The Abbott Government’s exposure draft foreign investment bill exposes Andrew Robb’s “all sizzle, no sausage” approach to his role as Minister for Trade and Investment.
In the past 18 months the Abbott Government has wrapped Australia’s foreign investment regime in layers of new red tape and increased the cost of investing in Australia.
Mr Robb has been a passive bystander as the Abbott Government has turned away foreign investors, introduced a lower screening threshold for foreign investment in agricultural land, imposed a raft of new application fees, charges and penalties on foreign investors, and revealed that application fees alone will gouge an extra $735 million from foreign investors over the next four years.
The new exposure draft bill further confirms Mr Robb’s bystander status. It includes a complex definition of Australian agribusiness for the purpose of setting a new lower threshold for foreign investment screening. The definition of agribusiness includes all of Australia’s agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, and much of the food processing sector. Adding to the complexity, if just a quarter of a business is engaged in agribusiness the whole business will be caught by the new test.
The exposure draft bill also confirms fears that investors from some FTA-partner countries will be subject to discriminatory screening thresholds for agribusiness investment, with investors other than those from the United States, New Zealand and Chile subject to a new $55 million screening threshold.
The exposure draft bill and regulations implementing the Abbott Government’s red tape run-around for potential foreign investors run to more than 170 pages. The new regime is so complex it’s accompanied by a 105 page explanatory guide.
It’s little wonder Mr Robb’s hands-off approach to the Investment portfolio is ringing alarm bells in industry, with the Australian Food and Grocery Council and the Australian Forest Products Association warning the Abbott Government’s changes to foreign investment rules threaten investments and jobs.
The application of the new rules has already led to bizarre outcomes, with one of Australia’s largest agribusiness being forced to make multiple applications for approval to purchase small parcels of land – in one case, a transaction valued at just $6,000 – with every square metre acquired “a big complication”.
Another kick in the teeth for Australian business and potential foreign investors-alike is the 10 business day consultation period for these changes, with the submission deadline of 17 July 2015 fast approaching.
It’s time the Coalition had a re-think about the damage it’s doing to Australia’s reputation as an investment destination.
Under Mr Robb’s watch, “Open for Business” has been reduced to just another empty Abbott Government slogan.
If Mr Robb can’t get his Cabinet colleagues to pay attention to his investment portfolio his mooted move to Washington might just be in everyone’s best interests.
TUESDAY, 14 JULY 2015
JOINT MEDIA RELEASE
SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT
LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA
THE HON JOEL FITZGIBBON MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS
SPOKESPERSON FOR COUNTRY CAUCUS
MEMBER FOR HUNTER