TONY Abbott is embarking on a dangerously naive mission to tighten the rules around foreign investment in Australia.
At a recent speech delivered in Beijing, he warned China that foreign control of Australian business may not be in the national interest.
Mr Abbott’s latest foray into the issue is to announce that a Coalition government would increase scrutiny of foreign investment in agricultural land.
Under the plan, all foreign land purchases over $15 million would require a tick from the Foreign Investment Review Board — down from the present threshold of $244 million.
The board would also look at foreign takeovers of farming businesses worth more than $53 million, a national register of foreign land ownership would be created, and board membership would be increased to include a member with agricultural experience.
Peter Reith, a former Howard government minister, has already condemned the plan, calling it stupid politics designed to appease the Nationals.
Nationals leader Warren Truss is a supporter of tighter controls and believes Australians are selling off the farm because he thinks we don’t place a high enough value on agricultural land and food production.
He has many supporters in the farming community, but that doesn’t mean that we should dismantle a policy that has served Australia well for many years.
Ironically, it is the farmers who could lose out with Labor warning the move could damage trade negotiations with China and South Korea and compromise preferential access to those lucrative markets.
The global message, the one projected in the headlines, is that a Coalition government would generally make things harder for foreign investors.
That is counter-productive for Australia which, as a relatively small nation, benefits greatly from the billions of dollars in investment and the creation of thousands of jobs.
The issue is also not just about the Chinese, who seem to bear the brunt of irrational comment. Investment by Japanese, American, German or any other country for that matter must be considered on its merits and how it will benefit Australians.
If we don’t say yes, someone else will.