16 August, 2021
RURAL AUSSIES OUT-PRICED BY CASHED-UP FOREIGNERS
The buy-up of Aussie farmland by multi-national corporations is proof locals are being priced-out of their own country, Katter’s Australian Party Leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter has said. Mr Katter said, given the lessons of COVID-19 about protecting national assets and security, a Regional Development Bank was needed more than ever to stimulate rural economic growth and promote Australian ownership wherever possible.
A government-owned Regional Development Bank, long-touted by the party as an answer to current commercial lenders’ failure to service critical components of rural industries and businesses – including supporting individual and family farm ownership - would allow for money to be borrowed by eligible customers at concessional rates.
Such a facility would fill a crucial rural service void that is currently present in the private banking sector, making Australian agricultural farmland ripe for the picking for cashed-up overseas investors.
Queensland has been without such a rural-focused lender since 1996 when the former Queensland Industry Development Corporation (previously the Queensland Agricultural Bank), was merged with the government-owned Suncorp Bank and privatised.
In 2019-20, around 53 million hectares of farmland was owned or partly-owned by foreigners.
This is an increase of about 900,000 hectares on the previous year, accounting for 13.8 per cent of Australia’s farming area.
The five biggest investors in Australian agriculture, who jointly own combined land and water assets valued at $12 billion, are all backed by foreign capital.
According to the latest Federal Government Foreign Investment Review Board data from the 2019-20 financial year, China is the biggest offshore holder of Australian farmland with 9.2 million hectares.
Mr Katter said the KAP was not opposed to a measured and strategic level of foreign investment, but that Australians had to be given the upper hand.
"There are many businesses in rural Queensland which have very positive commercial prospects but they need some assistance to get across the line," Mr Katter said.
"Some of those things don't match the existing lending criteria, but a development bank or reconstruction board is just the sort of tool that can make those things happen," he said.
Mr Katter said it was perverse that according to international buyers Aussie farm-land was “going cheap”, but that in many cases stand-alone Australians and farming families not back by big corporates could not afford it.
He said the current Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority, run by the State Government, was no substitute for a genuine government-owned bank that would be able to offer concessional loan rates on first mortgages.
In turn, this would stimulate regional and rural investment and growth.