Foreign ownership of Australian rural land

Anyone with an interest in the foreign ownership debate may like to visit Monica Attard’s article on The Hoopla called ‘Quick Facts. Selling the farm?’ and put their two bob’s worth in by adding a comment.

Unfortunately there seems to be next-to-no discussion on whether foreign land ownership is good for Australian farms in a practical, physical sense.  Foreign ownership only ever seems to be discussed from the point of view of the affect on the Federal economy – which results in a nebulous discussion at best, as the figures can be twisted any way you like.

Maybe examples of  benefits or disadvantages in relation to particular farms owned by overseas companies are not discussed by journalists because none of them have sufficient first-hand experience.  They can’t comment and trot out good or bad examples of the effect of foreign ownership on particular farms, because they just don’t know any.

Personally, over visiting places for several decades, I’ve seen very few big investment companies that leave big cattle stations  in a better shape than what they were in when bought. In regard to overseas ownership, the Kleberg family of King Ranch (owners of Brunette Downs, amongst other properties) are exceptional because they left behind a fabulous legacy in Australia. Anyone know of any other examples of great overseas owners? Probably not, because I don’t think there are any! Most are in it purely for the short term dollars so that means extracting the maximum profit for the minimum outlay.  They don’t live here and aren’t passing it on to a future generation, so why would they care if the land is degraded and capital assets run down?  They won’t sink money into the maintenance and building up of either, if profit is their only goal.  Does this matter? Well ‘yes’ if you care about the natural environment; ‘yes’ if care about helping ensure rural communities survive and thrive, ‘yes’ if you care about ensuring if there’s 2 bidders for a property the one that ends up with it is the one who’ll do the best job of producing good quality Australian food long into the future and will leave the land in better shape.  And ‘yes’ if you eat.

The American Kleberg family loved the land, cattle and horses, that’s why they were such great managers of Australian land.  Their heart was in it, it wasn’t just an investment to be milked. Family owners usually love the land and livestock too, and are almost always planning on handing it on to their children so are perpetually thinking very long-term, like many other family-owned small businesses.  That’s why they’re such great land managers.  As for big investment companies, driven by people with no first hand love of the bush and shareholders who just want the maximum return on their investment now?  Because the single goal is maximising profits they usually range from very ordinary to very bad land managers.

Who is likely to look after the land better?  Some who loves Australia (either born here or they moved here to live permanently – doesn’t matter which) and who has a family here they want to hand a legacy on to, or someone who has just poked around the world looking for the best means to make as large a profit as possible?

It’s no-brainer commonsense.  To suggest otherwise shows a total lack of understanding of how business operates.

I’m so sick of reading article after article on foreign ownership, in which the writer infers or actually accuses those querying foreign investment in Australia, of scaremongering, being xenophobic, racist, etc. Thanks for the name-calling, but the reality is – we don’t have any reliable figures on foreign land ownership in Australia. We desperately need to start collating comprehensive figures.

The truth is also – first hand examples of foreign investors improving the rural land they’ve bought are almost as scarce as hen’s teeth.

If foreign ownership of Australian land is such a good thing, then how about all the journalists and politicians promoting it start trotting out some real life examples.

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