.

Malcolm Turnbull recommended that I read Uren’s book, which is called The Kingdom and the Quarry. It traces our ‘romance’ with China since Gough Whitlam became the first leader of a non- communist nation to open a diplomatic relationship with them in the 1970’s.

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While I have read a number of interesting books about China, this one is the most informative, and I enjoyed the chapters that outlined the crises that have occurred in the relationship down the years.

The section on the Chinalco affair makes compelling reading.

In my view, the key recommendation that Uren makes is that we should cease trying to establish a Free Trade Agreement with China and work on completing an Investment Agreement with them as a matter of urgency. Such an Agreement would set-out the terms upon which citizens and entities from each nation can invest in the other so that acquisitions are not one way traffic. Each side would have equal opportunities, and there can be limitations to the ability of our Foreign Investment Review Board, and its Chinese equivalent, to intervene with transactions that adhere to the Investment Agreement.

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Everald Compton's monthly newsletter Everald at Large can be subscribed to free of charge by sending an email to compton@everaldatlarge.com



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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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