Barnaby Joyce has emerged as the single greatest threat to Australian agriculture's future and Tony Abbott needs to bring him into line.
In an interview today Tony Abbott admitted that he is at odds with Barnaby Joyce:
ABBOTT: This is a Government which has put additional safeguards in place when it comes to agricultural land. The threshold has come down dramatically. We've always taken a special interest in foreign Governments buying anything in Australia, including land, any foreign Government investment in Australia is subject, from the first dollar, to foreign investment review board scrutiny and that's the way it should be.
JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce has stated State-owned enterprises and foreign Governments shouldn't be allowed to buy any Australian agricultural land at all. You're at odds with him on that issue?
ABBOTT: He was making the point when it comes to foreign Governments, as opposed to private businesses from overseas, different rules apply. They always have and as far as I'm concerned they always will.
However, it is clear that Barnaby Joyce has gone further than just making the above point.
Barnaby Joyce has clearly stated that ““I just don’t want to see agricultural land owned by foreign governments,” and confirmed to The Australian yesterday that he had supported the blocking of any Kidman sale to a foreign-government company.
The Minister's cavalier and populist approach to his portfolio is undermining the sector's capacity to attract much needed investment and to capitalise on growing global food demand.
For almost two years now Australia has been without an agriculture policy or any strategic guidance from the Minister.
But it's not just Barnaby Joyce. The Treasurer has imposed new Foreign Investment Review Board thresholds and onerous charges which threaten to deter investors and send foreign capital to our competitors.
The ANZ report entitled "Feeding our Future" suggested that Australia will need $600 billion in infrastructure investment by 2050 if we are to fully capitalise on the "dining boom". As a country with a small population and limited savings capacity, much of that capital will need to come from foreign investment.
Barnaby Joyce is also adding to the Abbott Government's poor record on foreign relations.
According to the Australian Newspaper the Minister told the NSW Nationals Conference that government-owned foreign companies had:
"more long-term purpose (in buying farms), which could over the long run undermine our nation’s interests"
Barnaby Joyce should explain what he meant by that statement.
What Australia's agriculture sector needs is not populist protest, but leadership from its Government.