The Turnbull Government’s “Claytons” Foreign Investment Register tells Australians little more than they already knew about foreign investment in agricultural land.
Barnaby Joyce’s failure to deliver a comprehensive and searchable register of the kind promised by Labor is clearly a broken election promise.
In Government, Labor proposed a foreign ownership register which would allow every Australian to see who has purchased what, where, and for how much. The Coalition said they would match that promise. They have not.
Labor’s plan would have ensured transparency and helped build community confidence in foreign investment in agriculture by allowing anyone to check who is buying what and where at the click of a mouse.
The Coalition made it clear they would do the same. In the Foreign Investment discussion paper they noted that:
“There is no database capable of tracking acquisitions of land across Australia to inform public debate or policy. To rectify this unsatisfactory situation, the Coalition will establish such a database, or databases, as an up to date public register.”
Barnaby Joyce is on the record in Parliament stating that:
"We have already started the passage of this: as of 1 July, the Australian Taxation Office will start delivering the information so that Australian people can basically see who owns what. That will either dispel people's concerns, or maybe, in some instances, it could confirm people's concerns. One of the most sacred duties we have is the proper oversight.
"In conclusion, we are proud of the changes to our Foreign Investment Review Board guidelines, because we believe in the right of the Australian people to understand who owns what. We reacted to what they have asked of us and we have delivered by bringing about these changes. Soon it will be discernible for all—like a Terrence Alick map, which you get in Queensland, that notes all properties—to see who owns what.” – 16 September 2015
A comprehensive register is important to building and maintaining public support and confidence in our foreign investment regime. By breaking its election promise and fiddling with Foreign Investment Review Board screening thresholds, the Government is undermining public confidence.
Australian agriculture and the thousands of people who work in it will wear the consequences of this broken promise.